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The Living Is Easy

beach

You may live somewhere unbearably hot and humid, or somewhere unseasonably cold and clammy; geography aside, the season holds a certain appeal. There is not other time of the year in which the message is “slow down you move too fast.” For three months (out of every year) we are expected to indulge in the lazy hazy days of summer. This mood and mode are in direct opposition to the other nine months of the year that can be characterized as “make a buck, make a buck” (to quote Alfred the Macy’s Santa helper.) It’s a startling contrast when you think about it.

We are a money worshipping society. Ever day there’s a study on wealth, a new report about what it takes to retire, or an expose on social mobility. “To infinity and beyond” is our national motto. We care less (collectively) about the quality of life versus its price tag. Yet here smack dab in the calendar year we’re told to kick back, put on our wayfarers and sip an umbrella drink. And yes, how we engage in these endeavors varies according to wealth. But whether your driver is taking you to the Hamptons helipad Friday afternoon, or your sitting on a folding chair in your backyard, toes in the wading pool, drink in hand, the mood and the intention are the same: the living is easy.

You may enjoy all the recommended activities of summer, or you may find all that outdoorsiness to be uncomfortable and buggy. What you do isn’t nearly as important as how you feel. You can of course choose to engage with summer as a competitive sport making your way through a “bucket list” (the very term conjures an unpleasant farm or outdoor plumbing experience.) That of course is your prerogative. But unlike any other time of the year there is no external pressure to do so. Summer is about sensory pleasure pure and simple. It’s three months of berry stained fingers, sand in your toes, the cooling breeze of a fan on your skin, and the sound of clinking ice (and the ice cream man.) It’s a season of forgetting your troubles and just getting happy.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Well-Being

 

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Pretty Woman (Walking Down The Street)*

When I saw a woman walking on the street in just a bathing suit I did not say anything. I told myself there could be any number of reasons for such a thing. “Out patient” came to mind, as did “house fire” or “luggage lost.” My therapeutic self wondered if she’d yet to find closure for an unfortunate childhood experience. I decided that a woman walking down the street (of a major metropolis) in only a bathing suit was if not entirely a one-off well then certainly an anomaly. And then I saw another one. However this one was not alone. She was walking with a male companion and talking on the phone (indications of someone sane enough to be socializing.) She was walking right up the avenue, if you will, on the Upper East Side. (For those unfamiliar with this territory think: uber-conventional, traditional, a “society” kind of reputation. There was a time you would find actual blue haired ladies in the area. Today those ladies are tightly pulled, puffed & have their many hued long hair blown straight.) There she was, strolling along in her two scraps of fabric, dyed jet black & white hair, and ink intensive tattoo spanning shoulder to shoulder. No doubt coming from a fitting, choosing a hat or on her way to plan a brunch.

I’ll admit a heat wave is a natural enemy of style. When the temperature slips north of 90 nobody wants anything touching them. A waistband, a sleeve or even a proper shoe could send chills up the spine (which probably would feel refreshing!) A straw hat is practically a must, which causes a muss of the hair. Which is actually fine because who in the world is going to take a blow dryer to their head in this heat? It’s certainly tempting to forgo proper foundation garments because lifting and separating can also be sweaty and suffocating. So style slippage is understandable. Walking around town in a bathing suit is not.

If we were to ask the young lady what exactly she was thinking when she put together her little ensemble; no doubt she would cite “comfort” as her biggest inspiration. Comfort’s great. Ya know what’s comfortable? Bed, bed is very comfortable. But you see being in public is not the same as being in private. Making the choice to leave your house (when it’s not on fire) involves some cerebral cortex functions. Keys? Check. Phone? Check. Lights off, stove off? Check and check. Wearing clothes? Not really. If a bathing suit was clothing a) it wouldn’t have a special name b) it wouldn’t have a special section in the department store c) it wouldn’t only be sold in the summer. No doubt there are times when wearing only a bathing suit while walking is perfectly acceptable; at a marina perhaps or on the boardwalk. But context is king is it not?

We all live in the world. The world is not exactly the same as our living room. Clipping nails on the subway, playing with or styling one’s hair in public (over my lunch) are hostile acts. Choosing to ignore context is tantamount to giving the world the finger. You needn’t dye your hair blue or don a sweater set and pearls to walk the street, but you need to put on some clothes. Without them we will assume that walking the streets is what you “do”.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

*Pretty Woman (1964) Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Style

 

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I Can Do That*

Summer is almost here and soon the children will be set free.  Lockers and cubbyholes will be cleaned out and juice box stained mortarboards discarded.  Those with (state recognized) diplomas will bid a final adieu to attendance, directives issued by bells, homeroom and gym class.  They are skipping into the sun off to great adventures.

But what of those children between juice box and Starbucks?  What does the summer hold for them?  No doubt there is a population spending their summer as free-range children.  They spring forth from the house after a hearty breakfast and are not seen again until their next feeding.  They scamp, scurry, swim, and explore with other children.  There are evenings of lightening bug hunting (and teary mornings when the bugs are discovered on the bottom of the jar, decidedly dead and unilluminated.)  There are lawn sprinklers and ice cream trucks and chalked sidewalks.  Then there’s reality.  Even if there are real live children somewhere, hopefully named; Molly, Stewart, Daisy and Marvin, having this halcyon summer, most children are not.  The majority of children are simply not free-range.

Their summer days, by design, or necessity (of finance or parental mental health) are structured.  There are children who respond very positively to structure of course.  A camp that allocates hours and days to prescribed activities can be heaven for some children.  For them it is comforting to awake thinking; “It’s Tuesday it must be lanyard day.”  For other children, they flourish best in the wild.  (It’s the difference between a cultivated orchid and a wildflower.)  These children need the uncertainty of an unscheduled day to find their footing.   They can be wildly physical children who love nothing more than to whirling dervish their way into an exhausted heap of sweat and dirt at day’s end.  They can also be dreamy, quiet children, whose idea of perfection is a quiet spot and a stack of Nancy Drews.  Hopefully every child gets what he or she really does need to be happy and strong.

Somewhere between names being written in underwear, and swimming goggles being unearthed (why were they in the broken bread machine?) there is an opportunity to shake things up a bit (even if it’s in the car on the way to the mall to get that style of shorts that ‘everyone is wearing and I can’t go to camp without them or I might as well just give up any hope of ever having any friends ever in my whole life, would that make you happy?!’)  There are approximately 8 weeks in a child’s summer (I know, in our addled sentimental grown minds we think of it as sprawling, languid months, but it’s not.)  What if every child learned 8 tasks of adult life this summer?  Before the cries of “isn’t the summer reading list enough chore for my child?” let me assure you that kids think adult stuff is interesting/fun (unless we’ve been moaning and carrying on about it in their presence for years.)

There is a life skill lesson appropriate for any age.  Pre-schoolers love the chance to fold laundry or sort light from dark.  Six-to-twelve year-olds can be involved in every aspect of getting food into the house and onto the table.  If there’s a family car, the younger can learn about keeping it clean, and the older can learn about keeping it going.  Thirteen-to-eighteen year-olds can learn just about anything; how bills get paid, how insurance works, how local politics impact the family, what parents really do for a living.  This last life lesson should not be confused with ‘take a child to work day’ that in many workplaces has been turned into “work as amusement park” day.

Understanding more about how the world works and what being adult really means helps a child make informed decisions as they grow.  Learning to do something (i.e., balance a checkbook, make a potato salad, change the oil) is exactly how self-esteem is built.  Swimming medals and ‘color war’ certificates make a child happy.  But knowing you can do something that is a necessary part of being an adult makes the world more exciting and less daunting for a child.

A Chorus Line (1975) – Edward Kleban & Marvin Hamlisch

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Childhood

 

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Summerfall Winterspring

There is nothing quite so refreshing as a change of season.  The changing temperature marks the passage of time, but not in a dismal birthday candle way.  We gaze upon the first snowfall, or turning leaf with renewed wonder and thoughts of a world larger than our own daily reality.  Those fortunate to live in a four-season clime, experience the joy that comes from a transitioning season.  For just as you basked in the “first day of spring” or the first whiff of burning leaves, after three months, you’re quite tired of it all.

Adults don’t experience newness on a regular basis.  We don’t have a new teacher every year, or learn a new subject every quarter.  Unless we work in a very volatile field there is some sense of familiarity in what we do, day in and day out.  We don’t exactly become gerbils on wheels (unless we choose to of course.)  Our lives are rich and we pursue new ideas, adventures and activities.  But our very existence is not dictated by growth and change.  We are not given new responsibilities and allowed to do new and exiting things with each passing year (ex. crossing the street alone, going to the mall with friends, etc.)  We (hopefully) don’t grow out of our wardrobe every year and get the chance to reinvent our look.  Never again will we (organically) change from being a boy/girl to a man/woman.  We are what we are.

For some this stasis is more unsettling than for others.  No doubt you’ve witnessed men and women who seem to grab new personae and experiences with a certain franticness.  (This tends to occur during the time we refer to as middle-age.)  At some point they usually grow tired and accept that life might not be best approached with a checklist.  Lifetime lists might make for good bestseller fodder (or films starring men of a certain age) but they are no more of template for life than being an Avenger or a Grumpy Old Man.

Everyone finds his or her own path to meaning and beauty.  For some it is the path itself that guides their life.  For others it is the appreciation of beauty (natural and/or person-made) that is the meaning of life.  There are many that have neither luxury of course, and life for them is something to endure.  But for all of us, no matter our personal quest, we share this world.  There is something so utterly satisfying about a shared quiet smile with a stranger when the first robin is spotted.  Some of the best conversations between strangers happen in a rainstorm.  We grouse, we drip, we force ourselves to be happy for the flowers and water tables, if we’re lucky someone in the huddled cluster makes a Gene Kelly reference, and we all go on our way.  To the lives for which we construct meaning.

Along will come the sun and dry out all the rain, and we will be off to beaches, mountains, lakes, and dreadful blockbuster movies played in mercifully freezing theaters.  We will experience the indescribable joy of a shower after a day of sand and sticky seawater.  We will dine or drink out of doors and declare; “we should do this more often.”  The smell of suntan lotion or the sound of the ice cream truck will remind us of earlier times.  Perhaps happier, perhaps not.  But we will be reminded and that is good.  Thinking, if only for a moment, of the past, makes us more present.  We acknowledge that we’re still here and the game is still on.  That is what the seasons do as well.  That crocus forcing its fragile little head out of the frosty ground is in essence saying “I’m still here.”  Isn’t that everything?

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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LOVE! Labor’s Loss

I have never particularly bought into the zeitgeist of summer, so it should come as no surprise that I feel hallow on this Labor Day’s Eve.

I have made my lemonade out of the lemons of summer fashion opportunities, embracing cotton brights to the point of resembling said lemons.  I have purchased belts in a feeble attempt at heat resistant layering and visual interest.  I have alternated straw hats as if they were wigs as a stab towards accessorizing.  In other words, I have made my peace.

So what is it exactly that has me giddy as a school girl this hallowed eve?  It is the silver lining on the cloud, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the light at the end of the tunnel that is cool weather.  It is just a matter of weeks now that people will have to start wearing actual clothes.  That’s right.  Set your watches dear reader.  Soon the bathing suit cover-up will go back in the drawer (or mercifully, in the beach bag) and off the streets of New York.  See-through blouses will be packed away; of course not before we share a word or two about see-through blouses.  Are you that proud of your bra?  Why?  Did you make it yourself?  And please don’t try and tell me that is not your bra, it is a bathing suit top.  Think about which dresser drawer you keep your bathing suits?  Where in the department store do they sell bathing suits?  Are you going to suggest that the visual merchandisers of America have it wrong, and bathing suits are in fact clothing?  Well, than ask yourself; “what am I wearing UNDER my bathing suit?”  If it’s touching your personals, it IS personal!

With that first cool breeze will also come the realization that one’s shorts are very very short.  Newsflash: clothes should cover where the cheek meets the leg.  And maybe, just maybe, if we have all been very good this summer, the cool autumnal breezes may banish the paper-thin white legging.  Dare to dream.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Style

 

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