Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gratitude for a Happy Home

I am pretty sure my housekeeper thinks I have a drug problem.

She does not judge the sink full of dishes I leave each week, nor the un-watered plants that are on the brink of death, or even the random (wrapped!) condom she finds that has slipped out the back of my nightstand. But each time she visits my home, she completely removes all traces of the white pills I leave on the stovetop.

The pills, of course, are for my cat Peaches, who has a heart problem and relies on the milky white drugs for normal daily function. Her pills are kept in two stocked pharmacy bottles on the kitchen windowsill, and because she needs only a quarter of a human heart medication, I keep the cut pills on the stove next to the olive oil (who doesn’t?!).

My housekeeper, Alicia, doesn’t speak English, so she is not able to read that the innovative Target pill bottles are clearly marked “Peaches Marconi.” And even if she could, I am not sure she realizes that this is the name of my cat. 

Does it matter?

Alicia arrives each Thursday morning as I am leaving for work, and the best communication we can manage is of the weather. Since I am usually only half-dressed by the time she arrives, she tells me if it’s cold or warm; and I head off, leaving her to take care of my home, which she does, every time, with amazing care. She is a fantastic asset. But because we can’t communicate properly – even on the most basic level - I often wonder what she perceives of my lifestyle.

We obviously come from significantly different backgrounds. She is from another country, although I don’t know where; she has a family, which I only know because her daughter manages most of her business affairs; and she makes a living cleaning homes, which I know because I was referred by someone else. But that’s it. That is all I've got on her. Yet, due to her role in managing my home, we share an intimate relationship - especially since she knows much more about my life.

She knows that I hate doing dishes and that I attempt to recycle. She knows my cycle of bed sheets, which shoes I’ve worn the day before, the mail I receive. She knows that I leave the radio on for my cat, which shampoo I use, and the magazines and books I am reading at any given time. She sees that I like fresh flowers, fragrant candles, and that I pull daily affirmations from a jar. She’s even met a former boyfriend, the apartment manager, and my handyman. And apparently, she also thinks I have an issue with small white pills.

Alicia has become an integral part of my life, and besides the obligatory bonuses on the holidays and attempted thank you notes in Spanish, I have no way to show her how much this care means to me. Is this a larger societal problem, or my own personal bourgeois guilt?

Throughout time, women not related to us have taken care of our homes, our children, our businesses. Their daily labor has produced a good percentage of our nation’s GDP, raised productive adults, and kept chaos at bay – and all under the table. Although at some economic level this is simply a macro issue of supply and demand, it seems that there should be a greater priority to thank those who do much of society’s work – the efforts that seem not so economically viable for us to do ourselves.

I am not sure how to express this gratitude to my trusty housekeeper... I doubt she realizes how much it means to me that she can take care of an area of my life that I cannot, and I often wonder if it signifies anything more to her than simply a few more hours of regular work in her week.  

All I can hope is that our weekly weather chats, my copious thank yous and the random bonuses speak this respect. Or maybe it’s enough for her that she is saving my soul by discarding the small white pills. Either way, I appreciate her and what she brings to my home – and perhaps one day we will find a better way to share this certainty. Rehab, anyone?!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sex Seven Times A Week? Better Watch Out...

Addiction is a very real part of our society. Every one knows someone who struggles with, or has been affected by, an addiction to drugs or alcohol. It can be heartbreaking to see a substance have such an affect on someone - and have little control over how to help. Over the years scientists and doctors have determined that these specific addictions have a genetic foundation, and they are now considered diseases.

Can this also be true for sex? 

This month, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is considering adding sex addiction to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders (DSMIV),
the “standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.” It's important because it determines what is a psychological illness - and because illness needs treatment, health insurance providers are more likely to cover it (and society to take a greater interest in it).   

The proposed "hypersexual disorder" suggests that illness can be present if "you spend so much time pursuing intercourse or masturbation as to interfere with your job or other important activities." 
Warning signs would include "repetitively engaging" in sexual behaviors when you are anxious, depressed or stressed OR having more than seven orgasms a week for at least six months - actual sex or otherwise. 

Seven? Seriously? There are definitely relationships I’ve been in where I would have qualified. And have they met most men in Los Angeles? And gay men everywhere?

I know that addictions are very real, and I know that there are men (and women) who have extreme appetites for sexual encounters. But with individual sex drives ranging so dramatically, how can one determine how much is too much sex? For the most part, men generally complain they aren't getting enough; and women couldn't care less about it until they hit their late 20s and then they’re on fire. Modern sexuality is very specific, readily available and increasingly less taboo. 

It is also partly inherited, somewhat environmental, and definitely a crazy combination of hormones stemming from the limbic system in the brain (the very front, important part that regulates survival and pleasure). Attraction, mood, a great ass, ulterior motives, smell and other elusive factors are also generally involved. As humans, we are literally hardwired to want to have sex - not only for reproduction but also to engage a mate for lifelong companionship.

So unlike prescribed treatments for alcohol and drug addiction, it is very difficult to treat a sex addiction by abstaining from the act of having sex. Treatment centers are still working on alternative ways to treat it and society hasn't quite determined if this is an actual disease. 

So with a vague definition, a liberal model for diagnosis, and an ambiguity for treatment, the APA has its work cut out for them: is sex addiction an actual psychological disorder, or is this an outcome of a society that can watch porn on-demand, is more sexually educated than ever before, and grew up under looser sexual norms? Should we send the offenders to treatment centers or tell them knock it off? 

These are big questions that have pretty weighty outcomes - and we will learn the final prognosis in the next couple of months. In the meantime be sure to keep track of how many orgasms you’re having, just to be safe – or to have something to brag about.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Current Love Affairs

I’m not in love with Valentine’s Day. And really who is? Singeltons get shafted and couples get gouged by expectations and overpriced accoutrements. On the plus side, my gym class will probably not be as crowded as it has been since the New Year began.

But rather than wax poetic about all the things wrong with this Hallmark Holiday, I will instead share about all of the things that I am in love with – on February 14 and every other day throughout the year. And while they may not be as exciting as a hot date, can't snuggle on the couch with me, and don’t offer long-lasting partnership - at any given moment they can me smile, inspire me, or remind me of the magic that is all around.

Stargazer Lillies
I am not a fan of perfumes, but the fragrance of these flowers is my absolute favorite. Add that to the tall, bright green stalks of five-pointed star buds and you can’t go wrong with an arrangement of these beauties in your home.

Los Angeles Sunsets
LA has some of the greatest sunsets in the world. When the sun dips below the Pacific Ocean, orange and pink hues are kicked around the LA basin and cover everything from the mountains to the high rises with a soft blanket of light. It never ceases to make me pause in awe... my kind of daily meditation!

This American Life
Ira Glass and his team at This American Life (produced by Chicago Public Radio and aired on NPR) are some of the most clever journalists around. Their well-researched and interesting stories absolutely make my Sunday mornings and teach me something new each week. I never knew that I wanted to know so much about topics that range from the inner workings of the Fed to youth politics in China. Download the iPhone app!

A love of these smallest birds runs in my family - we all have a special affinity for them. And just watching a hummingbird navigate his world immediately calms me down - I can stare for hours. They are so delicate, yet efficient; beautiful, yet hard working. I recently saved the life of one of these tiny creatures and it was one of the most poignant experiences I've had.

There is something so magical about a happy coincidence. You think of someone and they call; a check arrives in the mail the day you accidently bought too many pairs of shoes. These moments of synergy make me smile and remind me that we are all connected in one way or another.

And finally, I love writing this blog. It has become a wonderful outlet for me and I really enjoy the practice of putting words to “paper” and getting them out into the world. So on this random holiday – and every other time I post throughout the year – know that I am sending you love and appreciation for being a part of my online experience. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's All in the Timing

I always get dumped on a Wednesday.

It is the strangest thing. But it is true - the last few people I’ve dated, who’ve chosen to end things with me, decided to do it on a Wednesday. One was on St. Patrick’s Day. One was last week. From 2:30-2:35 in the afternoon.

Always a nice way to end hump day.

And also a nice reminder of the importance of timing.

For most things in life, it all comes down to timing. And not just in the “we’re not in the same place in our lives” kind of timing. More in the way that, as humans, we generally invest time in the things we consider to be priorities. For most it is a deep and evolving connection with family and friends. For others it’s completing a marathon, traveling to every country or launching a business.

For me, for the last couple of months, it was investing in a relationship.

For those of you keeping score at home, you may have noticed that I have not posted a blog in a while. Instead, I have spent my time getting to know someone whose company I enjoyed. Dates, holidays, football games. And my lack of perspective left little time to write about anything relevant or interesting. Plus, he lived so far away, I was practically on vacation each weekend!

But have no fear dear readers, I am back to the keyboard with full force! And back to tennis, girls’ nights, weekend getaways that are actually vacations, and a greater dedication to my work. With a nudge of rejection, my priorities have again shifted and therefore, how and where I spend my time.

Surely there is a greater message here about maintaining balance in one’s life, not sacrificing a perfectly fine routine for silly hair twirling, not putting all of your eggs in one basket. But for me, finding a brilliant relationship is somewhat of a priority, so dramatically shifting my energy into something that seemed to have potential did not seem to be a waste of time. Plus I have a bad habit of jumping in to things.

In its essence, dating is a painful experiment. It is laced with excitement and bliss, uncertainty and rejection, bad timing and misplaced priorities. But as my mom reminds me, and if you look at it in the right light, it is also a learning opportunity.

So now that it’s over, and with time on my hands, new priorities on my list, and many break-up free Wednesdays on the horizon, I am finding comfort in romantic poet Lord Byron who said, “Time is the corrector when our judgments err.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Matchy Matchy?

This evening, I had to access my Gmail account, which I rarely ever use. And upon logging in, I found 280 profiles of men that eHarmony said would be a good match for me.

Yes, I have an eHarmony account. No, I am not a huge fan of online dating. And until tonight, I had forgotten that even had an active profile.

One week before I left for my European adventure, and one week after my 30th birthday, I decided that I needed to put myself out into the dating world, and a coupon-bargain price for eHarmony seemed like just the ticket. So late that Friday afternoon, I gathered my employees into my office, made them help me answer all of the questions, and within an hour, presto! I was live in the world of online dating, fresh with six “matches of compatibility.”

The next night I met a guy the old-fashioned way: at a party.

It’s the kind of universal karma I love: just when I feel the need to online date, the universe rewards me with not having to.

So we spent a wonderful Labor Day weekend together, and off I went to EuropeTraveling around romantic European locales while high on a new love interest can’t be beat. We texted, we chatted. It was fun and new and exciting. I came home and we had another fabulously wonderful weekend together.

And then we got to know each other a bit more. And turns out, we have very little in common. He is conservative, I am liberal. He is religious, I practice the dharma of “be nice to people.” He likes the suburbs, I live in the city. He’s up early, I sleep in.

But we have fun together, he holds my hand, and he makes me smile. And I kinda like him.

So as I logged on and quickly viewed a couple of the hundreds of Angeleno men who were “compatibility matched” for me by eHarmony – mostly liberal, “Other” religious, marathon runners - it made me wonder, “What really makes a good match for a relationship?” and, more importantly, “Is it better to date someone like you, or can opposites attract?”

Research tends to prove the former.

"People prefer their own kind," says J. Philippe Rushton, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario. "Extroverts favor extroverts; traditionalists, traditionalists."

And in a recent study, researchers from Cornell University, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan concluded that, “Similarity is the rule and complimentarily is the exception.” They found that, “we are attracted to people who have similar attitudes and values because they validate what we believe, they are more likely to experience the same emotional reactions to the same situation, and they are more likely to react to the same situations in the same ways.”

And although one of the most expansive studies on the topic, performed at the University of Iowa and reported by the American Psychology Association, found that couples who had, “more in common personality-wise (agreeableness, anxiety levels, extroversion), as opposed to attitude-wise (religion, politics), were more likely to be very happy and satisfied with their marriages,” people generally tend to be with those who are “similar in attitudes, religion and values.” 

So where does that leave me? I have never dated someone with such opposing views. But I also think it could make things interesting (and for this, I would be in the majority: a recent article in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found that 85.7 percent of participants claim to want someone who has their opposite traits).

Outside of all of the academia, I think I tend to agree more with marriage and family therapist Isadora Alman’s position that the bigger question should be not “are we compatible?” but, “how good are you at negotiating?” and “how invested are you in always getting your own way?" These questions, she believes, are far better predictors of a happy time together. 

If both parties can respect the others’ views and be okay with the differences - then there is a good chance things could work out. And if not, then it would probably be too much of a challenge.

And I am an optimist - and he’s so very cute, and we do have a couple of other very important things in common, like country music, college football and … other things. So I in for giving it a whirl. And I will be sure to give him the space he needs to watch Fox News in private.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Risky Business

It is raining today and I love it.

I have a large bay window in my office and I am just staring out of it – listening to the raindrops and the busy Barham traffic sloshing through them.

Work seems to distract from my enjoyment of the rain, so instead I am getting caught up on my reading: The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a New York Times article about LinkedIn and my favorite blog, Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. (For my job, this is considered working, but I always have a hard time justifying it).

I haven’t read Penelope’s blog for a while – I think she took a break from writing over the summer and I’ve been slow to catch up on her new posts. But she is an excellent writer and reading her blog inspires me to want to do the same. I have felt this way throughout my life: when I read something really good, it makes me want to write something really good. Which makes me think that I want to be a writer.

But getting that going often seems like a huge challenge – and counterintuitive to my nature.

Writing is risky. Ideas go from inside your head and out into the world. People read them and may judge you, or not agree with you, or know too much about you. You may spend hours on something that never finds the light of day. You may spend a weekend on something that no one likes. You might miss the window of relevance because you needed to prepare for the staff-wide business development meeting.

Writing also takes a lot of self-discipline. In order to be good at something, one must practice it again and again – and usually on some kind of regular basis. In theory, the idea of a prescribed writing agenda sounds really good to me - but something else usually comes along to throw it off: dinner plans, a much-needed Spin class, The Closer.

So suffice it to say: I am not a huge risk-taker and I have a very hard time practicing self-discipline. But I would really like to capture both of these ideals… as we all know, there is little reward without risk and few results without a little self-discipline.

Penelope has recently written about both of these challenges. In last week's, How to Take Intelligent Risks, she concludes that trying something new isn’t really all that risky since humans are quite adept at positively rationalizing an outcome - even if it’s not the one we expected. And that taking risks comes with only a small emotional cost: others are so concerned about what’s going on with them that they have little time to worry about whether or not you are suceeding.

For a year Penelope also wrote extensively about what makes people happy. Interestingly, having self-discipline tops the list. But its elusiveness can also drive people mad. So her advice is to “find an easy re-entry point” and to give up on perfectionism, “the enemy of self-discipline.” For a Virgo, this line of thinking is also very risky. But this astrological attribute also comes with a gift for making plans and outlining beautiful to-do lists, which for me is a starting point for any project.

Based on circular logic, this all means that writing will help me take risks, realize self-discipline and achieve maximum happiness. Not a bad gig! So with my writing tool box packed with a finely crafted road map, a fantastic skill for rationalizing, and an impeccable to-do list, I will give it a whirl.

And if it doesn’t work out, I will find a really great way to tell you why. And then make a list for how to achieve my next venture.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Holiday Part One: Paris

I am enjoying a holiday in Paris - and I was basically forced to come here.

Nine months ago I was seriously considering moving out of LA. My life was lacking a some joie de vivre and I was feeling pretty ... blah.

Work is the same! No decent men to date! I'll never be able to buy a house - much less a condo!

I needed a change. And moving to Portland was the best one I could come up with. 

I thought about it for weeks (I knew it was serious when I subscribed to Portland Monthly) and then shared my grand plan with those who knew me best. In return I was given plenty of feedback, most of which translated to: bad idea.

You're just running away! Your business is in LA! Do you know it rains all year in Oregon?! 

Most understood my need for change, but they suggested that, perhaps, it wasn't the city that was the issue (couldn't possibly be me?!) and that I should search for other avenues for significant change. I was given three palpable gems of advice for how to shake things up:
  • Take a long vacation
  • Get a new apartment
  • Find a hobby (thanks, C!)
So here I sit in a Parisian cafe drinking wine, eating cheese and writing - and I totally see that they were right (and I was wrong?!). 

In Paris, things are a little different ... Lunch is a bigger deal than dinner, wine is cheaper than water, peeing in toilettes on the corner is normal, and long breaks from work is totally the norm (if not required by law).

So I think the French - and my business partner Bob - are definitely on to something: time away from the regular ebb and flow of life is somewhat of a necessity in order to avoid completely burning out.

I've never taken two weeks off of work - and not because I wasn't encouraged to do so. It was mostly because I thought there was some kind of honor in being continuously available to the needs of my business... Not checking email? Blasphemous! The office function without me? Doubtful! Business travel surely counts as getting away?!

But as I prepared to exit the country and leave my workload with my colleagues, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom. Unplugging from email, voicemail, payroll, billpay and client needs- and allowing others to take care of those things (or at least prep well enough so their work was minimal)- felt like a luxury. The idea of traveling abroad was almost secondary. I finally understood the idea du jour of needing time away from the daily grind, and appreciated the art of letting others provide support. Two life lessons in one two-week trip!

I'm sure that this vacation will not completely cure my addiction to working - when I get back I will still feel mildly guilty about taking a day off or asking for help with my workload - I am a career- driven American after all! - but I do think my mentality will be changed. And surely my job will not seem so much like "work" when a long vacation is the reward for a solid year of productivity.

So, basically, I almost have my life figured out ... or I'm at least two-thirds of the way there (I also moved into a new apartment that I love). So once I find that much-needed hobby (possibly on my next stop in Italy?), I will be completely on track. 

Here's to hoping the hobbies don't include daily wine drinking at noon or peeing in public.

Au Revoir!

** Note: I am now home, but due to the lack of free wi-fi in Europe, I couldn't actually post these blogs while I was traveling!

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