Hurricanes: Can hype and drama be a good thing?

Most people would say that Hurricane Irene came around at the worst time. Trips and weddings were canceled, weekends at the beach for what remains of summer bungled, and New Yorkers forced to hibernate in claustrophobic apartments.
After the deluge of Facebook statuses bemoaning the media hype and pointless fear it generated, it seems redundant to get into here. I was one of the people who paid no attention to it until Friday afternoon, when my mother texted me warnings: “Mayor close. Subway. bus. Please stock. up w necc. water. Flash lite. Trannsvradio.” (a sexually ambiguous transmission of sorts?) Mayor INSTRUCTIONS.” (I’m not sure what the periods are for…some kind of Morse code for Jewish Mothers, maybe?).
And then of course, “Go buy food  4 5 days.” (which could easily have been a text she forgot to hit “send” on from last week).  All of this was Mom setting the stage for what my father texted me a few hours later, “Why don’t I come pick you and the dog up and take you to N.J.?”
Jewish parents who don’t get to see their kids enough (is it ever enough?) love impending doom. Dad called Saturday morning and chuckling knowingly he said, “Something that worries us comes up….anything! And we say, ‘”Lets go see the kids!”
I declined their invitation, as generous and loving as it was. I didn’t want to deal with the transit mess and get stuck in N.J., nor did I want to worry about what was happening to my apartment while I was away. I wanted to embrace the forced downtime. After weeks of social engagements or weekends with friends at the beach (I know, poor me), I figured this would be a good time to read, draw, and pig out on the $200 worth of groceries (okay, Mom?) I’d never eat otherwise.
And who better to do this with than a very tall ex-boyfriend with a big appetite to help finish all that food, and with whom I knew I’d feel safe with?  Besides, he lives in an evacuation zone. It was the least I could do.
None of this was planned. We haven’t even been in close touch. But the timing presented itself, and I didn’t hesitate for a moment.
It made me wonder whether the hurricane and all the drama that came along with it can serve to bring our needs into sharp focus.
A hurricane, a terror attack, or any dramatic event makes us pause. It creates a need to connect, and forces us to consider certain feelings and the questions that come with the acknowledgement of those feelings:  Who is in my inner circle?  What do I need to survive? Who do I draw comfort and safety from, rather than who is “filler”?
I wasn’t trying to fill a void of fear or loneliness. If that was the agenda, I guess I could have mustered up a few people to serve as a temporary Band-Aid. But I’d rather be alone than spend time with someone who helps pass time.  
Sometimes we crave a little chaos. And maybe the hurricane, no matter how exaggerated it was, satisfied that need.  We all know people or have the tendency ourselves to heighten events in our lives – to stir things up. Whether it is an external force, or an internally generated one. We latch on to it, even incite it, in order to wake us up to what matters, or shift our perspectives out of complacency or blindness. Or sometimes simply because we need a change.
And drama always leaves a bit of a mess in its wake, right?
When I woke up this morning, I anticipated mess: a power outage, my dog’s inability to hold in #1 evidenced on the carpet, and my internet and cable shut down. But instead, it was tranquil and quiet. When I opened my eyes, I was welcomed by a working Blackberry, lit up by texts from my mom and sisters, and the scent of brewing coffee coming from the kitchen.
So for that, I thank Irene.  She was on a path, headed towards us with her own agenda: to interfere with our plans, shake us up, and leave a big mess in her wake.  But in the calm after the storm, it’s up to us to give her intrusion and its affect on our lives meaning and purpose.

Why do men like younger women?

As a self proclaimed cougar, it might seem odd that I haven’t asked this question before, but perhaps it is because I’m no longer dating younger guys. Rather, I’m seeing a lot of older men falling for “girls” (which I will call them here) in their twenties. Call it the reverse-cougar. 
The reasons seem obvious:
1) Their faces and bodies look younger (read: good).
2) Girls don’t yet have the emotional baggage older women tend to have.
3) Girls are not as threatening as women in their 30’s or 40’s who tend to be stronger and more successful.
4) Girls “have time,” which allows the relationship to develop casually without the pressure of time. A guy can follow the standard chronology of dating, living together, getting engaged, then married with kids – in that order.
5) With a girl, a guy can cling to the idea of having “more than one kid,” as opposed to with a woman in her mid to late 30s.
6) Girls don’t necessarily know who they are yet or what they want, so they’re not imposing it on (or challenging) their boyfriend.
7) Girls look up to an older man who can guide and teach them, and it makes a guy feel manly.
I get it!
But I never thought that there was another appeal: immaturity.
Immaturity is sexy to a guy, because it disguises itself as “mysterious” and hard to read, and the inconsistent behavior that comes along with immaturity plays games with the heart.
Those of you who read this blog know I’ve dated up to three guys ten years younger than me, where the breakups all came for generally the same reason: difference in life stage and experience. Yeah. Duh.  And so ever since my latest cub breakup, you could say I have been avoiding expending energy on guys that are more than five years my junior, by staying open to men forty and older.
While that hasn’t yet proven effective (no new partner has appeared), I’m fine with it. And I’ve made many new friendships with cub-age guys, without any temptation to turn it into more. Besides, most of these guys have girlfriends whom are younger than them, in their mid twenties.
One of them happens to be an ex, who began dating a girl 14 years my junior, and seems to be very happy with her. I’m not jealous or disappointed. I predicted it, and part of me feels a touch of “I told you so.” It only reinforces the reason for our breakup.
A few other guy pals of mine in their 30’s are also in the midst of budding relationships with twenty-five-year olds, and I’ve noticed a kind of emotional obstacle course these girls put them through, ie. a few months into the relationship the girl breaks up with the guy, for reasons that range from jealousy, caprice, or fabricated irrational grievances.  
Guess what happens next? Rather than calling her on it and putting his foot down, or even telling her he is finished, the guy does the opposite. He suddenly realizes he reeeally likes this girl, and must win her back. Suddenly, a guy who wasn’t even sure he was that into her, decides that she could be “the one.”
Why? Is that all it takes? A fight, followed by a breakup and some ego bruising, to poke at a guy’s heart and mobilize him into action?
Maybe these younger and less mature women are onto something. Looking back on my relationship with my ex-cub, I recall being open, communicative, and understanding (and I believe he would agree). He always knew where I stood, even after we broke up. I do however remember him saying one thing that stuck: “You were consistent, Cougel. Being with you was easy.”
Mistake? If I had been a pain in the ass, or dumped him without cause a few times, perhaps we’d still be in a relationship. The thought has crossed my mind.
That’s silly, I know.
Immaturity isn’t apparent to the immature. Whether you’re in a relationship with someone immature, or in an argument with an immature friend, trying to convince them that their behavior is immature, or how it affects you, is futile. Sometimes it can take years, until that person grows up and looks back to realize it.
After my divorce, when the dating scene was brand spanking new to me, I was oblivious to these signs too. I was immature in love, and tended to want the guys who were inconsistent, unevolved, and obtuse with their emotions. I couldn’t read them (or their cryptic texts), and I mistook that confusion for a fluttery feeling, a thrill, which I described as “love.”
Is it frustrating to see these guys getting in a twist over girls who are clearly putting them through the ringer? Yes. But I guess it’s their problem. Or their wish.
After all, I dated younger men for a while and couldn’t see it either. So I understand it. I’m just glad I woke up.
Or grew up.
But to all those girls (and women too) who still behave immaturely in relationships (and I am not saying I don’t go there occasionally too), I might venture to say: don’t fight it too hard. Don’t try to change too much. Because it seems to be working. 
Is it  possible that immaturity can deepen – even mature – a relationship?

Detours on life’s main path.

When I tell some people about the careers I’ve had: I was a Fine Arts major, a screenwriter, an indie film producer, and an advertising agency producer (being a waitress for two weeks at UNO’s pizza in D.C. doesn’t count) before I was a writer/blogger and marketer – they either don’t believe me, or think I’m weird.
They have a hard time figuring out how all of these things fit sequentially on a single path (even though all endeavors can be classified as “arts and entertainment.”) And they’re right. Looking back, there does appear to be a lot of movement, or new starts, but at the time, the transitions didn’t feel abrupt at all.
I applied to the Fine Arts school of my University because I loved to draw and paint, and that was where I met my future ex-husband, who was an artist too. After college, he continued to paint, and then direct films. I admired his talent, and encouraged him to continue, and he inhabited the role of the “artist” whereas I became the producer, the facilitator of his talents and the executor of his vision.  For a significant time period, this was a fruitful and gratifying dynamic. I didn’t feel the need to be an artist anymore, and was comfortable with my creative spirit lying fallow.
And then I couldn’t find it anymore (although no doubt writing is a potent form of creative expression).
I abandoned writing and making movies, and didn’t feel the desire to create art anymore. I became fully entrenched in the business that is advertising. And while there are irrefutably many creative people in advertising, we are ultimately at the mercy of our client’s specifications to sell a product.
Six months ago I got another job, as the Director of Marketing for a production company. I didn’t change industries, since its still advertising, but it was decidedly a career change in that the skill set is different than those I previously employed. I’m not creating characters or plots for stories, nor am I overseeing budgets and schedules for productions. I’m networking, entertaining clients, and the wonderful by product of it all is that I’m making new and interesting friends.  And I’m promoting directors, talented artists in their own right, a role in which I feel comfortable, as it emulates the productive dynamic I had with my ex-husband.  
And then I had an idea (and when Cougel has an idea, case in point, this blog, look out!).
Why do artists that work in advertising have to remain closeted?
I decided to have an art show at my office (an artist’s style loft) for artists in advertising. A coming out party! It began with a vague sense that there were others out there like me, although very few people came to mind, and as I started reaching out to other producers, art directors, and copywriters, the response was overwhelming.  And moving. The influx of passion and enthusiasm – not to mention the scope of talent – that exists hidden behind corporate doors, was staggering.
I began planning this about three weeks ago, and since then, I don’t think I’ve been in a bad mood once. Even while PMS-ing, or without a boyfriend or any viable “future husband” potential on the horizon, I’ve been excited, inspired, and well… happy.  I had dinner with an old friend last week, who fifteen minutes into the conversation, responded to something positive I said with, “Who are you?”
I didn’t answer him aloud, but in my mind, I think I might have uttered something like, “Me.”
Perhaps it is because all of these seemingly disparate passions intersected at the right time, at the right place, awakening that creative spirit I thought I had left in the dust ten years ago.  Somehow, all the jobs I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the experiences that masqueraded as pit stops, culminated into the promising path I am on now.
So I guess there is no such thing as a detour after all. It all depends on where those pit stops take you.

Is introversion a prerequisite to creativity?

Just in case any of you believe that writing a decent blog post weekly is easy, allow me to dispel this notion.  When I have an idea brewing or an obvious story to tell, it is less difficult.  When I’m emotionally unsettled or my subconscious is working through something, it rises to the surface of the page pretty quickly.
The writer’s block emerges when I’m happy.  When I feel balanced and social and engaged with my job and friendships, and rummage around my heart and mind for an idea, I find nothing but stale air. It’s as if my muse (the little bitch) is trying to punish me for abandoning her.
When I was writing my novel, I sentenced myself to solitary confinement. Solitude breeds creativity, and while those dark evenings were somber and lonely (my “emotional playlist” of 100 sad sad songs didn’t help), I was able to connect to my inner voice – my inner life.  It was a tough choice to say no to socializing, and yes to putting words on a page, but it was never a question of whether I should.
I enjoyed this time, and crave it too. My mother says I was like this as a child, evidenced by Super-8 films (yes, it was a long time ago) of birthday parties (my own) where I’d be playing quietly in a corner alone, away from my chatty little friends.  I am the middle child, the black sheep if you will, and had always considered myself an introvert.
There was a wonderful article in the NYT a few weeks ago about shyness and whether introversion is an evolutionary tactic, but mostly it outlines the differences between extroverts (“rovers”) and introverts (“sitters”).  “….many of the most creative people in a range of fields are introverts who are comfortable working in solitary conditions in which they can focus attention inward. Steve Wozniak, the engineer who founded Apple with Steve Jobs….describes his creative process as an exercise in solitude. “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me… they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone.”
For anyone who has undergone the writing process, the above is not a revelation. It is a prerequisite.
So it’s not a wonder that the writer in me is coming up blank lately. I don’t think I’m ignoring my emotions, but I am decidedly (and happily) in extrovert mode. My new job has brought it out in me. The introvert in me would have never thought I’d work in sales, be decent at it, let alone enjoy it. But in the last few months, and especially the last two weeks, I’ve been meeting many interesting people, forging new friendships, and planning events.
And loving it.
But then where does the writing mindset, the drive to sit down alone and write, fit in? Do we have to be reclusive, or emotionally off kilter, to be able to write? Or write well? Can one be both an extrovert and an introvert, and manage to excel and find fulfillment in both spaces?
I’m guessing it all comes down to the yin and yang of life. Because if you’re not a curious person, curious about the world, people, or ideas – and you don’t seek to explore what makes it all tick or to connect with others – then what in the world would you have to write about?

Life, Take Two

On most Sunday mornings, I look back on the week I’ve had and think about what to post – whether there are emerging themes or repeat occurrences that are worth discussion. 
This past week was packed with what seemed to be a lot of disconnected events, all noteworthy in my mind, but not necessarily related. It kicked off with the passing of a dog I loved, at the young age of nine, who my dog played with as a pup when we lived in Los Angeles. My reaction (tears and an impulsive phone call to my friend) surprised me in its intensity. The obvious reason is it made me think of my own dog’s mortality (but also forced me to make an appointment for her exam which was overdue and drag us both to the vet at 7:30 on a hung-over morning). And then two other friends’ pets suddenly passed this week as well (without Facebook I would never have known).
Divorce is often compared to a kind of death – the death of one life, and the beginning of a new one.  And when the divorce is bitter and contact is terminated, the remaining vacuum and feelings of loss are akin to death too, which unfortunately is something I can relate to.  My ex-husband and I met in college, at the ripe young age of 18, and when we split 16 years later, the seven stages of grieving per Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (who I studied in my University Psychology classes) were unavoidable (although not as long, and surely not as deep and painful as an actual death of a loved one).
But a rebirth is inevitable too, as finally, thankfully, the last few years have been for me. I can always tell when I go home to New Jersey to visit with my family, who serve as truth check or mirror to what is really going on with me (whether I welcome it or not), when my sister looks me in the eyes and says, “You’re doing good. I can see it,” as she happened to say to me today. 

In another seemingly unrelated moment, a friend of mine mentioned that his ex-wife remarried this weekend, and I’m guessing he was feeling a disconcerting internal shift too; a release of the past and a fierce desire to build a new future for himself.
A girl (I’ll call her Jill) whom I was friendly with from my college dorm (and who knew my ex-husband) reached out to me several years back and we forged an immediate connection, fueled by our common struggles as single women in our late thirties.  We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, we discovered uncanny similarities. I’ve recently been swamped at my new job and all the social outings it entails, and while I had heard she was searching for an office space for her business, I didn’t give it much thought.
Until she told me she coincidentally found a lease in my building.
On the heels of my whirlwind week, I stayed in the city this weekend with the intention of doing nothing. I bought a present for my niece’s birthday whose party I attended today, and caught up on the phone with old friends.  I’ve been struggling with finding balance – time to give to the people who really matter to me – and while I didn’t plan anything, I felt myself open up and turn towards those who had been giving to me. 
Jill happened to move into my building this weekend. Unbeknownst to me, she had bravely made the decision to take a leap, and then made the move on her own, as strong women with faith – and a kind of trust in the universe – do. It reminded me of when I moved into my first apartment post divorce, and then again post breakup, and how difficult it was. Without much fanfare, I turned off the Facebook, grabbed two glasses of wine, and went downstairs to give her a second opinion on paint colors and furnishings.  When I opened the door she had left open for me, I felt the rush of memories from our dorm life flood in. 
Later, she texted me to say that my presence in the building felt like an omen of sorts; that a woman she knew from college was there, “fighting the good fight, taking risks, and forging a new path…maybe the univ has given us both a big thumbs up,” she wrote.
By “univ,” she meant “universe.” 
But then it hit me. I thought she meant “University.” Not just because we went to University together, but because our building happens to be on a street called “University Place.”
I’m not going to get into the whole “signs and omens” thing here again – I’ve written several posts about it already.  But my skin was suddenly covered with goose bumps, when it was 89 degrees out.
It made me think about rebirth again. The odds of my life intersecting with an old friend of mine at this specific time, when we are both grabbing change by the gut, was not to be overlooked.
No connection is tenuous, in my opinion. All of these seemingly disparate events could easily be hidden from view if we are not primed to see them. But this week, I was fortunate to have banished the clutter of frivolous flirtations and distractions so that I could.
And then tonight, as I sat trying to figure out what to write about and trolling Facebook as I always do when I procrastinate, a quote on a friend’s wall made it all click together:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”  — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross