Failing? Fabulously!

Selling Your Soul – that entrepreneurial shindig in NY this month whose scholarship I was anglin‘ for? I didn’t get it, but I’m not letting it stop me from building on my dream!  In fact, the 10 winners (The Hula Hooper is my fav!) were so inspiring that it’s sending me right back to my fire-starting desk to get even clearer on what I want and why I want it.  I must give thanks to Danielle Laporte and Marie Forleo for igniting my drive to create when I was merely smoldering – sometimes it’s not the ‘thing’ we’re pursuing that we really want, it’s the lessons we gather along the way.  I haven’t failed; I’m refining my focus and discovering my resilience.

Speaking of giving thanks, that oh-so-powerful fireball of gratitude is shooting through my hemisphere and I want to share some of my recent good fortune.  The more I dare, the more I am rewarded – it’s as simple as that.  Throw in some appreciation, and I’m unstoppable.  These past few weeks have seen my cuppeth overflow.

La Prairie Spa At The Ritz

Right before I left for NYC a few weeks ago, I found a gift certificate for La Prairie spa in the Ritz-Carlton given to me by a woman I helped a few years ago when I was working in the restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art.  Yay for me!  I look at the date: expired.  Boo for me.  I decide to call anyway, and ask if they’d accept it. (I still have a gift certificate for the Russian & Turkish Baths on 10th Street from ’96.  Note to friends – I promise to start using these more timely – hint, hint.)  Long story short, after explaining my situation to Linzee at La Prairie, she said they’d be happy to honor it – for ANY spa service I wished!  So I scheduled an hour and a half massage for the following week and tried not to feel like I was cheating on my regular massage therapist (who’s on break, pregnant with twins). I walk into the Ritz-Carlton, never touching a door (love those white gloved doormen!), and the next three hours are indulgent bliss:  Would you like a glass of Champagne?  Here’s your plush robe and slippers.  Strong hands, aromatic oils, custom music chosen from a 2-page menu, then a steam with cucumber slices for my eyes and a plethora of pampering to doll me up for the rest of the afternoon.  Ahhhhhh.  As I head back to reception to settle the gratuity, Linzee informs me that I’m “all taken care of,” that even the tip for my masseuse is included.  Nothing is more gratifying than being on the receiving end of such gracious and generous hospitality.  After years of working for Danny Meyer, I appreciate anew what he meant when he taught us – If you’re going to give, give graciously.  Everyone should have such good fortune to give this way, and to receive so, as well.

Another wonderful day I spent was with a dear friend who lives on the most glorious block in the city, 10th street between 5th & 6th, in a light-drenched apartment that’s beautifully and lovingly appointed.  She prepared a delicious vegetarian lunch for us that tasted of Italy and as we feasted, we caught each other up on our futures that are moving ever-so-gratefully towards us.  It fills me with happiness to see people I love turn towards their power, their voice, their truth.  As we emerge into our own best visions of ourselves, and leave behind the agendas of others, our unique beauty is unleashed.  To be witness to another’s hatching is wondrous and humbling.  (And I got some good puppy-lovin‘ in there, too.) There’s not much sweeter than a curled up animal on your lap to coax forth our gentleness, nor an environment of friendship and safety to acknowledge those softer, more vulnerable sides we keep hidden.  So much gratitude…

It’s where those soft places meet the fiery ones, where success meets failure, when we allow our strengths and weaknesses to inform each other and collaborate, that wholeness begins.  Sometimes I need that push to define my desires more clearly, that poke to unearth my shy tenderness…and sometimes I need to be reminded to both give and receive fully.  For all the clarity I pray for, I’m thankful each time it materializes.  That it appears in the form of failure is a surprise, but I’m embracing it.  Besides, some of the greats, like Einstein, Edison, and Churchill were both successes AND failures.  Not such bad company…

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. ~ W. Churchill

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ~ T.A. Edison

Dismantling Youth

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin. My soul.  Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo. Lee. Ta.”

When I was 20, maybe 21, signing up for yet another semester of Humanities at the local community college, adulthood perpetually as imminent as the red button, the Cold War was unknowingly about to end.  In a desperate ploy to hang on to childish things, to look cool in the eyes of others, I graffiti’d a pair of white Vans with titles of Vladimir Nabokov novels in red magic marker.  Save for that  stunning opening paragraph that even now astounds me by its physical lyricism, I hardly knew who Nabokov was, much less Stanley Kubrick or James Mason, who together brought Lolita to the screen.  Smitten as I was with the younger intellectual skateboarding boys on campus – with their long hair and side-parts, lanky surfer bodies and West Coast fantasies – I scrawled ‘Bend Sinister’ across the left shoe and ‘Invitation To A Beheading’ across the right, in true contrarian embrace-the-enemy fashion.  What’s that mean? they’d ask, as we’d hang out in concrete basement bars, pretending we were old enough to be there, but not so grown up to be confused with the proletariat drinking their dollar and a half draughts during dusky happy hours.

God forbid our fraud should slip.

While Michael, boyishly cute and charming and the one I had the maddest crush on, played aloof, I did my wiliest to mirror his nonchalance (therefore showing him how much he really wanted me) and instead tried impressing his friends with arcane Soviet trivia.  When I found them gawking over stacks of nudie magazines one afternoon after class, I casually mentioned Nabokov’s penchant for getting published in Playboy, proving that yes, men really did read it for the articles and they should, too.  Were any of us planning on graduating and growing up at some point?

We never saw that our restless energy was held in check by end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it propaganda.  What young adult wanted to stake claim in an era of Reagan and Gorbachev and the crisis of missiles?  We did as we were told:  good little Communist-haters, except that we weren’t.  We were too naive, still, to really understand anything, so we played on both sides of the rail, never knowing when the train was going to race down the tracks and split everything in two.

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Meanwhile, I taught them to play chess, (the Russians were masters, right?) and we’d plot moves until dawn, taking rooks and pawns and they taught me to say “Prost!” as we toasted with cheap vodka;  it wasn’t until I went to Germany years later did I realize that I didn’t have a trademark on affectation.  In time, our attempts to dazzle each other with bluster and bloc fizzled, but as the breezes of destiny blew, it turned out we all just really loved being together.  Especially Michael and I.  Ultimately, we paired off, whirling around in a magical wonderland with passionate abandon, leaving the group behind.  For months, we were intoxicated by the blindness of bliss, closing our eyes and diving deep enough inside to feel lo. lee. ta.  in each other’s mouths.

Eventually, the other boys all said goodbye, scattering off to four-year universities or low-paying jobs in nearby towns.  Michael and I remained, still partly caught in the stickiness of our infatuation, but somehow sensing a shift in the wind.  That fall, with legs entwined, curled up in front of the TV, we watched the Berlin Wall come down, governments toppling like dominos, the only world we ever knew crumbling, and we tried to imagine life without impending nuclear catastrophe and its fear we unwittingly swallowed. The structures that had defined us were no longer.  Where do you go when you can go anywhere?

As we planned our escape to California, as far from New York as we could  imagine, tragedy struck.  There was an accident and his brother died.  All spells broke.  The world had changed;  nothing would ever be the same.

The stranglehold of the eighties loosened and catapulted us into our futures.  The cocoon of youth dissolved.

He left for Hollywood, alone.  I never saw him again.

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PechaKucha Night

“Whose coat is this?”

“Mine,” I say, to the thin, grey-haired woman marking the chairs on either side with various winter accoutrements.  “Oh, sorry.  I went to get a glass of wine.”

Another woman, coming up behind me, leans over and says, “It’s alright Sandy, I’ll sit on the end.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.  “I can slide down so you and your friends can sit together.”

“No, dear, we’ll all be friends by the end of the night,” she declares, smiling.  “Hi, I’m Georgeanne.”

And so my first PechaKucha commences.

Born in Tokyo in 2003,  PechaKucha, which means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese, is the brainchild of two designers who wanted an efficient yet lively forum to present their work and new ideas, as well as mingle and network.  Each presenter gets to show 20 slides for 20 seconds apiece, and share their passion with the audience.  The concept has taken off worldwide, and there are now events in hundreds of cities.  I have the good fortune to attend one just down the road in Thomaston, at Watts Hall Auditorium with an overflowing crowd – just another example of the creative economy’s momentum, even, or especially, in Midcoast Maine, far from any dense urban locale.

The room is a who’s who of local talent and leadership, and is enthusiastically  emceed by Senator Chris Rector, an amiable man with strong local ties and support.  (I hope he takes kindly to my letter opposing the Governor’s environmental hatchet job).  Eight people take center stage over the course of an hour, and the topics range from texturally sculpted forms (Jacques Vesery) to equatorial coffee-picking (Yvonne Smith, Roaster at Rock City Coffee) to the history of women in Champagne (Jane Barnes, wine pro and partner on the Schooner, Stephen Taber).

(Sculptures by Jacques Vesery)
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While the presenters are both oral and visual storytellers, their styles swing from scripted to off the cuff.  Peter Digirolamo, soapmaker at Trillum Soaps, is cheeky as he flips leaf-shaped notecards downstage à la David Letterman after reading winter-related haikus from each one, while colorful slides of almost-pretty-enough-to-eat soap blocks charm us.  Elizabeth Greenberg, Director of Education at the highly regarded Maine Media College in Rockport, waxes poetic about memory and nostalgia while her ephemeral photographs seduce us with their dreaminess and longing.

Abbie Read, Artist and Garden Designer

There’s more than a glimpse at rich and interesting lives behind the cross section of those gathered and my view of all the resources tapping away here is blown wide open.  I learn how Maine coastal and island communities are leaders in US alternative energy solutions from Suzanne Pude, Community Energy Director at the Island Institute as she shares documentary-style scenes of wind turbine installations on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay.

Vinalhaven

photo by Karen Oakes, Vinalhaven resident

The action is equally compelling on either side of me, perched on folding chairs.  To my left I meet a longtime local newspaper columnist, Georgeanne, who covers the Home and Garden beat, among other newsworthy topics and after inquiring about my earlier life in restaurants, fills me in on all the best tables from Belfast to Rockland.  On my right is Sandy, who I learn is a caterer and massage therapist, just another one of those cool, many-hat-wearing personalities tucked into towns with names like Friendship, Owl’s Head, and Port Clyde (formerly Herring Gut, not the most appealing moniker in Vacationland).  I take her number down right away – a good masseuse should always be on speed dial.  I’m beginning to think that vibrant isn’t just a word reserved for downtowns and springtime – because smack dab in the middle of what might seem like nowhere I find a hotbed of creativity, vitality and homespun community, with an open bar and no posturing.

Like flipping through a guidebook to the Renaissance Lifestyles of the Self-Reliant and Visionary, my first PechaKucha cheers me with its generosity and lack of pretentious agenda.  A roomful of strangers is just a group of friends I haven’t met yet, and I leave with a couple new ones already.  Who says there’s nothing going on in February?

Pecha Kucha Night

 

Down The Road A Piece

On my drive back from metropolitan madness last week, I notice almost all the trees are bare here in tranquil, small town Maine.  My eye immediately goes to the few with their golden and siena leaves still intact.  There’s more trees here than people and more people in the big, bad city than here and this makes me wonder if I turned the world upside down and inside out if it would all balance in the end, like some topographical quadratic equation.  Yeesh, all those malls and Applebees I passed must have addled my brain.

These musings suddenly disappear as I am accosted by the loud grating sound of metal on asphalt.  I pull over to the side of the road and jump out, trying to ascertain if my trunk has just fallen off or if I ran over some kid’s bicycle and I’m dragging it down the street.  What could have made such a ruckus?  I look at the rear end of my car.  Oh.  My muffler.  Greaaaaaat.  I just left my mechanic in the rearview 400 miles ago and now I break down?  I want my money back!  And perhaps some big burly guy to come rescue me, too.

Even though it seems I live up here now, don’t be fooled – I’m not fully committed. It takes me a long time to say ‘I do’ to a place and I’ve never uttered those words under oath, either.  I have yet to hang curtains anywhere I have ever lived and I still have those Empire State plates marking me as an outsider.  My accountant, dentist and mechanic are all back in New York and Connecticut;  I don’t take lightly who gets to look in my mouth, under my hood and through my bank statements, you know?  So when I visit the old hometown, I schedule back to back appointments, looking to pick up that 7/10 split.  Therefore, my car had just been checked out, winterized and given the stamp of approval.  But I guess anyone could have missed that rusty muffler clamp.  Right?

As my luck would have it, and thankfully it usually does, I am parked only a mile from home.  Maybe I’ll walk there, grab a hanger and improvise.  I look up at the house in front of me.  Or maybe, just maybe, the big burly guy lives there.  I bop up on the porch and knock on the door.

A pretty woman about my age answers, peers over my shoulder, and sees my dilemma.  She welcomes me in and we introduce ourselves.  Not the knight in shining armor I was hoping for, but I’m happy there was someone home.  I still have my Maslowian priorities in order.  As she searches for a hanger, I scan the rooms:  there are strewn toys (young kids), a craft-covered table (the creative type), and bold-colored wall paint (confidence).  She returns without one, and I realize that most metal hangers originate at the dry cleaners and this isn’t exactly the cashmere and 3-piece suit kind of town.  However, it turns out she’s a jewelry maker and goes one better when she hands me some wire and a pair of pliers. MacGyver never had it so good.  A few moments later, my car is jury-rigged in designer style, but now my white jeans have the dark grey imprint of the road on the butt.  Ah well…

As I return her tools, she invites me in again, and hands me her card with a local mechanic’s information handwritten on the back.

“Ask for John,” she says, “He’s good.  We’ve been going to him for years.”

“Thanks,” I reply, thrilled to have a local’s recommendation.  Maybe I will settle in here.  Even more so, though, I feel that this woman could be a friend.  Her home is comfortable, and she’s clearly personable and helpful.  I make a mental note of returning her kindly gesture with some homemade carrot cake.  I hope she’s not gluten-free.  Or on a diet.

“So, where do you live?” she asks.

“Just up the road, fourth house on the right, after the mill road turnoff.  White farmhouse with the red barn,”  I say.  Not that this is distinguishing enough in rural America.  Every fifth house fits that description.  But it’s a small enough town that she nods in agreement, and probably knows exactly where I’m talking about.  Everyone knows where everyone else lives it seems, whether they know you or not.  One of the most common exchanges I’ve had around here is people explaining where they live.  I met a bird hunter and his dog a few weeks ago and after chatting for only 15 minutes he, unsolicited, described how to get to his place.

“My wife and I are retired now and usually home.  Stop by any time – if the red pickup’s in the driveway, go ahead and knock,” he says, good-naturedly.

And the other week I was taking care of some bank business and the manager helping me detailed the route from my house to his, after we realized we lived off the same road.  We’re practically neighbors.  This information comes after an hour of chit-chat:  my life as a writer, his life raising four young boys, discovering we both know Brooklyn.  But an hour!  Can you imagine?  I’ve never spent that much time before in a bank, even when I applied for my mortgage.  I guess the recession has upped the hospitality quotient a bit.  Or maybe it was our shared pizza reverie.

All these intersections with all these people:  are they random?  Is it coincidence that I broke down in front of someone’s house with whom I could likely develop a friendship?  You may say there’s no such thing, but I love finding relation in a seemingly chance event. It could have been any other spot on my eight-hour route.  That I drove almost all the way home and broke down right in front of her house, well, there’s a lot of trees in the forest.  But the trees with the leaves still on it, they’re the ones that catch my eye, and the ones I end up sitting under.  I look for serendipity and therefore, I find it.  Or maybe the people around here just look out for each other, making connections because we are few and far between.  I don’t know.  But I think I might go check out some curtains tomorrow.

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