January 2007


Rock climbing

Every time I enter a bookstore, I am astounded by the sheer volume of literature available. All those books were written not by gods, but by flesh and blood human beings just like me. Why then, when I sit down to write, do I feel as if I couldn’t possibly accomplish what these men and women have?

Throughout my years of formal schooling I was considered a talented and instinctive writer. My mother still has short stories and research papers with glowing comments from English teachers. Books were my passion and words flowed from my hand with ease, no matter the topic. However, when the time came to choose a college major, practicality trumped creativity and I settled for a career with a guaranteed return on investment.

It would be self-indulgent to blame my parents for my career choice; they only wanted what was “best” for me and considered a degree in English Literature about as useful as one in Art History. The final decision was mine, and I dare say my life would not be as rich and colorful today had I taken a different route.

If I had chosen to make writing my life, I would have been forced to do it with no way out. Instead, I now find myself in the privileged position of wanting to – not needing to – write. Why would someone so blessed feel so tortured? I have so many ideas, enough to fill an entire bookshelf, yet I can never get past the first three pages of a new writing project without stopping to criticize my work until I find it so pathetic that I abandon it entirely. I even named my most recent undertaking “Another hopeless novel”, because I couldn’t be bothered to come up with a witty title for something that would obviously not be seen through to fruition.

The main problem is not my writing talent, it is my fear of failure. More specifically, it’s about failing and not finding anything or anyone to blame except myself. When you launch a business, you are obviously not guaranteed success. If it flourishes, it is due to your entrepreneurial talents, of course. If it fails, you can easily blame the slumping economy, the market segment, the employees, the product manufacturers, or any number of scapegoats that will aid you in escaping with your dignity unscathed. When you write, if the book succeeds it’s because of you. If it fails, the culprit is one and the same.

Why must fear of failure be so paralyzing? It is like hot melted tar, oozing around all facets of my life and hardening around my feet as I try to take a step in a new direction. I’m surprised I’ve been able to accomplish anything in my life; most of the time, I won’t try a new activity if I feel I will not excel at it from the beginning. When I am faced with a situation where my talents and immediate success are in doubt, I will lash out at imaginary culprits or procrastinate until a viable scapegoat is found.

If I can’t run as far as I feel I should be able to, I blame my tight sports bra for not allowing me room to breathe. If I can’t climb a steep hill on my bike, I blame Mr. T for riding too fast or for talking and distracting me. When I was learning to rock climb, months went by before I could try any bold moves that might require missing a hold and relying on my harness and rope to keep me up, because in my head that simply meant I wasn’t good enough. And don’t even get me started on pop quizzes!! I go into full panic mode if I haven’t been given enough warning to achieve a perfect score. Sadly, these same feelings of inadequacy paralyze my writing after only two or three pages.

I would very much like to overcome my fear of failure. I want to not have to be perfect in order to enjoy something. I yearn to participate in activities simply for the joy they bring, and not for the sense of achieved perfection that must undoubtedly accompany them.

I guess life is like rock climbing: In order to reach the top I must be willing to risk a few slips, knowing that the safety harness and rope of my education and the unconditional support of my partner will be there to catch me if I tumble.

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donkey


I am here to lodge a complaint. When you google “Bobdan Hurko” (the GENIUS who invented the self-cleaning oven, of course!) you only get one result. Yes, ONE! You didn’t know there was such a thing as a search that could bring up just one result? It does exist!! While this brilliant man, this God of desperate housewives everywhere, is relegated to a measly single result on Google, I found 1,500 results for “three-legged donkey”.* Go figure…

*Why is this lunatic googling “three-legged donkey”, you ask? Well, can you think of anything more ridiculous to google?

“Hi, I’d like you to meet my friend P.”, said Mr. T introducing me to one of his workmates.

Friend, my brain cried out. What do you mean, friend?!?! We’ve been dating for several weeks. Heck, we’ve even slept together! Luckily, I intercepted my brain’s monologue before it got to my mouth and just smiled at the nice secretary.

Six months later, firmly entrenched in girlfriend status, we visited his family for Thanksgiving.

“Suzie,” Mr. T’s mother said to a relative. “I’d like you to meet P., she’s T.’s friend.” There we go again with the friend thing, exclaimed my brain. We’ve been dating for seven months! Just because you prefer to think we aren’t sleeping together doesn’t mean you can dismiss my status as girlfriend! How dare you…Ooooo, that pumpkin pie sure looks yummy! Bringey here!! (Luckily, my brain got distracted just in time).

It took me a while to get over being called his “friend” instead of his “girlfriend”. However, I’m not even sure I like the terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend”, and this is something I’ve been mulling over for a couple of months now. First of all, I’m not a girl and Mr. T is definitely not a boy…ehem…

Secondly, we’re a lot more than friends. And it’s not just this “friends with benefits” crap which I hear about so often nowadays. We’re in a serious, committed, monogamous relationship of equals. Which brings to my mind the word “partner”. However, that term has smartly been adopted by the gay and lesbian communities (I bet you they could teach us a thing or two about relationships of equals), and I really don’t want to go through the hassle of explaining that I’m not a lesbian.

Mr. T suggested “my dude” or “my stud” (OK there, cowboy…), but I don’t think that would go over too smoothly in work-related situations. The only option I’ve been able to come up with is “my man”, but that sounds very country music, don’t you think? I’m at a loss…Any suggestions?

So, I’ve been a little dense with my posts these past few days…My apologies, but sometimes a girl just has to let it out!

The title of this post should be “Why I Can Count My Friends On One Hand”, because lately that’s what I’ve noticed it’s boiled down to (and I have a couple of fingers left over…Any takers??).

Yesterday, two of my so-called friends asked me – almost bullied me – into going out for coffee with them. I had a ton of work and wanted to drive up to see Mr. T, but I figured I could use a couple of hours of “girl time” before the weekend. I hurried to get my work done, showered, packed my weekend bag, took out the trash, and dashed out the door.

Neurotically punctual, I arrived at the coffee shop at 6:oopm sharp (our appointed meeting time). I knew my friends were always a few minutes late (they’re on Mexican time), so I pulled out my New Yorker and started reading. I got caught up in a very interesting article and when I looked at my watch I was startled: it was 6:30pm!!

I pulled out my cell phone and called one of my friends. She answered and told me she was stuck inside her building’s garage because the garage door code was changed for security reasons and nobody warned her. She wailed: “Trust me, I’ve been in my car for 10 minutes!” I did some mental math and realized that at the time she got into her car, she was already 20 minutes late for our meeting. But, whatever…I told her I’d take a rain-check, considering our other friend hadn’t bothered to show up, either.

This afternoon, I get an I.M. from the second friend, apologizing profusely for not arriving on time. Thank GOD for the visual anonymity of instant messaging; I was able to stick out my tongue at her without her knowledge. The excuse that followed her apology was: “I had the most horrendous day yesterday!” Worried that something had gone wrong with her recently announced pregnancy (she miscarried last year), I asked her what was amiss. She replied: “Oh, nothing much. I just had to go to Office Depot to get some copies and they took forever!”

BITCH.

During my junior year of high school I began my first serious relationship with a man. He was 22, I was 17, and we were each other’s first true love. My parents went along with the relationship at first, knowing that he was from a good family”and thinking this would be a passing fancy.

Two and a half years later, he and I were still dating and our relationship had become quite serious. While I had just embarked on my second semester of college, he was completing his final year of a Mechanical Engineering degree. By that time he was 24 and because he was a full-time student, he was still living at home. In Mexico, it is extremely difficult to work, study, and live on your own. Ever-changing university class schedules make it almost impossible to hold down a steady job, traffic makes going to work or school a two-hour ordeal, wages are pathetically low, part-time jobs are not legal according to the government, and affordable housing in decent areas of town is virtually non-existent.

My parents were incensed that this 24-year old man could still be living at home while finishing his degree. They told me, with these very words, that he was a “loser”, that he would never amount to much in life, and that – in comparison – my father had been living on his own and working & studying since he was 15. Of course, they failed to mention three important items (and I was too scared of my father at that time to talk back):’the first being that my father was financially supported by his father during his teenage years; the second, that Mexico City was a lot more affordable and housing was more readily available twenty years back; and the third being that my father never completed his college degree because he was too busy working and discussing communist agendas with friends.

Being totally dependent on my parents and wanting to please them at all costs, I had no choice but to agree with them. They were my parents and of course they wanted what was best for me…Right? After not giving it much thought, and with a string of flimsy and nonsensical arguments, I broke up with my boyfriend on a cold Winter night. I rambled on about his lack of ambition, his failure to secure a job, and the fact that he was still living at home. I still remember the pain I caused him, the confusion in his eyes, and the hurt in his voice when he said that he was already saving for an engagement ring so he could ask me to marry him.

I got home and cried throughout the night, terrified of the pain I had caused him but thinking (in my silly 19-year old mind) that I had done the right thing. In the morning, I went to my parents’ room and found my mother still in bed. I told her what had happened and burst into tears. My father entered the room while my mother consoled me, and he asked what was wrong. My mother told him and he merely shrugged, shook his head, and left the room. Everything I had done, all the pain I had inflicted on my boyfriend and on myself, was with the purpose of pleasing him. And he didn’t care…

I moved on after this incident, went to college abroad (where I started working at the age of 19), started my career, and put this pain behind me. Meanwhile, my brother, who’s three years younger than me, graduated from high school. He was admitted to a prestigious college in Boston, and my parents not only paid for our tuition but also gave each of us a credit card for emergencies. My brother spent the next two years partying with his wealthy classmates, missing class, and racking up $2,000 a month in clothing and nightclub charges on the credit card.

After depleting my parents’ bank account for two years, he was finally recalled by my father to Mexico City. There, he was given a cushy job in my father’s business and was paid enough money each month to live handsomely on his own (i.e. rent his own apartment, pay for his own food, etc.). He was 20, and he chose to live with our parents and spend his considerable income on parties and clothing, once again.

Thinking that my brother would be better off living on his own, my parents shipped him to the U.S., set him up in his own apartment in San Diego, CA, gave him thousands of dollars to start a small business, and consoled themselves with the fact that he was attending a community college. A year later, he had dropped out of school and had bankrupted the new business. He was 23 and not only was he not completing a college degree, but he was still dependent on my parents and had NEVER held down a real job in his life.

Not wanting to admit that their son was a “loser” (sounds familiar??) my parents returned him to Mexico City and once again took him under their wing. The partying, boozing, and gallivanting continued until one day – at 24 years of age – he decided he wanted to finish his college degree. My parents, eager to see their only son make something of his life, agreed to pay his exorbitant college tuition at a European university. Now, if you’re keeping track, 24 was the age my boyfriend was when I was told to break up with him or fear the wrath of my father’s disappointment.

To make a long story short, my brother is now almost 28 years old and the only job he’s ever held was a part-time position offered to him by one of his teachers in exchange for some tuition money. He finally graduated from college at the age of 27 and is once again living with my parents – rent free and without a job – while he submits applications to Master’s programs.

What I find insanely funny (in an “I need to laugh or else I’ll cry” way) is that my brother has been dating a girl five years his junior for the past three years (exactly the same age difference and relationship span as the one I related at the beginning of this essay). My parents love her and think she’s perfect for my brother, and they support their relationship to the degree that she will come live with my them during the year that my brother is sitting around the house preparing to send out his Master’s applications.

So, here’s what gets me: If I had told my parents that I was going to go live with my 28-year old boyfriend in his parents’ house because he didn’t have a job (and has never had one in his life) but was spending a year applying to Master’s programs…They’d kill me. Seriously, they’d brand me a pathetic disappointment and would want nothing more to do with me. Yet here is my brother, 28, unemployed, living at home, and BRINGING HIS GIRLFRIEND TO LIVE WITH THEM…And they couldn’t be prouder!!!

I can see the damage they’re doing to him; I don’t envy him and would not like to be in his shoes. I do wish, however, that my parents would open their eyes to what they did to me, and to what they’re doing to their son.

P.S. I recently found out some information about my old boyfriend through a mutual friend…He graduated from college shortly after I left the country, found a good job, made enough money to move out on his own, and is now happily married and gainfully employed. He refuses to speak to me.

My grandmother became a seamstress at the tender age of 18, not by choice but by need. Wars tend to turn people’s lives upside down, and hers was no exception. Before the Spanish Civil War, my grandmother had been the spoiled youngest child of a well-to-do merchant and his society bride. Destined for a life of comfort and affluence, her education had been steered towards keeping house, crocheting, knitting, and sewing. Summers were spent at “verbenas”, outdoor festivals celebrating Spain’s cultural heritage, while winters were enjoyed in a cozy mountain cabin. Friends came and went, and life seemed careless and fancy-free.

Everything changed with the start of the war. Soldiers occupied the streets, food was rationed, my grandmother’s brother was sent to the front lines to fight a war he opposed, and their father (my great-grandfather) was imprisoned.
After living in limbo for almost two years, the family was able to flee to America: first to Cuba and finally to Mexico. They were safe among a people who welcomed them as refugees, yet their lives would never again be the same.

My great-grandfather, a successful merchant in the “Old World”, found himself peniless and at a loss for business opportunities in an unfamiliar land. My great-grandmother, who had never worked a day in her life, worried incessantly about the well-being of her children. Their only son, emotionally shattered by his experiences on the front lines, spent the last few years of his life living with ghosts of the past. Their oldest daughter, a classic beauty and talented piano virtuoso, suffered from chronic asthma and bronchitis that eventually lead to her untimely death.

At 18 years of age and with only an elementary school education, my grandmother was forced to use her knowledge of sewing to feed an entire family. She labored tirelessly, sewing for the growing Spanish refugee community in Mexico City and slowly making a name for herself.

She married at 29 out of fear of becoming a spinster. He was a compulsive gambler who eight years later would abandon her and their twin offspring after losing their meager savings. Penniless but determined, my grandmother continued sewing and caring for two frail siblings, two elderly parents, and two children who never again saw their father.

As a child, I remember navegating through my grandmother’s workshop, mesmerized by the colored threads, the ornate fabrics, the delicate lacework, and the intricate beading that went into every one of her creations. By that time she was a well-known wedding-dress maker, able to copy the most fashionable designs of the great European couture houses.

My grandmother is now 85 years old and lives with her son, 2000 miles away from me. She shows early signs of senility and is hard of hearing, but she’s still as strong and independent as ever. When I had the chance to learn the art of sewing from my grandmother, I was too impatient and irreverent to appreciate the opportunity I was being given. (They don’t call it adolescence for nothing…)

This evening, I sat in front of my brand-new sewing machine, staring in vain at spools, needles and levers. I put down the sewing manual and sat in silence, regretting the loss of an opportunity that will never again be available to me.

Mr. T and I got to talking about the importance of having an effective online dating profile if you’re trolling the Internet in search of a potential mate. I thought my profile had been highly effective, since I was able to land a sexy hunk like him. I was therefore taken aback when he admitted that he found my profile to be somewhat vague and insipid. He said it revealed little about me and was basically boring and flat. (Fortunately, my witty e-mails piqued his curiosity…But, YIKES! “Boring and flat”?!?!)

On the other hand, his profile had caught my attention from the very first day I started my search for love online. It was incredibly witty, sincere, detailed, and descriptive. Acknowledging his talent for writing an effective profile, I challenged him to update my (long-abandoned) one using the personality traits he found most alluring in me.

I must say that he did an outstanding job! I would even date myself after reading that profile! He didn’t change the overall message, but adapted the sentences to be more descriptive and detailed. Here’s what he wrote:

I’m a tall, attractive, fit, and intelligent woman. I have my own business, which is time-consuming yet rewarding. I love to travel the world, read about interesting people and foreign cultures (I am fluent in 4 languages), and cook delicious meals for my friends. (I was trained as a professional chef). One of my unique talents is my ability to talk about food in an irresistibly tantalizing manner…

I enjoy spending quality time with both children and friendly dogs, but am not so crazy about cats – my ideal man would feel similarly. I’d like to find a well-balanced, intelligent, and strong man to share my life with, including enjoying the outdoors, running, biking, climbing, diving, fly fishing, and exploring the world and the new things we find within it. I enjoy independent films, Broadway shows, dancing, and live music, but equally appreciate a quiet evening at home, which I like to keep cozy and inviting.

I am positive and sincere, and expect my partner to be the same. I’d like to meet a friendly, professional man who knows what he wants in life and works hard to achieve it, but also enjoys being romantic and affectionate with me.

Pretty flattering, huh? But the re-vamping didn’t stop there! The next item he took fault with was my selection of pictures. Granted, the shots weren’t very flattering, but I also didn’t have much of an assortment to choose from. My main picture was from 2003, a blurry headshot which I grossly enlarged and then desperately cropped in order to conceal my white wedding dress. That picture, while not too crisp, showed me happy, thin, and full of life. Fast forward three years, twenty pounds, a very bad, very short haircut and countless demoralizing marital battles, and you can imagine what my second picture looked like…Not. Too. Flattering.

Mr. T quickly tossed out these pictures and replaced them with shots he had taken of me during our months of dating: A flirty close-up in a cowboy hat, an action shot zooming by on my bike, and a tantalizing shot prancing around in a very sexy white mock bikini, see-through pants, and six inch heels.

This afternoon I checked my online dating account: Four new viewers, although nobody had been man enough to send me an introductory e-mail. Who knows…Maybe now my new Internet persona is too hot to handle!! Maybe Mr. T would have been scared to approach such a fabulous-sounding and self-confident woman!! Maybe I should be careful the next time I walk through a doorway, in case my big, inflated head gets stuck!

The main purpose of this experiment was to gain some practice with my profile so we could help out a friend. However, through the description Mr. T wrote of me, I was able to see me – and our budding relationship – through his eyes. I’m happy I found him and he found me and we found love in cyberspace.