Friday, December 27, 2013

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Day 1 of Vacation: Work 10 hours, hopping onto a last minute conference call where my direct manager announces her departure from the company effective January 1st. Vow to shut computer down until January 2nd.

Day 2 of Vacation:  Work 4 hours. Rejoice in learning my strategic refusal to take a California-based job without relocation money meant I didn't get the promotion I didn't want.  Join a group of fabulous women for cocktails worthy of a new dress and sexy stilettos. Have friend unzip dress in hotel lobby because me doing so later would involve dislocating my shoulder.

Day 3 of Vacation:  Go to therapy and, as the last session of the year winds down, realize my response to E reaching out via email was formal and distant and pretty much an indication of emotional paralysis.  Oh, right, E sent a very nice email just prior to vacation, an email that I needed five days of over-analysis to respond to poorly. Lose appetite.

Day 4 of Vacation:  Finally succumb to chills, cough, and aches that have been lingering on the periphery.  Begin a course of Nyquil that proves I'd be a terrible candidate for Ambien.

Day 5 of Vacation: Receive email from senior manager insisting I apply for my departing manager's position. According to her, I'm a high potential candidate for this position based in Washington, DC.  Dedicate time to pen a cover letter for a job I'm more interested in but am still hesitant to aggressively go for. Beam about my ability to write a stellar cover letter in twenty minutes and do so using a beautifully crafted sentence using one colon and three semi-colons.

Day 6 of Vacation: Knit Olivia a new winter hat because little else can be tackled in my current state.  Learn senior manager would like to conduct a phone interview while I'm on vacation for a job that technically isn't even posted by human resources because, unlike me, they don't work when the office is closed.

Day 7 of Vacation: Make parmesan-thyme crackers, maple-pecan bacon, flan, and dark chocolate brownies. Gather around a table with friendly faces, delicious food, and exhale that the worst has passed.

Day 8 of Vacation: Realize hair still smells like bacon. Pull on jeans, lace up sneakers, and spend part of Christmas day at a no-kill shelter petting pooches, rinsing dog bowls, and scooping poop. Head home only to learn friend of twenty-years, a friend who insisted I visit her over my vacation, doesn't know what to do because a boy she's known for four weeks wants to spend time with her and, like, it conflicts with my trip. It is a trip that is to start in twelve hours.

Day 9 of Vacation: Awake at 6.30AM to cancel NYC-bound flight slated for noon. Justify $200 cancellation fee as reasonable compared to showing up somewhere one is not welcome. Refuse to take so-called friend's craptastic insult personally and instead focus on how to get to Sarasota now that flight south from NYC is canceled.  Accept the fact my hair will probably smell like bacon forever.

Day 10 of Vacation: Climb into Gretel's front seat, slip on sunglasses, fiddle with the radio, and pull onto the highway. Just shy of Macon, sing along to Feeling 22. Passing through Valdosta, commit to reading, to writing, to playing tennis and to ending this year on a high note. Pulling into Sarasota, realize that for all that's knocked me down, I've continued to get back up and oftentimes with grace. Know that, no matter what, life's still pretty good. Even though my mother asks why I smell like bacon. And even though I have a phone interview scheduled for New Year's Eve day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Now We're Getting Somewhere

In sixth or seventh grade, my mother asked to see a paper I was scheduled to submit two days later. It was a little before bedtime and the house was relatively quiet. "This is shit," she said when she finished reading my work. They were hurtful words coming from a woman who was supposed to comfort and console. Except I wasn't permitted to cry. Instead I was expected to collect my books, meet her in the breakfast room, and rewrite the paper through the night while everyone else slept.

In high school I was not really permitted to wear jeans. Besides being too casual, my mother liked to remind me my shape was a challenge.  "Your rear-end is built like a shelf," she'd say as I stood in the fitting room, the waistband gaping as the hip area strained. Judgmental words coming from a woman who was supposed to love me unconditionally. Except instead of telling her she was being mean, I quietly stood there as she directed the owner of the local denim store to tailor the waistband to accommodate my mismatched curves.

In law school I found myself standing at the foot of my parents' bed, abdominal pain, a high fever and extreme nausea keeping me awake. When I whispered I felt terrible and thought I needed to go to the hospital, my mother said, "Let us know if you need anything." I was in too much agony to weep at the fact my own mother let me drive myself to the ER. Upon my return home hours later, I was too exhausted to inform her that I had an infection so high it registered off the charts, the doctor resorting to IV antibiotics to help me recover. It didn't make sense to say something because it would never amount to anything anyway.

After law school, my mother took me to France for a two-week summer trip. We started in Nice and worked our way north, ending in Paris. On our second to last night, my mom threw a fit. I don't recall what it was about but at a certain point, she headed for the door. "Are you coming back?" I asked from the bed.  "I don't know," she responded without even looking at me. When the door slammed, I panicked briefly, realizing I was five thousand miles from home, alone, and with limited resources. But there wasn't time to process the fear and anxiety created by the one person expected to protect and shelter me. So instead I determined I'd be fine, using my passport, return airline ticket and credit cards to make my way home.

"Looking back now, how does it make you feel?" my new therapist asked.

I laughed. "It's ridiculous. But I figured it out."

"But how does it make you feel?"

I sat there quiet.

"I've noticed this with you the last few weeks. You're whip-smart and can think your way out of any situation. It's an incredible skill that you developed as a kid."

"It's how I survived."

"Right. It saved you. Except there's nothing to survive any more. It was never safe to express feelings. But it's safe now. So how does that make you feel?"

"I was twenty-four or twenty-five at the time."

She looked at me for a second and then spoke. "Your mother abandoned you in a foreign city. I don't care about your age. She left you alone as punishment for something most likely minute and probably never apologized for it when she finally did return."

"I think we went out and got crepes from the corner stand."

"How does that make you feel?"

I shifted my lower jaw so that the tips of my teeth gently brushed together. Saliva pooled beneath my tongue and tears filled my eyes. "Sad. I feel dismissed, rejected, and alone." I paused to reach for a tissue. "Incredibly alone."

"See, that's the healthy response. Now we're getting somewhere."

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Need To Talk About Your Flair

In early April, I received a promotion. This new title brought with it additional responsibility, frequent travels to the west coast, and answering to a secondary manager who within five minutes of introducing himself said, "I'm a straight shooter." Anyone who feels a need to say that never is. So it came as no surprise that I was repeatedly cut out of team calls, emails, and meetings necessary to allow me to thrive in my new role. Nor did it come as a surprise that it took him twenty-plus emails to cancel one Outlook meeting.

By August, I was burnt out. Getting upgraded to first class because you've made status on Delta is grand but it doesn't make up for nineteen days straight of working. I resigned all hopes of growing professionally with my current employer and decided to create more work-life balance. To that end, I planted flowers on my balcony, joined the Junior League, and started cooking again. It is amazing how much happiness can result from standing over a pot of homemade Quahog Chowder.

"I wanted to talk with you about the open management position," my direct manager said last Monday when she rang to check in. "I think you'd be a great candidate."

"You should apply!" another manager said a few days later.

By close of business Friday, four different managers in my division and three immediate peers told me to throw my hat in the ring and, for the most part, I wasn't soliciting their advice.

"You don't seem excited," Leslie said as I crawled into an over-sized armchair and pulled a woolen throw across my legs.

I'm not. On paper, it looks like a fantastic opportunity. In reality, it is rife with problems. The position is on the west coast but they have determined at this point not to offer a relocation package. I've already mentored two of the people on this six-person team but three people will be new-hires. My capabilities exceed what is required but I've repeatedly learned that being smart doesn't always sit well with others. There were just too many variables that turned me off.

"Did you apply?" a coworker excitedly asked Monday morning.

I did. Not out of want but out of politics, my direct manager emphasizing that applying would make a more favorable impact that not applying. And as badly as I wanted to phone it in, going so far as to consider creating a resume penned in Crayon, I couldn't. Instead I perfected the language to explain my qualifications. I collected letters of recommendation from managers and peers. And I clicked submit with the same enthusiasm one uses to clean the lint collector on a dryer.

An initial phone screen is scheduled for tomorrow, as are two other conference calls that were added to my agenda around six o'clock this evening. Tomorrow also happens to be the last working day of my year. Being a committed employee, refusing to do a half-assed job, meant I got to November with eighteen days of vacation left to take. So tomorrow I'll bust my tail closing out my year, dazzling the woman interviewing me, and sitting on a few conference calls.  Then, come five o'clock, I'm shutting down. Like, leave-my-phone-in-my-office down. Because for the first time in years, I'm going to give vacation time the same passion I've given my job.

Monday, November 04, 2013


Intuition tugs at me sometimes, lingers in my peripheral vision waving its hands and demanding attention. It's a curious sixth sense I've yet to fully master or embrace. Here, over here! Pay me attention, dammit! And when I do finally look, when I pivot my stance and turn my gaze to stare head on at the ghost longing for my attention, there's usually a reason.

"Alaska's married," I said to Leslie Sunday morning, after I laced up my sneakers but before I headed to the gym.


"I checked to see if he was running the New York marathon, which he is. Then a nagging itch told me to google his name and 'engaged.' A registry for him and some Brasilian girl popped up. Williams-Sonoma. Pottery Barn. Married."

"Wow, he had to import someone from South America?"

"Apparently. And he doesn't even speak Portuguese."

"Which works out favorably seeing expressing his emotions in English was a struggle."

I remained quiet.

"Paige, in all seriousness, he was terrible for you. Also, he has no ability to be faithful."

"No, I know. I'm just....shocked."

Halfway to the gym, I called my friend Amy and left her a blithering message. "I don't want him. But this is the guy who told me he didn't want to get married again. Life was great as-is. And," I paused to sniffle. "And, now I have last night's mascara running down my face. Fuck."

She called me back.

"Hey, three of my ex-boyfriends went on to marry the next woman they dated.  How's that for a kicker?"

"Nice prep-work there, girl," I said with a chuckle.

"In six months, want me to google his name and 'divorced?'" she asked.

I almost fell off the treadmill.

"Listen, if I found out Bandman was married, I'd go off the deep end." Amy was quiet for a moment, referring to the man she tangled up with off-and-on for ten years. Bandman was her Alaska.

"It's just," I stepped onto the rails, tugged the visor of my baseball cap lower to shield my eyes. "It sounds so lame but, it isn't that he didn't want to get married again. It's that he didn't want to marry me."

There it was. The dread and the rawness of a situation that didn't mean anything other than a trigger to rumble my demons. I wasn't good enough.

"On a related note," I said to break the silence. "It looks like psychotherapy is an eligible expense for an FSA and I've got my entire bank to burn through before the end of the year."

When I got home, I poured some water and sat down with my laptop. One hour, I said to myself.  Look online, lurk at the life he kept so private he wouldn't comfortably speak on the phone when in an airport. See the picture of his now-wife seated before a hideous piece of art you tried to talk him out of. Witness the chairs set out for the wedding on the lawn of his Kauai house he never invited you to visit. Then shut it all down. Walk away. But hold onto what it triggered. Sit with that feeling, acknowledge it, own it, and vow to tackle it once and for all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Last week I sat in an arena and sang along to The National. They were in town, setting off on a US tour. The scene was hipster chic, something I wasn't even certain existed in Atlanta. Leslie commented that the lead singer wasn't really playing to the crowd, and he wasn't. "He's an artist, not a singer," I tried to explain. "And based on an interview I heard of him on NPR earlier this year, he's nowhere near as douchey as that three piece suit would make one think."

On Friday Leslie and I are taking the kids to Nashville to see Taylor Swift.

Two weekends ago, I was seated on a bench at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Beach. I was sipping Cabernet out of a water-glass while nibbling on gourmet chocolates tucked within crumpled paper napkins, both courtesy of the general manager. The sun was slowly dipping closer to the horizon as surfers struggled to ride the nonexistent waves. I was calm and happy and couldn't be bothered by any of the chaos that was waiting for me at home. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was the breathtaking sunset.

Next week I'll be in Puerto Rico for work, four nights of coworkers, politics and Kool-Aid keg stands.

In July, I committed to reading twenty-four books this year. Though there had been a springtime lull, the summer got me back on track. I tore through The Mourning Hours (amazing).  Into the Wild required more focus but also left a more lasting mark than, say, Dad Is Fat. At the Facebook suggestion of MetroDad, I recently dove into Night Film. All of these books have kept me entertained and reminded me why reading can be so much more powerful than a film. It invites the audience to personalize the characters and participate on the periphery.

The dialog in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is painful but if I persevere I will have only eight books to go (though I might stab someone).

Tucked away on a quiet side-street in Asheville, North Carolina, is a charming dessert cafe. The theme is chocolate and Leslie told me not to come home if I didn't stop there before grabbing my Atlanta-bound flight after a work event. My belly was still full from lunch. There was still work to be finished.  At ten o'clock, I slipped into a cardigan, grabbed my wallet and made my way to French Broad Chocolate. The chocolate creme brûlée so delicious that each spoonful required a pause to savor the rich flavor and creamy texture.

I just ate a Peanut M&M I found in my work tote and I'm not exactly sure when I last bought Peanut M&Ms.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Walk A Day In My Shoes

You'd think that growing up with a father who has been handicapped for thirty years, one might live life a little differently. Seeing a man struggle to swallow food, navigate a curb, and communicate with clients should change a person. It should render things like cellulite and a stubborn cowlick silly. It should leave one awaking every day appreciating the first breath instead of cursing yet another forecast for rain.

"I never think of myself as handicapped," my dad once said to me.

"Does this mean you're surrendering that placard? Because if so, there will never again be a reason to take you with us to the mall."

Since my dad's illness never defined or limited him, the rest of us were often free to look past it as well. Though one time I did attempt to walk a day in his shoes. After he noted his always-tense leg muscles were achy, I did a little experiment. Seated back at my desk, I set both feet on the floor and rested my hands loosely on my keyboard. I then tensed my quads. I tensed them with such focus I forgot to breathe. And I lasted no more than ten seconds.

"Maybe you don't think about what it's like to live in his body because, if you did, you'd spend most of the day crying," Leslie explained earlier tonight.

I was telling her about a book I had stayed up until 2AM to finish. With tears streaming down my cheeks and my nose stuffy from sobbing, I ignored adult responsibilities like brushing one's teeth and getting a good night's sleep. Me Before You is a story about a quirky working-class girl and the man she cares for, a once successful financier now a quadriplegic. As the New York Times reviewer noted, the story is mostly about lives pushed off their trajectory and the ways in which one might adjust.  Both the incredibly well developed characters and delicately evolving plot meant I just had to finish it regardless of the time.

Upon setting my Kindle on my bedside table, I turned off the lamp and lay there in the darkness of night. Flat on my back, gazing at the ceiling striped by moonlight seeping through the blinds, I relaxed all of my muscles and wondered what it would feel like to be a quad.  How difficult it must be having to depend on others for every single thing. I couldn't even fathom the challenge and mental anguish of such a life. Like my leg-tensing experiment a few years back, I lasted only a short while. After which I rolled onto my side and fell asleep.

When I awoke this morning, I admittedly cursed the cloudy sky. I grumbled at the list of work emails I needed to send. I sighed when I realized I had forgotten to buy milk. But as I stepped away from my office for a midday workout, something shifted. I couldn't help but be thankful for my hands that gripped the steering wheel, my feet that helped me pace at an 11min mile, my lungs that managed the hastened breathing. Everyday aspects of my life shadowed by work obligations and the Bravo line-up suddenly glistened in the sunlight. Simply put, I couldn't help but be grateful to walk a day in my shoes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Items For Sale: Out With The Old (To Make Room For The New)

Item: Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique Rollerball
Color: Oxblood
Purpose: 24th birthday gift
Purchaser: My first love
Price: $150 OBO

Yes, the first man to win my heart gifted me a pen for my birthday. I wasn't even a proclaimed writer or so-called writer at the time. I'm surprised he didn't use it to stab me in the heart. After all, it would have elicited the same result as the words he used to confess cheating on me. Anyway, it actually writes really nicely. Also, now that I've hunted down some replacement ink, it appears  Montblanc has expanded their color portfolio. Life is always more fun when you can use a ridiculously priced pen to dot the I of your first name with a lilac heart. Extra ink refill included.

Item: LaChapelle Land by David LaChapelle
Color: The rainbow
Purpose: 25th birthday gift
Purchaser: Self-absorbed, tongue-pierced, NYC-based, film-producing boyfriend
Price: $20 OBO

The pictures captured in this coffee-table book are, at times, mesmerizing. The crisp lines, unique celebrity portraits and bright colors entice and excite. If a bag of Skittles got it on with a Hollywood hooker, this book would be the bastard child. Though I was living at home when given this book, meaning I technically did not have a coffee table upon which to display it, the gesture was a teensy more meaningful than a pen. The front cover is inscribed with child-like scrawl depicting a sentiment of like-like. Love would have involved grand gestures like meeting me at Penn Station upon arrival to the city. Book comes in a useless cardboard box adorn with more of the artist's ego, I mean work.

Item: Life Fitness Treadmill
Color: Black and gray (if dusted)
Purpose: To make me less fat
Purchaser: Judgmental, superficial, DC-based boyfriend with a bald spot
Price: Free

The deck and orthopedic belt absorb impact quite nicely, unlike a hard macadam sidewalk. Fits easily in one's living room, occupying space in front of a television so as to taunt you while you sprawl across the sofa watching reruns of Sex and the City and bury your face in a pint of Chunky Monkey. Note: accepting a piece of workout equipment from a boyfriend might lead him to eventually confess he was trying to help you thin down (because he always thought you were too fat). Instruction packet and tools to dismantle are provided. Removal of treadmill can occur either out the condo door or over the second-floor balcony. Up to you.

Item: Canon Point-and-shoot Digital Camera
Color: Silver
Purpose: Gift to avoid lending $4000 DSLR and $2000 wide-angle lens
Purchaser: Emotionally constipated boyfriend who bonded best with moose
Price: $100 OBO

A light and compact camera that takes pretty darn good pictures. Though not as good as a high-powered lens attached to a DSLR camera. Meaning the frigate bird you snap while exploring the Galapagos will look more like a bloody black blur amongst scraggly shrubbery. The red, padded carrying case is included. As are the instructions, a 100+ page booklet I was told to read cover-to-cover while the giver transcribed patient notes down the hall. Related: the instructions aren't necessary to read to use the camera. Pretty certain all pictures have been deleted, including the photo of the boarding pass proving giver had cheated on me with a trampa from Tampa.

Item: Pre-hispanic, reproduction of a circa 700BC-1600BC bookmark stick-thing with frog detail and of Montenegro-orientation (according to authenticity papers)
Purpose: Memento from a trip I was originally invited, but then uninvited, to go on; Guilt reducer
Purchaser: 20-something, latino boyfriend who romantically told me I was an incredible mentor
Price: $5 OBO

A gold stick-thing with a frog at one end reportedly used to identify where one has left off while reading. Not Kindle compatible. Nor iPad compatible. Though does come in handy when prying the back off of a finicky work Blackberry to do a hard reset. According to the accompanying paperwork, item is gold-plated and was purchased at an airport gift-shop on the day the giver flew home (see 'AEROP.' stamp and handwritten purchase date on the paperwork). So, kind of on par with a ginormous Toblerone snagged at duty-free. Included is a used copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude, an overrated novel by an author whose primary talent is a unique ability to pen only incredibly unlikeable characters. Shipping not included.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Quantum Mechanics

That car accident you witness from a few vehicles back. The clash of crumpling metal and the screech of tires across macadam.  It's an accident that could have involved you, if only you hadn't dropped your keys when you locked your apartment door. Run back in to make sure you unplugged the iron. Slowed up at a yellow light a mile back instead of gunning it to clear the intersection

That twenty-dollar-bill you find crumpled up in the parking lot. The absence of nearby cars confirms it is yours to take. Yet you could have missed it had the moron in front of you at the ATM not processed seventeen transactions. The newbie cashier had a formal grasp on keying manufacturer's coupons. The shopping cart had four functioning wheels so you didn't need to randomly pause to get them moving straight.

That friend you met during your sophomore year of college after transferring from another school. It is a friendship that has shaped you, made you a better person, and blossomed into an unbreakable bond spanning decades. But it is a friendship that could have never happened had you transferred instead to Duke. Had you actually been placed in the dorm you requested. Had you been off exploring the campus while she poked her head into open doors.

That Charleston cocktail party your college friend invites you to attend. Though you know only one other guest, you find yourself chatting with a Connecticut man in town visiting his father. But that meeting in the garden would have never occurred had you kept your original plan of visiting the week prior. Had he canceled the trip when his girls' school shortened spring break to make up for snow days. Had you remained by your friend's side in the kitchen, quietly admiring portraits and eavesdropping on conversations.

That business trip to Manhattan. A coworker asks for assistance and you welcome the chance to revisit a city that has always felt like home. It is a trip that opens the door to laugh with a friend over  manicures, sip French press coffee in a charming Grammercy cafe, and partake in a date with that man you met in Charleston. It is a trip that wouldn't have happened had you had other work commitments. Had you agreed to help a friend move. Had you determined it would make an already hectic travel schedule unbearable.

That Thursday evening date in Manhattan with the man you met in Charleston. You buy a dress, get your tresses tamed, and practice walking in heels in anticipation of making him weak in the knees, again. It is a date that had immense potential, had his Texas-based client not insisted on extending his visit through dinner Friday. Had his recent thoughts not included confusion about his unraveling marriage. Had you not evolved to the point of wanting nothing less than one-hundred percent of a man's attention, love and support.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Mash-Up


Though I hated my mother for not allowing me to wear jeans as a kid, the woman repeatedly forcing me into Esprit outfits, her fashion snobbery meant I'm always put together as an adult. People often compliment my sense of style, as if pairing a necklace and belt are on par with curing cancer. But I still stumble.  While in Los Angeles last month, I was told I looked more East Hampton than West Hollywood. I'm uncertain if that was a compliment or an insult.  Anyway, with a closet full of clothes, I still had nothing to wear for my rendezvous with Pete. In a panic, I texted a good friend for guidance:

I need a dress that says I'm classy and that even though I swallow I also appreciate caviar.  I guess I should hit Saks?

By the way, I found the perfect dress at the first boutique I visited with Leslie.  Paired with a four-inch, tan, leather sandal, it totally delivered the message I was going for.


This past weekend, I was in NYC helping a coworker.  To make the trip worthwhile, I arrived Thursday.  This meant activities like coffee with one friend and a dinner with another were possible.  I also snuck in a visit to the iconic bookstore the Strand and the farmer's market at Union Square, two places I frequented back when the city was a hop up the highway.

My hotel was located at 29th & Madison, close enough to transportation to access other corners of the city and far enough away from confused tourists littering the lobby.  After dinner on the Upper East Side Thursday evening, I strolled over sixty blocks back to my hotel.  A gentle breeze, dry air, a clear sky, and passerbys all made the walk enjoyable.  Yes, some blocks smelled like stale pee.  Much of the walk required sidestepping people with their noses buried in their phones.  I wouldn't have traded that evening walk for the world.  Sure, there is an ease to life in the South.  The people are nicer and the cost of living is nominal. But I really do feel at home in a bustling city.


Since the start of the year, I've become more dependent on a car service for work.  It makes life easier and my company doesn't have a problem with it.  We aren't allowed to be on the phone for any reason while driving, even hands free.  Plus, landing at eleven o'clock in the evening and wandering a dark parking deck alone isn't always the smartest thing.  Using a car service makes me more available to work and less available to be killed.  We call this a win-win.

I've probably used a car service thirty times in the last few months. Sometimes the car is something pimpy like an Escalade.  When those pull up, I start singing Kanye West. "Everybody knows I'm a mother fuckin' monster, uhh."  More often than not, the car is a Lincoln Town Car.  A traditional, black-paint, tinted-window Town Car.  I crawl into the back, stretch my legs out in front of me, eye the Wall Street Journal on the seat beside me, and quote Gordon Gekko. "The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good," I quietly say to myself. Then I giggle and start playing with all of the buttons.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Purge (and Splurge)

"You need to de-clutter," a confidant told me on the phone late Friday afternoon. 

"Did Leslie send you a picture of my dining room table?  She did, didn't she...."

"No, but that dining room table symbolizes your life.  You need to purge that which holds no value so as to make room for that which does."

Some might think it is quite a leap to conclude a pile of mail, a stack of random business cards, and a wad of receipts can mean more than a dislike of filing.  Except that clutter really did represent my life.

For over a year, a corner of my bedroom has been occupied by a pile of clothes to be donated: faded, work-appropriate t-shirts bought five years ago from Banana Republic; fabric Gucci loafers with a platypus-like toe-box; a stack of jeans that are too tight here and too loose there.  For over a year, a corner of my office has been occupied by a box of items meant for the dumpster: random personal papers I forgot to discard before moving south; photographs that hold no meaning; insurance quotes for companies that are no longer my client.

Friendships have piled up too.  Much of my job is spent on the phone, making me scowl at that piece of technology after hours.  Now when I sit in front of my computer, I'm too busy to log onto Gchat.  Toggling between a conference call, a work email, and a personal conversation is beyond my talent-set.  After all, I am the girl who forgets to breathe when holding a plank.

Saturday morning, curiously wide awake at six o'clock, I got out of bed and started tidying up.  Seated on the floor of my apartment, I sorted through piles.  Sometimes I even took a moment to see what else could be added. All of those older sneakers in my closet, the ones too broken-down to use at the gym, those could be donated. All of those receipts stacked on my desk, the ones my accountant will need come tax season next year, those could be filed away.  I even took the time to label my files, tucking professional accolades into one named "Smile File."

By Sunday night, I had dropped three bags of donations at Good Will.  My dining room table was not only completely cleaned off but I had wiped the glass top down, the absence of smudges better revealing the dust bunnies beneath.  I also managed to speak with three different friends, all women who have been incredibly patient with my absence this past year.  They are women who provide guidance and laughter and after each call, I couldn't help but feel grateful to have them all in my life.

Though I purged quite a bit this past weekend, I have also added a few things.  With extra space in my closet, I couldn't say no to a stunning pair of Gucci pumps - thin black straps with gold-chain tassels hanging off the ankles.  A few feet away hangs a new dress, the drape of the fabric feminine and flirty. My calendar has also been de-cluttered.  Now I have time for things like a weekend later this month at a five-star resort in Northern California.  Oh, and a date.  With Pete.  I'll be in New York this week for work and he invited me to join him for drinks and dinner.  It didn't take much to make that fit it into my calendar.  Especially since I had de-cluttered.  Perhaps I'll wear that new dress I bought.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

You Can't Get What You Don't Ask For

I never wanted to be that girl. Like the ones I'd see sassing their boyfriends into a submissive 'Yes, dear' position as they stand at a bar, in a grocery line. Or the ones demanding attention, snapping 'Take me home, now' amongst friends, coworkers, complete strangers. She, I'd think, she must be such an unpleasant handful.

"Where do you want to go to dinner?" my exes would often ask.

"I'm fine with whatever," I'd often respond.

"Just pick!"

"Okay, pizza."

"Nah, I'm not in the mood for pizza.  Pick something else."

"Yeah, like I said, I'm fine with whatever."

Maybe it's because I grew up with a father with physically deteriorating health, a once strong man now a shell of his former self. Maybe it's because I spent over a decade volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, watching sick children fight for their lives. At a certain point, I adopted the motto: I don't have cancer. Such an approach pretty much makes the question of tacos or pizza rather inane. 

In early April, I met Pete at that Charleston cocktail party. Mid-May I finally reached out to him. And a week into our conversations, he shared something personal. That two weeks prior to meeting me, he and his wife had separated. For the first time in four years they were communicating, they were making progress, this time toward mediation. Meeting me, he said, was both unexpected and delightful. He hadn't felt such a connection in many years. But he wanted to be honest about his situation. The manner in which I wanted to proceed, if at all, he would respect.

I sat with his email for an entire day before I typed a response. My instinct was to console him, offer genuine words of support. Except his gesture had opened the door for me to say what I truly wanted. Here it was, a chance to vocalize my needs. It would then be up to him to determine if he was capable of meeting them. I wrote, deleted, and rewrote my response no less than ten times, eventually settling on truthfulness: 

In exchange for your honesty, I will admit that I am hoping to find a copilot, someone with whom I can share my life. Someone who cheers me on when I thrive and lends a hand when I stumble. Someone who makes me laugh and makes me think. Someone who appreciates delicious cuisine, adventurous travel, and intellectual curiosity. Someone who adores me, even though I can't whistle. Someone who will tend to spiders while I dance across the living room sofa, point and squeal. I'm not sure what we have here but I'm okay with where you are if you're okay with where I am.

It took me twenty minutes to click send, my extended index finger hovering over the button as I managed knots in my stomach and tightness in my chest. What if this turns him off? What if he has no interest in ever remarrying? Isn't it premature to address this? What if I sound needy and unreasonable? What if I sound like that girl? 

The thing is, you can't get what you don't ask for. Tiptoeing around the truth would be misleading. Plus, he had offered honesty, led with respect. The least I could do was reciprocate it. I reread my response and, a little shy of midnight, clicked send. He responded early the next morning: 

Nothing less should be expected from a partner and you have a great sense of worth embedded in those thoughts. I am more than okay with where you are and I appreciate the open door from you very much.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Way The South Was Won (By A Yankee)

My friend Sally hails from a prominent southern family.  In her father's Charleston home hangs a portrait of her relative fondly referred to as 'The Major.'  It is the polite way to note the south still won.  A confederate flag would be too gauche amongst period piece antiques and Miele stainless appliances.

In mid-April, I stood before that portrait.  I was in town for work, meeting with some sales reps and calling on some schools.  It was a trip I had been planning but intentionally booked to overlap with Sally's visit home from Los Angeles. 

"All ready," she said as she stepped back into the formal living room.  "Let's go next door!"

We strolled out to the street, walked ten feet, and entered into the neighbor's home where a small garden party was about to begin.  Most attendees were in their seventies.  The men all wore navy sport coats and Hermes ties.  Tailored silk draped across the bony shoulders of the women.  Suddenly my strappy sandals, the ones that arch my foot just so and display brightly pedicured toes, felt incredibly risque.

To my left stood a former diplomat, to my right a one-time CEO of a luxury hotel chain.  But never once did someone lead with such status.  I was asked about my provenance, my education, my profession. It was only through casual conversation, genuine inquiry, that details of the distinguished guests trickled out above the chime of ice clinking against crystal highballs.

At a certain point, I escaped to the back of the courtyard.  The absence of air conditioning inside, the tightness of the space outside, left me claustrophobic.  The periphery of the gathering would give me time to breathe, escape pleasantries amongst strangers.

"I'm Pete," the gentleman to my left said with an outstretched hand.

"Paige.  Are those your daughters?" I asked with a nod toward two elementary aged girls in head-to-toe Lily Pulitzer.

"They are."

"Don't tell anyone I'm admitting this but I think they are more at ease amongst all of these people than I am.  Incredibly poised," I offered before raising my drink to my lips.

"Thank you," he said with a smile.

We spoke further.  I learned he lives in Connecticut, working as a fund manager overseeing investments for academic institutions.  He visits Atlanta a few times a year, and apparently Georgia Tech serves the most horrendous food at those quarterly meetings.

"Well the next time you're in town, you should allow me to make culinary suggestions," I said.

"Deal," he said as he reached for his wallet, passed off a business card.

The conversation continued, revealing things like his familiarity with where I grew up thanks to a childhood hockey habit.  It turns out we both spent summer vacations splashing in the frigid Atlantic waters off Nantucket.  There was an ease between us.  Silences felt comfortable and appropriate instead of awkward and long. Eventually the crowd thinned, Pete returning to his father's home a few doors down.  There were burgers to  be cooked, after all.

Knowing his Atlanta visits were quarterly, realizing he'd be south-bound in June, late last Tuesday night I pulled Pete's card from my wallet, sat down at my computer and penned an email.  It was witty but reserved, flirty but proper. Just shy of midnight, I clicked send and crawled into bed.

The next morning I set off for the airport.  Work was taking me west.  I breezed through security. I napped on the plane.  And when I landed in Los Angeles, I turned on my phone and scrolled through emails. There, between a promotion from Saks for the new Chloe collection and an announcement from my manager, was a response from Pete. 

Of course he remembered me, the woman with a beautiful smile who easily laughed at his mediocre jokes.  He was just in Atlanta, he noted.  In fact, he had been there the previous week. And he cursed himself the entire visit.  How stupid he was, he confessed, to not have asked for my number at the cocktail party.  "But I have it now," he said.  "I plan to put it to good use."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In My Defense, Conjugal Visits Never Came Up

"We're going over to Cara's house tonight," Leslie said earlier Saturday. "You should come!"

"Can't. I have a date."

"Not the guy who texted you at 10:30PM Friday to say he was at your complex and wanted to know if you were around, right?"

"God no."

"The all-star who played baseball for UNC?"

"Man he had a nice ass.  No. He's now head of sales for the entire US so he's married to his job."

"That dad? The WebMD guy you had a few dates with?"

"Huh. Haven't heard from him. But I think he's consumed with his new biz and his kids. Anyway, no. New guy. Vassar alum. He does something with commercial real estate."

"Cool. Have fun!"

Twenty minutes shy of meeting my date, the heavens opened and sheets of water plummeted to the earth.  Rivers snaked through my parking lot. Suddenly my four-inch, platform pumps, the ones made of a soft tan leather that stains from the tiniest drop of water, were tucked back into their box. Suddenly I was questioning if there was any way I could make Gortex sneakers look sexy. Luckily the rain let up enough to permit heels, but only the kind that can manage puddles.

We talked over margaritas and chips. We connected over fish tacos. The conversation flowed rather easily, even though I already knew I wasn't interested. He was pleasant enough, nice enough. He was enough. Just not witty enough, smart enough, or charming enough for my taste. This meant I had no concern to speak freely when the topic of dating surfaced.

"So how's JDate treating you?" he asked.

"Good! With the exception of the racist windbag I went out with last week, everyone has been incredibly pleasant," I replied.

"I went to this Jewish cocktail thing at the Landmark a few weeks ago and I was the youngest person there," he said with a chuckle.

"Ha! Some guy I've gone out with, his ex-wife was an organizer for that event."

"Rachel Rosenson?"

"No clue. I only know him as James JDate.  But this guy sold his business to WebMD. Now starting over in the medical field. Job placement stuff."

"Has to be Rachel Rosenson."

Later that night, I shuffled through my front door and collapsed on my sofa. Then, for the first time since getting back into the dating game, I googled one of my suitors. James Rosenson rendered no results.  But Rachel Rosenson did, one of which included a photograph from a few years ago with the guy I had gone out with, and his full name was noted as James Goldberg.

"Remember that dad of three I went out with?" I said to Leslie at Mother's Day brunch. "The guy who sold his business to WebMD."

"Yeah. I liked him!"

"Um, in 2010 the SEC filed charges against him. Ponzi scheme."


"Wait," my brother in-law chimed in when he finished chewing some bread. "My friend's parents got swindled by some Atlanta guy. I think the trial is coming up."

"No the people my guy swindled lived in Florida," I explained.

"Yeah, the parents live in Florida. Majorly orthodox though."

".....this dude was raised orthodox."

We blankly looked at each other, falling quiet to digest the situation.  Then I spoke.

"I guess JDate should consider adding 'White Collar Criminal' to the list of professions?"

"Did he ever ask how you felt about conjugal visits?" my brother in-law inquired.

"At least you can't take his silence personally. Dude's busy preparing for prison," Leslie added.

"Yeah, there's the silver lining I was looking for."

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sexy Silver Pumps and a Really Good Kiss

"Where are you going for drinks?" Leslie asked as we huffed and puffed on neighboring treadmills.

"Not sure yet. What do you think I should wear?"

"You looked really nice the other night, when we went to Bacchanalia."

A little after five o'clock, my date informed me where we'd be going (F&B, a bistro-esque spot a mile or so away from where I live) and what time we'd be meeting (6:15pm with flexibility to accommodate the clusterfuck of traffic that occurs at rush hour in Atlanta).  I spent the next twenty minutes fretting about my outfit, eventually calling Leslie for guidance.

"Pony-hair Oscar de la Renta pumps or pointy silver pumps?" I asked her as I stood naked in my closet.


"Cream lace top with the flutter cap sleeve or snakeskin racerback tank?"

"Tank. With a jacket. But not a worky jacket."

"Unstructured one from Madewell or tuxedo-waiter-ish-like one from Banana?"

"Oh my god, how have you gotten through life this far?!?!?"

"It is a wonder!"

He was seated at the bar when I arrived, casual in jeans but put together with a sport-coat and perfectly pressed shirt.  A lowball of Sapphire and soda sat within his reach, a wedge of lime set on the cocktail napkin. I shimmied onto a neighboring barstool, said hello and offered a smile.  Then I ordered a Belvedere and tonic.

Our time at the bar stretched up to ten o'clock, at which point we dropped my car at his place and relocated elsewhere for a bite to eat. We placed bets on whether the hostess sucked into a very short and very tight dress was wearing panties. We giggled at the couple sitting side-by-side in a banquette, both distracted by their cell phones. I made fun of him for owning a red Corvette. He complimented my smile.

It was around midnight when we returned to his place.

"Want to come up?" he asked, a slight tilt of his head as if to hint at the direction.

"Sure," I answered.

We talked some more, watched television, and kissed. His lips were soft as they pressed against mine. I ran my hand up his shirt, against his chest. He slipped my jacket off my shoulders. Our legs remained tangled even as I rolled onto my side, set my hand on his stomach and glanced at my watch. The light reflected off the silver hands, indicating it was just shy of two in the morning. I lowered my mouth toward his ear, kissed his lobe and then whispered, "I think I should head home."

"I think you should stay," he countered, running his fingers through my hair. "Nothing needs to happen. It would just be nice to wake up with you here."

I didn't disagree. His touch was gentle but masculine. His kiss melted my skin. If I were ten years younger, I would have considered it. But knowing what I want, I slipped back into my jacket and then sat down to put on my heels. Silver, pointy-toed, three inch pumps that arch the foot and straighten the back.

"You're incredibly sexy," he said as we arrived back at my car, tugging me closer to kiss my neck, my cheek, my lips. "Stay."

I ran my fingertips up his thigh, lifted my gaze to meet his eyes, and then rose as high as I could onto my tippy toes to kiss him. To feel his lips, his tongue and his warmth one last time. And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to stay.

"Maybe next time," I softly offered. "Sweet dreams."

Friday, May 03, 2013

I Feel The Feminist Movement Kinda Fucked Me Over (With Men)

Because of the feminist movement, there have been female astronauts, movie producers, and Supreme Court Justices. Thanks to the trailblazers that came before us, women now have access to voting booths, birth control, and equal pay. But at the risk of sounding unappreciative, the feminist movement has royally fucked up the dating scene in the twenty-first century.

At forty, I own a condo and I bought it without a man having to cosign my mortgage. I have a 401k, investments, and a job that pays me well enough to enjoy things like a German sedan, Prada purses, and produce from Wholefoods. The hiccup is that all of this independence challenges the courting process.

"What the heck is the point of a flirt?" my friend asked me the other day, referring to a way of communicating on dating websites.

"It helps you identify which men are total pussies. That's the point," I replied. "Any man who needs to rely on a passive, pre-formatted one-liner to get my attention clearly has a vagina. It's on par with throwing sand in my face and then running away."

The feminist movement has given women access to everything, including courting a man. The problem is that most men, instead of stepping up their game, have taken this as a cue to sit back and relax. Not only do they no longer have to pursue a woman, but the woman will bring home the bacon, whip up a lavish meal, do the dishes, fold the laundry, and make sure the kids are tended to. A man takes out the trash. Yes, I'm generalizing. But I am also looking back at past relationships and men with whom I'm friendly. Challenge me all you want but you know I'm pretty much correct here.

A psychologist named Dr. Patricia Allen has noted that there are two energies in a personal relationship: feminine and masculine. The feminine wants to be cherished for her feelings. The masculine wants to be respected for his thoughts. Your genitalia has nothing to do with what role you play. There are masculine women and feminine men. Also, you can be both, acting masculine at the workplace but presenting with feminine at home. The problem is understanding what you want and then playing the proper role to get it.

"This guy who wants to take me out thinks Ru San is the best sushi in town," I said to Leslie over lunch yesterday.

"Really? Yuck. That place is cheesy and the pits!" she replied.

"I know! And all I could think was, 'Can I really respect a man for his thoughts when such thoughts include thinking shitty sushi is divine?' By the way, it gets worse."

"How can it get worse than that?"

"He decided he also needed to convince me Italian cuisine in the states is edible, starting with his favorite spot in Atlanta, Baraonda. E loved that place, meaning I've eaten there a bunch of times. Also, it suuuuuuuuucks."

"So what did you do?" Leslie asked, laughter dotting the question.

"I feigned sleepiness and got off the phone. I'm supposed to respect his thoughts and I couldn't do it so I figured I'd just go to bed."

This morning I relayed the story to another friend, including the anxiety I felt when I couldn't figure out how to respond without sounding masculine.

"No, you can have an opinion," she explained. "You just need to phrase it as a feeling. Something like, I don't feel comfortable in that environment."

"Ohhhhhhhhh! That's a huge relief. Because I was on the precipice of dropping out of the dating scene if it meant forfeiting all brain power."

"Ha! Silly girl. But I do think, in this instance, you should have just gone with the masculine response. You're palate is too sophisticated for this guy."

I hung up the phone and looked around my apartment. Tonight I'm meeting a local lawyer for drinks. Tomorrow a liberal leaning real estate investor is taking me to dinner. And after speaking with my friend, after realizing that morphing toward the feminine doesn't mean surrendering one's thoughts or identity, I'm ready to give this feminine energy thing another go. Translation: I won't even do the requisite wallet reach. After all, I don't FEEL that is an appropriate gesture seeing both of these men invited me out.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dig Deep

Late last year, I found myself hanging out with two completely different girlfriends. One is super type-A, striving for a promotion at work while juggling a young child and a husband. The other is more driven by spiritual revelation, finding contentment with meditation, prayer candles, and raw organic food. I fall somewhere between the two.

"Oh no, don't cry!" I pleaded to the type-A friend who was buckling under the pressure of trying to have it all.

"No, cry!" the spiritual friend interjected. "Let it out.  If you keep it in, you can't face that feeling."

I leaned back into the pillows, adjusted my view, and took in what I'd just heard.

I'd spent my entire life controlling my feelings. It was a skill developed as a kid. Crying over my mother suggesting a diet, proposing Phen-Fen, offering liposuction, was a sign of weakness. Instead I learned to lead with a tightened jaw and rationalization. Instead I excused the hurt by arguing good intentions with terrible delivery. And then, while by myself, I satisfied my angst with Double Stuffed Oreos hidden in my desk drawer.

"I hope you end up with someone who really appreciates you.  You totally deserve that," E said to me a few months ago via Gchat.

I looked at the screen, read the words, and didn't know how to respond. Because my instinct was to return the gesture. The polite response was to compliment him back. And the problem wasn't that I wished him something wretched like a horrible future. I save that sentiment for the asshats who leave their carts diagonal in the aisles of Wholefoods. But I was still too raw and hurt, angry and disappointed. For once I didn't have it in me to push down my own feelings so as to protect someone else's.

"I get the sense you think I'm a monster," E said a few days later. "There were lots of good times too, you know."

"I don't wish you ill will," I began, trying to get my footing with the expression of emotions. "But, yes, right now I hate you."

Sure, spending a long weekend in Philly with E, introducing him to Dinic's famous sandwich - roasted pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe - was ridiculously fun. Standing before works of art at the Barnes Foundation, traipsing back through for a second round after pointing out which pieces we each loved the most, is a really lovely memory. That was already established. Now I was addressing the ways he had hidden our relationship, failing to admit he was spending time with me. Now I was reacting to the times he walked out on me, leaving me alone on a Saturday night. I needed to sit with the way that made me feel. I needed to let that hurt and anger bubble up.

I'm sure E didn't like hearing what I had to say. I know, without question, he couldn't grasp why it was taking me so long to move off that emotion. That didn't matter. Confidently I held onto my need to work through these feelings. For once I was going to be selfish with my emotions. I was going to embrace the fact I had them, experience the way they felt, and allow myself to learn and grow from it all.

My old therapist once noted that people don't stay in the same place forever.  Eventually you move forward or backward; you don't remain still. In the last few weeks, I've come to peace with a lot of things. There are some ridiculous situations at work. Realizing they are beyond my control, I've made a good faith effort to release myself of the anger, frustration and disappointment that these debacles rightfully warrant. And I've also come to peace with E. I have come out the other side both wiser and happier. I have reached a point where I've replaced that sense of anger with a sense of calm.  Better yet, I hadn't even realized I had gotten here. So distracted by my attempt at growth, my desire to learn from my past (and leave it there), I was already living in my future.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sixth Sense

Leslie stopped by today with lunch. After traveling for two weeks straight, my refrigerator contained ketchup, an onion, and a package of Jarlsberg Lite. Not even McGuyver could have fashioned a meal out of those ingredients.

When we finished eating, Leslie suggested we run over to Old Navy. They were doing a promo on t-shirts, a staple of my summertime wardrobe. Plus, I had done work over the weekend and was ready for a break.

"I don't want to sound crazy but there is a tightness in my chest," I said as I pressed my palm to my throat and inhaled a deep breath. "And I think I might cry." I turned my gaze up to fight back tears.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know," I replied, knowing it was a ridiculous answer.  "Maybe it has to do with E? Like, I feel like I let him down about things," I added, grasping at straws as I attempted to wrap words around the angst bubbling up from within.

There was more I could have said.  Like I didn't admit that the previous night I had emailed E. It was a brief note after months of quiet at my end. But for some reason, I felt the need to wish him good luck with the Boston Marathon. I also failed to admit I had tracked his finish while working at my desk, toggling between a conference call, the live-feed, and the runner-tracker. I left that all out because I couldn't handle judgment while attempting to manage unexplained fear.

"That isn't normal, Paige. I really think you should talk to someone. You in no way should feel guilty."

"I think I'm going to go to the gym," I said as we left Old Navy. "Maybe that will help me calm down."

There on the screen was live breaking news about bombs at the marathon. I was startled by the video capturing the blast. I was relieved that the clock above the finish line noted a time almost ninety minutes after E had crossed. And I was in awe of the people whose instinct it was to sprint toward the blast, quickly maneuvering to aid those who were injured. I was running on the treadmill and still felt paralyzed, both by the news and the fact that my panic attack aligned perfectly with the timing of the blasts.

E never wrote back. You may not believe this but I didn't send it with the hopes of a response. It just felt like the right thing to do in the moment, so I did it. Someone asked me if I've checked in with him since the blast, and I have not. This is his day and I don't want to intrude any more than I already have.

When I left the gym, I couldn't go home. I called Leslie who, like me, was rattled by my sixth sense, something that I had run into twice with Alaska. Then I drove up the street to a store that sells crystals.  With sweat on my brow and damp workout attire, I stood before candles and sage. I ran my fingers across Buddah sculptures and polished crystals. And for the first time in hours, I felt calm. Just like the panic, I couldn't explain it.  Something beyond my control let me exhale. The difference is this time I welcomed the feeling.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Forty Down

Two weeks ago, I learned my manager had nominated me for a District Trainer position.  This meant a salary increase and a title change, both of which would open the door for greater opportunities in the weeks and months to come.  The new position is proof that working hard and rising above the drama can still reap deserved rewards.

Saturday night, after working the entire day, I headed out with Leslie.  We enjoyed a relaxing dinner at Tamarind Seed, a Thai restaurant that proves delicious ethnic cuisine does exist south of the Mason/Dixon.  We then crossed the street to hear Rachel Maddow speak.  Her words were humble and intelligent, savvy and accessible.  I left reminded that, regardless of your political stance, the best opinions are informed ones.

Yesterday Leslie surprised me with a massage. The muscle kneading was followed up by lunch at Cardamom Hill, a local eatery that has been recognized (deservedly so) by James Beard. Because apparently a mani/pedi the previous day wasn't enough of an indulgence, my paws all sparkly and groomed.  For twenty-four hours, I pretended to be a lady who lunched (and loved every minute of it).

This morning, following a late night of an Eric Clapton concert, I awakened to Anders and Olivia singing me happy birthday while Leslie held a plate with a Boston cream donut.  A single candle was stabbed in the middle with a small flame glittering in the darkness of early morning.  Barley even shuffled from his sleep to chime in.

Tonight, after a long and frustrating day of working, I closed up my computer and went up the street to enjoy some tacos.  Seated with my family, sipping a frozen margarita topped with sangria, I exhaled.  I finally stopped to pause and enjoy the day.  There was conversation to be had, food to be eaten, and an loud Mexican ensemble singing Happy Birthday so loud I couldn't help but shrink into the booth and blush.

In between it all, friends and family, people who know me well and only know me from afar, took time out of their day to send along birthday wishes.  I received an email from a friend who is a dive master in Thailand.  I received a card from a close college friend who has had to work seven days a week to make things come together.  There were text messages and Facebook updates, all from people hitting pause for a few moments if only to make my day special.

Tomorrow I'm grabbing a flight to Philadelphia.  I will need to work but when I land, I will be greeted by my good friend Joe who has promised to keep the Champagne O'ramas flowing well into the night. Saturday I will meet up with more friends and family members.  Sunday I will celebrate Easter, a tradition this Jewish gal excitedly embraces.  If all goes well, I will sneak over to the Barnes on Monday before grabbing a Chicago-bound flight for work.

I didn't go into this week with any expectations.  To me, age is just a number.  I know plenty of immature fifty-something men and stick-in-the-mud twenty-something women.  Instead, I see turning forty as an opportunity to take stock. In the last year, I've spent a tremendous amount of time trying to become a better woman. Sometimes the result is success.  Other times I'm a clumsy mess with a funky cowlick on the back of my head.  At least I'm trying.  Though it does help to have loved ones cheering you on, picking you up, and embracing you no matter what.  These people also make turning forty pretty darn spectacular.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

You Can't Buy a Porsche With a Roll of Quarters

"I'm famished," my most recent date noted as he glanced at the last bite of mushroom terrine situated between us, one of two small-plates meant to pair with our drinks, not represent a meal.

"Yours. All yours," I said with a nod and a smile before enjoying a sip of my Tempranillo.

"Fine. But once I settle up, we're walking across the parking lot to enjoy something more substantial. I insist."

We closed the second place down. That was last Thursday. No future plans have been made, though there have been hints. Tonight he even rang to propose spontaneity and margaritas.  It was already half past nine o'clock. Tomorrow morning I set off for a three-day work adventure taking me to parts of the south where two-star hotels dot the horizon.  I declined out of common sense and self-worth.

"Why can't most men bring their A-game any more?" I asked a guy friend.

"Because when we do, you freak out and say we're creepy or aggressive. You say we're spineless and smothering you and then you push us away."

He had a point. Or a point were he speaking to my younger self. Those were the days before texting and The days where you ran with a crowd, met friends of friends, and were blindly drawn to men who fit your yet-to-be-dissected-and-analyzed disfunction. But that didn't make me accept his argument just yet.

"Wait, so you're saying that when a caveman would go out to hunt and got charged by a buffalo, he'd come home, throw his spear down and announce, 'Today we become vegans?'"

"Sure. Yes," he replied.

He did agree with one opinion. I said I had a belief: I will treat you like a king but I expect to be treated like a queen.

"No, on that you're right. Men these days don't know how to treat a woman like a queen."

This is why, after cooking E dinner for months, lavish meals of ceviche and Chicken Marbella, I had to ask him to take the trash out, ask him to help me with the dishes. The same thing happened with Ex, except he fought back arguing he liked being taken care of. And with both men, I happily folded the clean laundry they curiously tossed on the dirty floor. I made the bed in the morning out of personal habit, E once claiming it as his own effort when his mother praised the improved state of his bedroom. In summary, I was nothing more than an unappreciated nanny who put out.

"Did you ever hear from that baseball player guy?" Leslie asked earlier this week.

"Actually, no.  Which is odd considering he texted to make sure I got home, said my kiss was fantastic and even asked my real last name so he could update it in his phone. Oh, whatever."

But it wasn't a cranky whatever. Unlike my younger self, I'm not taking any of this personally. And I refuse to be bitter. I will not, under any circumstances, reference my age or my married friends or the lack of good men. There are plenty of good men. Age with women is like age with wine, we only get better. Plus, there are very few marriages I look at and aspire to one day have.

For the first time, perhaps ever, I welcome the relationship stalling out before it can begin. This, I think, this limits the amount of time wasted with the wrong man. If I chase him, if I pine for him, then what?  I want a man who shows his appreciation of my cooking, who embraces my need to board a plane in Zone 1, and randomly brings me flowers because he loves seeing my face light up.

Maybe E's dating advice of 'Supply and Demand' is valid.  There aren't many women out there like me.  I'm part Julia Child, part literary genius. I can talk politics just as easily as I can discuss any Real Housewives franchise. People, my backhand is stronger than my forehand. So if I'm this unique, this rare of a commodity, the markets would dictate my value is high.  No, correction, exceptionally high.

I'm a Porsche 911 Black Edition. A first print edition of Where the Wild Things Are. A pour of Glenfiddich aged twenty-one years.  And yes, sometimes a piece of homemade parmesan kale chips will wedge itself between two teeth in a way that might challenge my worth. I will talk and laugh and have no clue about that dark green super-food marring my appearance. However, one could feasibly argue this human quality, and appreciation for leafy greens, only makes me cuter.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Time I Went Out With a Local Man Looking for a Long Distance Relationship

A few years ago, I was sitting on my old therapist's sofa, running my fingertips across the purple velvet cushions, when she said, "He's never going to marry you."

She craned her neck the same way a parent does when trying to make eye contact with a petulant child.  I continued to stroke the couch, focus my gaze on the nap and enjoy the ability to change the tone by moving my hand in the opposite direction.

"He lives in Alaska for a reason.  Also, Paige, the issue isn't you.  He will never end up with anyone.  He's a commitment-phobe."

Listen, it isn't that she was saying something crazy.  There were plenty of hints and signs throughout the years.  I just chose to ignore them, instead focusing on the few times he gave me hope. Perhaps I was finally so worn down from the back and forth that I was ready to hear this.  Maybe she just knew how to deliver the message.  Either way, I finally cut ties with Alaska.

"It's so nice dating someone local," I said to Leslie over the summer, my relationship with E only a few weeks in.  "Like, how novel to be able to randomly grab pizza with your boyfriend on a Tuesday night!"

"I think you were okay with Alaska because it protected you from dealing with a true relationship, something you just weren't ready to handle."

She was totally right.  Except until that moment, I had never seen my part in that waltz.  Not that I claimed I was an innocent victim.  I did, after all, lace up my shoes and happily step onto the dance floor.  But suddenly I saw how my own personal crap had driven my fate.

Last night I went out on a date.  There was a little hesitation on my end.  Something about his fondness for cruises and casinos that I couldn't connect with.  But I showed up with an open mind.  Oh, and also a forgetful one because I had to rifle through emails while idling in the parking lot because I had forgotten his name.

"Oh, I love New York!" he said when I mentioned the US Open.  "Do you go there often?"

"I used to when I lived in Philly.  You?" I asked before taking a sip of my cocktail.

"Yeah, I used to date a woman there.  For four years."

"Wow, that's a long stretch for long distance," I noted, internally recognizing the irony of those words exiting my mouth.

"Sure, but it worked for me," he explained.

"Why, because you're a commitment-phobe?" I asked with a chuckle.

He paused for a moment, tilted his head to the side and then said, "Huh, I guess I kinda am."

There it was, his moment of realization.  It's as if I had held up a mirror, revealing something he had never seen. Though, in all honesty, I stated the question in a joking manner.  I had never anticipated that he'd avert his gaze, focus on his drink.  That curious quiet between us? I shattered it by tossing my head back and laughing.  I laughed and laughed, doubled over at the irony of sitting next to a man I met on a dating website, a man who just admitted he's a commitment-phobe.

"Wait, why is this funny?" he asked.  "I'm just being honest.  Isn't honesty an admirable trait?"

And then it was gone.  He wasn't ready to see his part in his destiny.  He was there and then he wasn't, quick to defend himself and explain things away.  And that's all fine and good.  I've been there.  You have to really want to change in order to see it through. Exhibit A: my relationship with Alaska that ran years past its expiration date. He wasn't at a point to truly see things for what they were.  The difference between us was that I was.

"Thanks for the drink," I said as we stood in the parking lot.

"Of course," he replied.

They were generic pleasantries shared between two people that would never cross paths again.  On the upside, it was a reality we both embraced and welcomed, each of us turning on our heels and heading off in opposite directions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sometimes You Just Need to Shut It

Sometime in early fall, after E and I had broken up for the second or third time, Leslie called to share her thoughts.  She questioned us spending so much time together when we were broken up.  She expressed frustration that I was okay with half of a relationship.  And she just wouldn't relent.

"I get it.  You don't like what's going on," I said, my voice firm and my fist clenched.

She pushed a little more, so intent on what she needed to say that she had no ability to hear me speak.

"Seriously, I get it.  Now stop.  I don't know what the hell pissed you off today but I'm not in a mood to be on the receiving end of this.  I'll think about it.  Now shut the fuck up!"

After my dad fell, double brain trauma landing him a cozy corner room at a rehab hospital, my mom and I sorted through how to let him know he would never be driving again.  This, we thought, this would be the perfect time to break the news.  We discussed the best approach and I won the coin toss on delivering the decision.

"Mom and I think it would be best that you focus on walking again and shelve the driving thing until you're all healed." I left out the part about us asking his neurologist to reinforce this idea.

"Oh, I'll be fine," he said as he took a sip of some Cherry Coke.  "Pass me a Peep!"

The other day, E caught me online.  He said hello and I responded.  He noted he didn't treat me well on a few ocassions, my reply being a simple, I agree. The rest is a little bit of a blur.  I know at one point he said he cared about me, emphasizing 'a lot' at the close by repeating it.  There may or may not have been mention of the woman he has been dating, the woman he met around two or so weeks after I instituted a 90-day break, something to help provide clarity.  And then there were a slew of dating suggestions.

"Never ever let a man treat you like that again."

"Some things, parts of your past, should never ever be shared, not even with your boyfriend."

Caught up in the moment, I responded.  I noted the irony of a man who moments early acknowledged mistreating me giving me advice to never tolerate being mistreated.  I pointed out that when you love someone, truly love them, you embrace them and their random bad decisions littering their past.  I engaged, often times laughing as I typed, until he said something about why I am single or maybe never married.  To be honest, I couldn't quite wrap my head around the statement.

"It's about supply and demand."

It isn't a complex sentence but it does carry various messages, none of which are supportive, thoughtful or caring.  They are words that lack heart, empathy, warmth.  And they are words spoken by a man who just prior noted caring about me, wanting the best for me.  I had been reduced to a business plan and a rather insulting one at that.  Worse yet, it was unsolicited advice, his need to speak far outweighing any concern about what I needed to hear.

A few hours after I snapped at Leslie back in the fall, she sent a three-part text message apologizing for taking some personal frustration out on me.  My father, we've let him continue on with his life, a life filled with tennis lessons and line dancing extravaganzas, realizing that he can't take a driving test without hitching a ride from one of us.  And as for E, the following day he saw me online and apologized for being blunt.

"Okay," I replied.

He accused me of being vague.  He wanted me to clarify the tone, good or bad, attached to a four letter word on his monitor.  I didn't have it in me to explain or go deeper.  It would require too much energy to organize my thoughts and deliver them in a clear manner, energy better spent on a work crisis amongst other things.  More importantly, I wasn't all that confident he'd hear what I had to say. So alas, I chose to say nothing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How You Get From Here to There

Glance in the rear-view mirror, but don't linger for a long stare. Catch a glimpse of what's behind you, knowing with every mile-marker it gets further and further away.  Don't get so distracted by what you see that you lose your way.  Turning back to the present, focusing your eyes on the future, should never be jarring.

Keep your hands on the wheel.  A pothole could rattle the tire, tug you off course.  That small slick of water could be deeper than you ever expected and leave you gliding above the ground.  Don't white knuckle it but don't get cocky and think you always have it all under control.  You don't.

Move at a comfortable speed, fast enough to enjoy the journey but not so fast that everything whirs by in a blur.  Crack the window to smell the snow pelting your windshield.  Soak in the full moon so low it almost sits on the horizon.  Smile at the tired trucker on his tenth straight hour moving oranges to Walmart, desk chairs to Ikea, pens to Staples.

Be patient.  There will be obstacles like heavy rainstorms that will erase the lines.  Worse yet, there will be times you're at a complete standstill, a sea of brake lights before you.  Remain calm.  Exhale that you are safe.  Turn up the volume and sing louder to My Dear, Sweet NothingFunky Kingston.  Shrug at the drivers behind you who grumpily slam their fists against the steering wheel.

Listen, leaning on the horn never made a traffic jam untangle itself.  Just as the person on the phone, the one dangerously drifting between lanes, is perhaps receiving tragic news.  And anyway, it wasn't my fault the coin machine at the toll plaza ate two of my quarters but only registered one, leaving me to dig through my purse at the last minute in an attempt to scrape together two dimes and one last nickel.  Be empathetic.  It makes us all better human beings.

But for as useless as rage can be, as selfish and unproductive the results, I'll admit that sometimes it feels good to raise your right hand and flip off the person who is riding your ass from behind, high-beams blinding you as they bounce off the rear-view mirror. You glance through a squint, raise your hand and extend your middle finger, the glare curving around your gesture.

"Asshole," you mutter.

As traffic clears, as you inch your way forward, first by lifting your foot off the brake and next by slowly stepping on the gas, glance one last time in your rear-view mirror.  See the assholes that wronged you, the experiences that shaped you, and the love that surrounded you.  Be reminded of the moments you hope to live again.  Laugh at the ones that you hope to never experience more than once.

Then turn your attention back to the open road before you, a stretch of macadam destined to contain everything you aspire to experience and many things you could have never dreamed for yourself. Turn up the radio. Accelerate through turns. Enjoy the moment.  Be excited for what is just around the bend.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Bahbah Wants A Binky

"Mmmm," I moaned as I chomped into a crispy celery stick.  "It tastes just like a hot fudge sundae!"

"I know, right?" Leslie said as she plucked another piece out of the Ziploc on my lap and pulled off the highway.

We were officially a few days into Weight Watchers, signing up together with the hopes that, as a united front, we could kick some pounds to the curb once and for all.

"I want a sundae!" Anders excitedly said from the backseat, the boy completely confused and speechless when I passed back some celery. 

I'm not going to lie, the first week of any lifestyle change can be rocky. Suddenly power foods like quinoa, edamame and avocado are the work of the devil.  Gone are Sunday morning trips to Goldberg's for toasted bagels topped with a shmear and nova.  Don't even get me started on the paralysis that sets in when you have to find sustenance in an airport.

After a week of egg-white breakfasts, carrot stick snacks and fat-free cheese that curiously does melt at high heats, I stepped on the scale.  I was nervous and anxious and just about exploded when the woman told me I was down 6.8lb.  There was no turning back now.

The weeks that followed presented losses only fractions of a pound, something that would have previously led me to a fit of tears and the fetal position. But with Leslie repeatedly praising me for moving the scale in the right direction, I decided to cheer myself on instead of beat myself up.

"That's really good," I whispered to the woman eyeing the low-fat brownie mix in aisle two of my local Trader Joe's.

"Oh, yeah? I'm on Weight Watchers," the woman replied.

"Me too! Those are three points a piece and freeze well. But this applesauce is zero points because it doesn't have anything but fruit," I said as I piled a few boxes into my hand-basket.

Those applesauce packets, the ones where you can twist off a cap and suck out the contents, have saved me from epic failure.  I eat them while running errands on a Saturday, the sweetness tying me over without having to test temptation at Starbucks.  I eat them as I run over to the gym , the caloric content just enough to get me going.

"I saw these blended fruit packets at Publix and grabbed some for you," Leslie said when she stopped by my place yesterday.  "They have really cool flavors like peas/kale/apple."

That three-ingredient description totally sounds like one of the flavors you can order at the Wholefoods juice counter.  But when I spotted an illustration of Peter Rabbit on the packaging, I sensed something was not quite right.

"I think that's baby food....."

"No, no.  It was by the applesauce.  Those blended fruits and veggie things are really popular.  And Kale is so good for you!"

I picked up the peaches/mango/banana packet and turned it over.  Quietly to myself, I read the back.  Then aloud.

"Great for growing babies."

"It was by the applesauce, I swear!" Leslie insisted as she laughed.  "Here, I'll take it back," she added with outstretched hands.

"Oh what the heck," I said as I gathered the packages and tossed them in my fruit basket alongside bananas, clementines and Trader Joe's applesauce.  Then I went to my refrigerator.

"I was going to make kale chips.  Want some?" I asked as I pulled two bunches of organic Kale from the veggie drawer and shredded Parmesan from the shelf.  "It's just like cotton candy!"

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What Would Yolanda Do?

"You totally deserve better than this," I said to a friend after she told me her beau had ditched her last minute to grab drinks with friends, ignoring the fact she had cooked him a gourmet dinner.

"You totally deserve better than this," I said to a friend when she rang me from her job, her spirit destroyed by a manager who was thorny and self-serving and most certainly a candidate for medication.

It's always easier to stick up for your friends and it has nothing to do with being biased.  Wrong is wrong.  It's just so much harder to decipher it when you're in the middle of things.  It's like walking up to a piece of art, pressing your nose to the canvas, and surrendering the ability to see clearly.

This is why I spent a year tolerating a boss who withheld commission payouts, money that he openly acknowledged he owed me but conveniently failed to deposit in my account.  This is why, embracing my mother's commentary, I signed up for Phen-Fen, liposcution and Weight Watchers.  This is why I splurged on a $300 Nespresso machine for a man who only a month or so prior had called me a bitch.  "I said that?" he asked with a chuckle when I mentioned it.

"Why is it so hard to just walk away from something that we know is bad for us?" I asked Leslie as we sat down for burgers.

"What would Yolanda do?" she replied, Yolanda being a cast member of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  She is confident but not arrogant.  She identifies what she desires and expects nothing less.  Her husband adores her.

"Yolanda would prance around her ginormous Malibu mansion before strolling through her lemon grove."

"In her Hermes belt."

"That too."

I know this sounds self-help-y but we often get what we think we deserve. Yolanda believes she deserves the best and, dammit, that woman gets it. And this isn't about being entitled.  These days I don't even expect a man to hold the door for me, or when he does, I argue with him about it.

"It's okay," I'll say as I shoo him ahead of me, both hands tangled up with shopping bags from Publix.  "Seriously, thanks though. This is why God gave me hips."

Yolanda would stand in front of the door waiting for someone to open it, being gracious and composed and appreciative as she strolls across the threshold.

It isn't easy changing how we act.  Heck, it took me eight months to start sleeping on the other side of the bed.  But I want to stop making excuses for another person's poor behavior that short-changes me.  I want to stop accepting criticism that is neither constructive nor imperative to transforming me into a better person.  And I want to stop tolerating and sometimes even rewarding behavior that qualifies as utter disrespect.

"You totally deserve better than this," I want to say to myself as I lift my chin, offer a soft smile, and walk away.  After all, that is exactly what Yolanda would do.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What a Jerk-off

"Join us for another round," the Brit proposed as he and a coworker settled up with the bartender.

"Would love to but I really need to get home to finish some work," I said, exaggerating my interest and fibbing about my professional obligations. Besides there being no chemistry on my end, he was sporting a gold pinky ring. Gold. Pinky ring. On a man.

"Then I'll call to make sure you got home okay."

I stopped to get gas.  I set my boots in my closet and my purse on a dining room chair.  I meandered into my office and glanced at my computer, a mandatory training session frozen on slide twenty-three of ninety-six.  And in the process, I missed his calls.  Yes, two of them.

"Hey!" I said when my phone rang a third time. "I have my phone on vibrate and didn't hear it buzzing earlier."

"You got home alright?" he asked.

I told him yes and then somehow got sucked into a conversation, politely answering his questions while watching the television on mute.

"I'm sorry?" I asked.

"I said, what do you wear when you're feeling mischievous?"

Part of me wanted to lecture him that such an inquiry was inappropriate, referencing Naomi Wolf and quoting Emily Post.  Another part wanted to point out that me leaning in and whispering, "I'm not wearing any panties," is much sexier than me randomly noting that on some occasions I go commando.  And yet another part of me was concerned by the random rustling in the background.

"I'm really not comfortable with that question," I said, ignoring the fact that there is enough evidence littering my past to preclude me from ever running for public office.  "Also, I really do need to get back to work."

The next morning, as my trainer counted out peck-fly reps, sweat dripping off my nose and landing on the bench, I relayed the story. 

"I'm not sure if the British accent hurt or helped but he just came across as such a creeper."

My trainer snickered and laughed, covering his mouth and doubling over at the waist.  And when he was done, when he had finally composed himself, he responded.

"Oh yeah, no, dude was totally jerking off."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

180 Degrees

In the film 180deg South, Yvon Chouinard, longtime adventurer and founder of Patagonia, made a comment about how we handle obstacles and that going backwards is only a figment of one's imagination:  You can take one step forward or you can turn around 180 degrees and take a step forward.  Which way are you going?  And which way is progress?

A lot changed for me in 2012.  I moved south, leaving behind a condo I couldn't afford to sell and a former boss erroneously threatening to sue me for defamation of character.  I accepted a new position in a different industry, learning that though the grass is always greener, every patch of grass is dotted with steaming piles of dog pooh.  I dated and broke up with the same man three times, learning more about myself in that span of time than I have from any other prior relationship.

As I inched my way toward the close of the year, I glanced over my shoulder and took stock.  My apartment in Atlanta was finally fully furnished and felt like home, my Philly condo occupied by a caring scientist from Japan.  My hard work in my new position had earned me an all-expense paid reward trip to Grand Cayman, Pina Coladas included.  I had no complaints. Though for as good as things were, my unfinished novel still haunted me.

"I think I want to write a screenplay," I said to Leslie in December, both of us sprawled out on chaises on our parents' Florida lanai.

"Do it!"

"The literary market is dead.  Hearing James Patterson speak in November and seeing my friend with a two-book deal plug away at teaching made this incredibly clear to me."

"Right, so do it!"

"I think that's why I can't finish my novel.  It feels like a useless dead end."

"Seriously, do it.  Now can we get back to discussing Bethenny Frankel and her divorce rumors?"

Within 24-hours, I rang up my friend in Los Angeles who, thanks to her gym membership and gregarious personality, knows award winning writers and producers, one of which was standing on the stage at this past weekend's Golden Globe awards.  "She knows the one next to Clooney," I bragged to Leslie.  Anyway, my friend gave me some advice, noted craft books I should read, and told me to have fun.  The last part was my biggest fear.  It has been years since I found writing fun.

A few weeks ago, I made some free-thinking notes about my manuscript.  I sketched a timeline, noted key scenes, identified relevant characters.  Then I set that aside and picked up a book by Syd Field.  Last night, as I curled up on a flight back from Chicago, I pulled out the craft book, broke back the spine, and started reading.  Eighty pages and more than a few neon yellow highlighter streaks later, I looked up to see us touchdown in Atlanta.  

"This book is brilliant," I said to Leslie as I shoveled in bites of takeout Thai food she had grabbed for me.  "And I'm kinda baffled why this was never required reading for my MFA."

I excitedly explained that character is defined by action, not words. It is the inverse of writing a novel. And through action one tells a story.

"No, this is actually really fascinating," she said when I apologized for spending ten minutes analyzing the characters in 'Silver Linings Playbook.'

"I know, right?  Oh, and by the way, I met a guy on the train back from the airport.  A Brit.  Who likes tennis.  We shared a cab."

"Wait, what?!?!"

"Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that. Huh. My bad."