December 30, 2012

Getting Rid of the Storylines

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in life.” - Tony Robbins 

As someone who is sometimes plagued with overthinking and worrying, Robbins’s quote resonated with me.  And I know I am not the only one who has these struggles, especially with all the recent events in the world.  Though being “in our head” is not always a bad thing since it helps us process life’s experiences on a deeper level and to reflect and make difficult decisions, excessive overthinking and worrying is problematic, particularly since it is not only counterproductive to do so but is also both mentally and physically exhausting.  Why lose sleep over things that we can't control?

In a recent conversation with my good friend about this subject she pointed me to Pema Chodron’s new book, Living Beautifully in Uncertainty and Change, in which Chodron speaks about this subject, but from a different perspective.  Chodron writes that how we relate and regard our present experience shapes our future – the next minute, day, month, and year.  While we create our own possibilities we are also in control of strengthening our preexisting fears and prejudices, which she calls the storylines that we develop inside our heads.  As a result, we try to sidestep uncertainty and insecurity (often the root of our frequent worries).   Chodron urges us to “drop the storyline” and focus instead on “making friends with the whole picture” – the salty and the sweet, the rough and the smooth – as part of the natural fabric of life rather than the pages of a book we're writing in our head. 

I love Chodron’s storyline metaphor; only problem is, I LOVE STORYLINES!  I sometimes think my inner world is more interesting than the outer world, which is precisely why I studied creative writing as an undergrad.  As a child and even now, my mom will sometimes say to me when I tell her a thought/joke/idea, “Sarah, where do you come up with this stuff?”  But fiction and real life are two very different things, the latter of which should not be paired with a storyline in our head, or so I’m learning. 

For many of us, overthinking and worrying comes from a desire to control what’s inherently uncontrollable.  We are only in control of our lives to a certain extent – our habits, our decisions, our actions – but beyond that, and especially in the outside world, everything else is uncertain and impermanent.   We cannot write a story or a map to shape the future because we will either be continually disappointed and/or continually frustrated.  Instead, it’s how we deal with that uncertainty and impermanence by being in the present (something I try to remind myself to do everyday) that will dictate whether we lead a life of worry or acceptance and openness of the unknown and therefore the possibilities that life has to offer.  After all, everything beyond the present is unknown anyway. 

As I enter this New Year, I plan to work on letting go of my storylines and my predilection for worry and overthinking and to focus instead on accepting life as uncertain and impermanent – that which includes both the sour and the sweet – which is not something that needs to be fixed, but that which just is

With that said, Happy New Year, Friends!  I wish you the very best in 2013.

December 23, 2012

The Private Dancer

One of my favorite downtime activities is turning on some tunes and breaking out in a little private dancing.  The beauty of private dancing is that (a) you can do it in your PJs (or anything for that matter); (b) you can be in charge of the playlist; and (c) you can be as crazy as you want and no one’s watching, or well, just the person/people you want to be watching are watching.

I love to dance because it allows me to feel music through my body, something you can't quite experience by simply listening to music.  For this reason, it doesn’t matter if I’m tired -- if I turn on some music that happens to have a good groove I’ll break into dance.  Unsurprisingly, this not only happens at home; I do this in the car too.  And sometimes in an elevator or a hotel lobby if I know no one else is around.  A breakout of spontaneous, private dancing is some of the best.

But while I love dancing, I am often too shy to dance in a crowded room of people, save for my prom, the last time I remember getting down and dirty on the dance floor with a kid I had known since nursery school.  That was a few years ago.  For this reason, private dance parties are usually way more fun for me.  You get to pick the music; you get to dance as nasty or as not nasty as you want; and you can wear anything you want.  Besides, dancing barefoot is always much easier than dancing in heels. 

While private dancing is a great pastime, I’ve always wanted to dance at a wedding because that’s what you do at weddings.   What else is the point of a wedding?  :)  I've always thought it was a bit of a shame that I felt too shy to get down in public, particularly since I happen to have some decent rhythm.   This past weekend I went to a wedding where a great deal of dancing was involved.  Listening to the music I got that feeling, that desire to start moving to the beat.  And then I just couldn’t help myself.  My inhibition melted away and I rolled up to the floor and just danced, not caring whatsoever who was watching or who was not watching.  And it was freaking awesome! 

Some people have no problem with inhibition in a crowded room of people, something that I have always admired.  Other people love to be the center of attention, to the point that they need to be the center of attention.  I am not that person.  Don't get me wrong: I like attention, but not in a public way.  I prefer attention from one person or from a very small, intimate group of people, not  from a sea of people, which is why being a private dancer is really fun.  But what I’ve learned is that in a crowded room of people no one is concerned about you since everyone is concerned about themselves.  No one cares if you are dancing or not dancing.  And, for that reason, it is only you missing out if you want to be grooving to the music.  Since I love to dance, it’s only been me who's been missing out on the action, and that's no fun.

Now that I’ve lost my wedding-dancing virginity I feel like a new woman, like I’ve finally unleashed a part of me to the world that I haven’t been able to unleash before.  Oftentimes, it takes just one time to do something to overcome our fears for us to no longer feel paralyzed by them.  I will forever be a private dancer, but now I may take it to the dance floor a little more often.  

December 9, 2012

The Power of Scent

The fact is that as with all things beautiful and sensorial, I have a love affair with perfume.   Like music, fragrances transport us to the time period when we initially smelled them.  As a child, I remember my first perfumes in perfect chronological order: Tinkerbell, Love’s Baby Soft, Charlie White, and CK1.  In high school, I wore (and still wear) body spray, predominantly from The Body Shop (White Musk is still a constant standby), and then later in high school I gravitated toward deeper, sexier scents, like Calvin Klein’s Obsession and Gucci Rush.  Of all these, Gucci Rush is still one of my most favorite scents of all time. 

While I love to wear perfume and to smell good for myself – and hopefully for others – what’s most powerful is the smell of the opposite sex.  I remember going on a first date when I was 13 with an older high school boy, which was way too young to be going on a first date, let alone with an older boy, but I digress.  He drove a Jeep, smoked pot, and had curly gelled hair, and wasn’t much for words, but his smell, oh his smell.  The fact that he wasn’t my type didn’t matter, because he smelled amazing.  His signature scent was Drakkar Noir, a scent that, according to advertisers Ron Beasley and Marcel Danesi “obviously appeals to the dark, macabre, sinister side of masculine sexual fantasies.”  A few years ago, I took a whiff of the fragrance at a department store, and was surprised that it didn’t smell anything the way I remembered my date had smelled.
Since then, I’ve learned about the anatomy of a fragrance:  the top, middle, and base notes; the dry down; and sillage.  Most likely, what was so memorable to me about this my date's cologne was the dry down – the revealing of the base note – rather than the initial top note that I had smelled straight from the bottle a few years ago.  Perfumes have depth the way that people do, the top note being the initial impression; the middle note (also known as the heart) being one’s personality; and the base note being the final, long-lasting impression, the component that brings depth to the perfume or person.  My date may not have had the greatest depth of personality, but he certainly smelled like he did. 

Aside from how fragrances make us feel about ourselves or about the opposite sex, scents create mood, atmosphere, a feeling.  Growing up, Estee Lauder was my mom’s go-to cosmetic line, and she often wore Beautiful.  While I still consider it to be a lovely scent, I myself could never wear it because it is her scent, even if she no longer wears it.  Whenever she got free samples she would shell out the ones she didn’t want to me, usually peacock blue eye shadow or candy apple red lipstick, and sometimes fragrance samples, that I could only play with at home. 

White Linen was one fragrance sample that she passed along to me, and since it was too adult for me to wear at the time, I used it to create a maternal atmosphere in my playhouse (which was really just a shed with a tiny, single-paned window) by spraying clouds of it everywhere.  Every spring when I opened my miniature house, it smelled as motherly as a shed-cum-playhouse should smell: like cedar, honey, and amber, or, in my mind, like a real woman’s house.  Now that I have a big-girl house to call my own, I love to burn candles, the melted wax emitting the scent of fresh balsam or cinnamon.  I also enjoy creating an atmosphere of natural scents at home, like the savory scent of a pot roast cooking in the oven or the smell of clean clothes pulled straight from the dryer.

I think what makes life most pleasurable is exploring and experiencing our senses to the fullest – the art of smelling and listening are such beautiful gifts, especially when taken to a deeper level.  Do you enjoy fragrance?  If so, what are your favorites? 

December 2, 2012

A Year in Review: Favorite Albums of 2012

With December here, 2012 is almost over.  What better reason to cap the year off with a review of my personal favorite albums of the year?  Herewith is the run-down:

Amy Winehouse - Amy Winehouse at the BBC. Live recordings of the late Amy and her magnificent band. Mostly the same tunes from her albums, but a few new tracks as well. Possibly my favorite release of 2012, but that could be because I’m still high on its recent release.  Well, I thought about it, and it's still my favorite of the year.

Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society. Oh, what’s not to say about Esperanza? Girl’s got it all, in my humble opinion. I discovered her a few years ago, and still can’t get enough of her sweet, jazz slash R&B sound. A little more R&B influenced than her last album, which had a gentle classical flavor, this album is the perfect French macaron: sweet, tender, and complex.

John Mayer - Born and Raised. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant at first about this release (it could’ve just been the hair – who knows?), but the album, which sounded single-faceted upon a first listen, unfolded with surprising complexity as I played it over a few times. It’s also a great lazy day album.

Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE. If this is the direction R&B is going, I think I’m okay with it. It’s modern, sleek, and perhaps a bit hollow instrumentally, but the result is a deep, dark, sexy, and moody sound. Favorite tracks are "Thinkin Bout You," "Sweet Life," and Benny and the Jets'-inspired "Super Rich Kids."

Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions, Volume 2. A fan from day 1, Joss is R&B’s Susan Tedeschi. This album covers some lesser known soul hits from the 1960s and 1970s. All the tracks are great, but if I had to pick one “Teardrops” is five-star.

R. Kelly - Write Me Back. Yes, really. Some good old-fashioned baby-making music here, and this sister knows: I have an ear for this stuff. “When a Man Lies”, “Fallin’ from the Sky,” and “Feeling Single” are top-shelf in my book.

Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos. A new Steely Dan album would’ve been preferred, but I’ll take Donald any way I can get him. Not a huge departure from his other more recent solo albums, which is a good thing, because there’s nothing out there that sounds quite like him.

The Weeknd – Trilogy. A collection of modern R&B in a similar vein as Ocean’s channel ORANGE, except that this album is even darker, deeper, and more melancholy, with strong sexual and drug-infused undertones. The three-disc collection does not have the smoothest sequencing, but if you’re willing to dig, there are standouts that make the album a remarkable timepiece for 2012. Or, I can do the work for you and suggest “Wicked Games,” “Valerie,” and “Twenty Eight.”

Rihanna - Unapologetic (Deluxe version). I don’t know what it is about her, but I scoop everything that she puts out right up. Though not quite as fun as last year's release (Talk That Talk), this is nevertheless some good, bad-girl pop. I don't know about you, but I need a regular Rihanna buzz in my ear when I’m workin' it on the treadmill. Favorite track: “Nobody’s Business.”

November 18, 2012

Quiet, please!

If you’re looking for a good book to read, I highly suggest checking out Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  (As an introvert, I ironically can’t find myself able to stop talking about this book.)  Whether or not you’re an introvert I can assure you that you'll find the book riveting, especially since, well, approximately one-third of people are considered introverts. 

In her book, Cain writes:  
The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions--sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments--both physical and emotional--unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss--another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.

When I read this, I got shivers down my spine because in describing introverts in general, Cain happened to be describing me in a nutshell, an INFJ through and through.   In a culture where extroverts are the cool kids, there have always a negative stigma associated with introverts.  Even merely making the admission that you were introvert was analogous to declaring that you were an awkward freak who hates people.  What is groundbreaking about Quiet is that it dispels the myth surrounding the introverted personality type, that introverts actually possess attributes that make them valuable team players in the workplace; thoughtful and caring partners and friends; and focused, creative innovators. 

While introverts prefer one-on-one interaction to socializing in big groups, Cain writes that many introverts can “pretend extroversion” when they need to, something that I find myself doing in certain social and work situations where a more outgoing persona of me is demanded.  While being extroverted is admittedly out of my comfort zone, in order to be successful in different arenas in life "pretending extroversion" is something I have accepted I need to do.  Apparently, though, this is something that is challenging for introverts, Cain says, especially because many have an inherent, almost ethical need to “be themselves” in all situations.  I agree with this assertion, for it was only until I realized that tapping into the sometimes silly, free-spirited side that I exhibit with those who know me well made it feel more genuine to display a more outgoing version of myself when I’m out and about and in a situation where I need to play the cool kid.  Probably one of the best pieces of advice in learning how to open up in groups is these words from my husband: “Just be yourself and they’ll love you.”  While really such basic words of advice, for an introvert this is not always second nature, which is why I continue to consciously refer to it whenever I need to push myself out of my natural comfort zone. 

Quiet discussed not only the distinctions between introverts and extroverts and the varying strengths and weaknesses between both types, but also analyzed studies relating to introversion, in particular, such as common physical traits of introverts and how in Asian cultures introversion is actually prized more than extroversion.  Interestingly, according to one study, men are actually more attracted to introverted women, who statistically are fair-haired and blue-eyed, because they are more sensitive and maternal, which makes them perceptibly better mates for men.   (Hey, what are you gonna do?)  Perhaps more important, though, was the book’s overarching theme in rebuking the notion “of introversion as something that needs to be cured” and that “[the] trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.” 
Major lesson learned from this book? If you happen to be an introvert, be “in” and proud!

October 27, 2012

Friends with Benefits

“You are the average of the five people you spend time with the most.” – Jim Rohn

I read this in this beautifully written blog that a friend turned me on to, and since then haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

But Jim Rohn's proclamation makes me wonder if those are the people that we're actually the closest to or not, especially given the 9-plus hours a day most of us spend at work where we have little control over who we're spending that time with. I suppose it makes the statement that much more important in a way, because if the sum of who we are is partially the result of people we are not electively choosing to be spending time with, we have little control over who we are. And I disagree with that.  I believe it's ultimately up to us who we choose to be.  To that end, I choose to interpret the statement (because I can do that, right?) as to who we elect to spend time with, which can include certain work relationships, particularly if those happen to be people you choose to include in your circle of five.

Having always been pretty selective about my friends myself, Rohn's statement also makes me feel a little more validated, especially since for years I’ve always felt a little guilty for only wanting friendships that were of the cerebral and soulful sort.  What can I say?  I am a sucker for that intimate connection.

I count my very closest friends on one hand – that is not many – and that is intentional. I want to be the best friend/person I can be to these people, to have the time and energy to nourish these deep relationships, because you need to consistently put forth that level of effort in order to maintain that sort of depth with someone.  I don't deny that my desire for these kinds of relationships is also self-serving because these are the kinds of relationships I prefer to have, that I need to have.  I would take one or two people who I had a deep connection with over numerous surfacy connections any day, but that is just me.  (Although I will say that I'm learning that surfacy relationships can be valuable in their own right, which is something I realize more and more as I navigate through the acquaintance pool in my community.)

Regardless, relationships with our partners, friends, and family members all take time and effort for them to be rewarding and satisfying, because they help shape who we are in a very fundamental way. On a personal level, because all my closest confidantes generally contain values similar to me, it makes sense that I am the sum of the five people I spend the most time with.   There's a reason that birds of a feather flock together, right? 

I believe we are most well-suited by those who bring out the best in us, those who help us become  the best possible versions of ourselves and to unleash our greatest potential, which is why it's not a bad thing to be picky!  The ideal kind of people for us are not necessarily universally amazing; they’re the kind of people who are right for you, to help you attain your life’s purpose and to be the best you you can be. Life’s too long and too difficult to go about it alone – we need others to make it through -- and to help our light shine a little brighter.

October 14, 2012

Simple Sunday Soup

It is fall here in Maine, and I spent a dreary Sunday nesting as I often do on days like these. 
The world outside my window.
This generally includes making a big meal that will provide a few leftovers for the workweek, along with a couple different kinds of vegetables.  While cooking so much food is generally a bit of a production, doing so alleviates a lot of stress of planning and time preparing lunches during week.  Since it was such a cold and dreary day, I had a strong hankering for soup, in particular, a lighter version of a curried squash soup I had eaten at a restaurant earlier in the week. 

While most of the food that I make is healthy (okay, so I may be guilty of baking an apple pie on Friday night loaded with Crisco), I find that some recipes dubbed as low-calorie, vegetarian, vegan, etc. wind up severely lacking in the flavor department, which, let's be honest, can make eating in such a manner a bit boring.  Well, this recipe I found for curried cauliflower soup delivered in a big way: it has a nice kick, a subtle creamy texture, and is both filling and satisfying.  By far one of the best ("healthy") soups I’ve ever had, and bonus -- it was so easy to make! Also, doubling the recipe didn't seem to affect the proportions at all. 

(from Vegetarian Times)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 medium tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 Tbs. curry powder
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced (1 tsp.)
  • 1 large head cauliflower, chopped into 1-inch pieces (6 cups)
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. honey or agave nectar
  • 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar (Note: I used balsamic vinegar here, and it lent a nice flavor.)
1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and golden. Stir in apple, curry powder, and garlic, and cook 2 minutes more, or until curry powder turns deep yellow.

2. Add cauliflower and vegetable broth, and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes. Cool 20 minutes, then blend in food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in honey and vinegar, and season with salt, if desired.

September 24, 2012

Perspective Changes Everything

Perspective culminates from life experience, our situations, and the lives of those around us, resulting in a very personal vantage point to the world and society.  What I am continually learning as I make my way through life is that my perspective is always changing, like every day, even.  Every time my opinion of a situation is challenged by a new experience, or I’m enlightened by someone’s own perspective or story, I am again reminded how my perspective is always on the brink of transition.  This is one of the greatest treasures in life: the notion that we are always ourselves, but that we are always constantly in the midst of change and growth through our various life experiences. 

These experiences change us, hopefully more for the better than for the worse, and regardless they are unique to each of us.   Given the same experience, our perceptions and reactions to them are all so different.  I remember taking a trip to New York City shortly after graduating from college.  At the time, I was on a tight budget because I had so much student-loan debt, and while I wanted to go to the city my only option was to do it on the cheap.  And that, friends, included stuffing canned food and Balance bars in my duffel to save money on sky-high, New York food prices and traveling the seven-plus hours each way by Greyhound bus, which happened to break down en route to the city. 

While recalling how damn heavy my luggage was from all cans of food I had packed now makes me laugh/roll my eyes, I also look upon that memory with fondness.  It was a hustle-and-flow kind of attitude where I was going to make the best of a situation with what little I had.  I may not have been able to have it all, but I realized that I could still have some of it, which consisted of a no-frills trip to New York (because at the time there was no city beyond New York) that still included the essentials for me at the time:  a visit to the Museum of Natural History, strolling around Central Park, hanging out in The Village, and getting a makeup session at Henri Bendel, complete with Chef Boyardee in the evening at the Hotel Belvedere (which sounds fancier than it actually was, but heck it had an en-suite kitchenette and was in the heart of the Theatre District).   

Having since paid off student-loan debt and spent a few years in the workforce, things no longer need to always be so budget-friendly.  I've also learned that there are other cities to have love affairs with.  And while life is a little more comfortable, I haven’t forgotten those days of buying 69-cent bread at Walmart and stuffing my luggage with canned food.  I've also realized that while my perspective has shifted, life may be more comfortable when it’s a little more cushy, but it isn’t necessarily any more fun.  Some of my best memories were when I had the least, because it’s not what you have that matters, it’s your disposition on life. 

Just like I haven’t forgotten the days well before graduating from college thinking that it was realistic for every little girl to grow up and become a stay-at-home mom (I admit that was a secret fantasy of mine) simply because that’s what my mom did, so too did I eventually learn that most moms have to work and still other moms choose to work.  My perspective was again challenged when I since came to the realization that becoming a parent is not necessarily your only option in life, even if you have a spouse and a house.

Perspective changes everything, constantly challenging what you think you know and believe, and so too does it make you realize how many options and possibilities there are in life.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring and how it will make you view life? 

September 16, 2012

Change in Season = Change in Tune(s)

Do you begin to crave different music with the change in seasons?   I do. 

All summer I have been listening to carefree, upbeat, sexy music:  lots of '70s and '80s soul (i.e., Maze, The Jacksons, Buddy Miles), a bit of disco (such as the Boogie Nights soundtrack), some current and classic pop-rock (including John Mayer's new album, Robbie Dupree, Christopher Cross), and a bit of Jay-Z, in particular, The Blueprint 2. 

Music is often the backdrop of our lives, and with the transition from summer to fall resulting in a change in activity, temperment, and, to some extent, lifestyle, so too (at least for me) music is affected by this transition. 

Come fall, when the days begin to shorten and the air turns brisk, my desire for new music (at least this season) happens to consist of a more moody, mid-tempo, rock-based soundtrack than my sexy, soul-heavy summer soundtrack.  Herewith is my first playlist for fall:

  • “Girl Can’t Help It” Journey
  • “Still Can’t...” The Cranberries
  • “Carnival” Natalie Merchant
  • "Is This Love” Whitesnake
  • “I’ll Be Alright Without You” Journey
  • “Tin Man” America
  • “Tempted” Squeeze
  • “I Can’t Tell You Why” The Eagles
  • “Who’s Crying Now” Journey
  • “Lightening Crashes” Live
  • “Rhymes of an Hour” Mazzy Star
  • “Free” The Martinis
  • “Beautiful Calm Driving” Sia
  • “Last Goodbye” Jeff Buckley
  • “I Go To Sleep” Sia
  • “Levon” Elton John
  • “Bad Sneakers” Steely Dan
  • “What Goes Around Comes Around” Lenny Kravitz
  • “Knocks Me Off My Feet” Stevie Wonder
  • “Crystal Blue Persuasion” Tommy James & The Shondells
What are you listening to this fall?

September 3, 2012

The Fine Line Between Monotony and Routine

There is a fine line between monotony and routine, I believe.  On the one hand, to be successful at whatever it is you want to accomplish in life, some element of routine is necessary -- be it achieving success in your career, maintaining your physique, or being a good partner or parent.  But when routine starts to cross over into monotony, it's time to take reflect on whether the routine for this or that is still working. 

This happens to me every so often with my various routines, whether it be with my workout regimen, my post-work routine, or other rituals and habits.  Recently, I thought about whether I wanted to continue waking up at 5:30 a.m. to workout.  Getting up so early was beginning to feel restrictive, monotonous, and just plain annoying.  There were things I wanted to do, places I wanted to be, and having to be in bed by 9 p.m. so I could wake up so early to work out felt like it was getting in the way.  So I did what I do when things are dragging me down and took a couple days off so I could step back from my routine, something I've done pretty consistently since college.  When I thought about other alternatives, such as working out after work, when I generally have plans with friends, appointments, or just want to relax, I soon realized that trying to squeeze in an evening workout simply wouldn't happen because something would always be in the way, and then I'd be a miserable, out-of-shape little bitch.

My friend Carrie posted this on my Facebook wall a little while ago, knowing me all too well. 
But of course I had to give myself the chance to think about other possibilities, to have the freedom to choose (because I like my freedom!), at which point I realized that getting up early to workout -- something which provides me a lot of mental and physical satisfaction -- simply works for me.  The good of all this is that my pondering led me to make one little tweak: I reset my alarm clock from 5:30 to 5:45 a.m., a simple change in routine that added 15 minutes to my sleepy time.

I have said before that something I've been learning along the way is that my perspective is always evolving, resulting in sometimes changed opinions about things, which is why I think it's important to always be reflecting on what we want (and need) out of life at every given moment.  Is my routine actually leading me to a more rewarding, happy life, or has it become just an obligation that's leading me to no man's land? 

Sometimes our self-imposed schedules can get in the way of our goals, and ultimately our success in life.  For me, I believe the ultimate success is being in the present and living each day to the fullest.  Since the ultimate intent of a routine is to ideally help us attain our goals, they should not dictate the way we lead our lives, or more importantly, be the crux of a monotonous, boring life.  Instead, they should be the ingredient to a really great, full-bodied life.  Don't you agree?

In Sarah style, I'll end with a quote from Rilke which I read the other day in Letters on Life, a quote quite apropos for this subject: "You have to live life to the limit, not according to each day but according to its depth."  Perhaps easier said than done, but an enlightening perspective on achieving the good life.

August 26, 2012

So I tried golf (and I actually like it!)

I’ve had pretty much the same hobbies since I was a teenager: reading, writing, cooking, working out, and the occasional design or arts-and-craft project.  These things have become so much of a fabric of my life that they don’t even feel like hobbies anymore; they are just what I do.  I had reached a point in life when I had met many personal goals and realized that as a result of that, I was beginning to feel listless and a little bored.  This is a time when some may decide to have a baby; I decided to take up a new hobby.  

But I didn’t want to pick up just any kind of hobby just to pass the time, to numb the everyday challenges and/or monotony of life.  I wanted something I could really sink my teeth into, to be challenged by both physically and mentally; I wanted a project that I could never quite master yet still be fulfilled by, which would stimulate me for a long time and add to my already pretty fantastic life. 

As much as I like a challenge, I had to be honest with myself about one thing:  I am a creature of comfort.  I knew that whatever new hobby I picked up had to mesh well with my need for that comfort, convenience, and physical and mental stimulation.  I also didn’t want to pick up a new hobby only to give it up. 

Golf was something I never even considered until I moved within two minutes of a golf course, and then I realized that whenever I drove by and gazed at the course the people there seemed like they were having a great time, walking the course and hitting balls in a beautiful setting either at dawn or at dusk when I happened to be driving by either to or from work.  Truth be told, I actually used to think that golf seemed like a rather boring, passive, corporate-y kind of activity.  [Sidebar: It’s funny how perspective changes everything.  This is something I am learning time and time again in life:  you have an opinion about something and then the minute your perspective changes, boom! that opinion is immediately subject to change.  It makes me think that someday I may actually like the taste of wine!  We’ll see.]

But hanging out in a beautiful setting isn’t all there is to golf, so I knew that I was going to have to swing a club once or twice before I made the decision to give the sport a shot.  (Bear in mind I had never even held a golf club before, and playing mini golf a few times in my life doesn’t count.)  Thanks to a coworker who was willing to lend me an old set he had, I was able to give it a trial run, so out I went to the driving range to hit a couple baskets of balls. 

The first time at the driving range, the majority of times (that I even hit the ball) barely exceeded a distance of 25 yards and had no lift whatsoever.  And guess what?  It was still fun!  I liked it, even though I was horrible at it.  (A good sign for me.)  The next time I practiced in my backyard and got more lift, though not much more distance.  The third time I had a lesson, and wacked it higher and straighter and in the range of 75 yards.  It felt great.  But then a week later I had another lesson with a different coach who taught me an entirely different grip, showed me that I needed to straighten one arm and bend the other, and had me doing drills that didn’t even involve hitting a golf ball, and I was back to square one.  

I'm learning that golf is not only physical, but an extremely technical and mental game, and I knew if I had any expectations from myself I would easily get frustrated.  So going into it, I gave myself one rule:  "Thou not having any expectations of thyself."  I told myself that having no expectations  would be a good experiment for me and that “being bad” at something for an undeterminable time would teach me to let go of unreasonable self-expectations, because success comes not from simply being naturally gifted at something, but from putting lots and lots of time into it.  

So, that’s my new baby:  learning golf.  A few weeks in and I’m outfitted with new clubs, a couple lessons, a cute skirt, and absolutely no skill or talent, and you know what?  I am pretty mother effing excited about it.    

August 3, 2012

Finding completeness amidst constant imperfection.

This wall hanging is a quilt my mother made for me, a design I handpicked for my favorite room in my house: a sunroom with a peaked ceiling and exposed beams, and lots of natural light seeping in from windows on the three exterior walls.  This wall is a focal point when you enter the house from the front door. Initially, there was a TV here, and for months, it made me cringe every time I walked into my house and saw it there. Something about a TV as a focal point to a house just didn’t feel right to me. It had to go.

A feeling of completeness rushed over me when I hung the quilt on the wall.  And even though the room still has more to be done to it to make it perfect in my eyes, it somehow now feels complete and settled, even with its "leftover" furniture and lack of lemon trees that are begging to be placed in the far corners of the room. 

As I reflected on the sudden completion of the room by the mere hanging of a quilt, and therefore the entire house, it occurred to me that there is something to be said for feeling complete, satisfied, and whole, even in a state of imperfection.  Perhaps it's strange to be drawing a personal parallel from one’s house, but I think our surroundings, that is, our environment, generally are a reflection of who we are as people.   

As a searcher, a perfector, a constant striver, I am always trying to take something and make it better, shinier, prettier, more perfect.  In some ways this is perhaps a good thing, but constantly pursuing perfection creates continual feelings of discontent, dissatisfaction, and lack of appreciation in ourselves, situations, and things that are always going to inherently be flawed and imperfect in some way.  But, it's a process as is everything else, and I am learning that feeling complete and attaining perfection are not mutually exclusive -- completeness is not necessarily achieved by attaining perfection.

This wall quilt, a beautiful piece of art which singlehandedly transformed my favorite room of the house, is a beautiful symbol of achieving completion amidst a state of imperfection: a reminder that satisfaction and acceptance can and should be found in our constantly flawed selves, too.

But on another note, my cat is pretty damned perfect. 

July 20, 2012

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

Lately I’ve been reflecting on mortality -- about death and getting old -- you know, your basic mixed bag of depressing thoughts.  It’s a heavy subject, not something I particularly enjoy thinking about, but for whatever reason it’s been a major theme in my mind for the past several weeks. 

What makes mortality seem particularly close is when life begins to feel monotonous – as if every day is the same. When that happens, I feel like I’m not living life to the fullest, and that makes me a little sad.  Though stability is a basic need in my life (I relish in some amount of consistency and routine), I am a big proponent in continually seeking stimulation and growth.  And while such growth can be achieved by having new experiences, I sometimes wonder, which are the right ones to go after?

But every day is not an adventure, and it can’t be an adventure. Too much chaos, commitments, obligations, etc. wear me out anyway.  I'm an introvert -- I need my quiet time.  While reflecting on appreciating the simple pleasures in life and making small changes to mix up your routine, focusing on being in the present is vital. This is what Buddhist philosophy is teaching me.  We do not live in the past or in the future. As a perpetual worrier, living in the present is not instinctual, though. I am always worrying about the future; any possible scenario of something that can go wrong, I have probably already thought about it, and schemed up a solution for it. And this can be a stressful way to live.

While it’s important and necessary to plan for the future, beyond saving for retirement and taking care of yourself physically and mentally, there is no actual benefit to worrying about the future when you cannot map it out by the nanosecond anyway. There’s a saying that goes something like, you plan and then life happens. I agree with this adage, especially as I like to plan and then I also like to rebel.

I suppose the good that's come out of all this worry about mortality is that it’s forced me to take a long hard look at what makes me happy as well as what makes me unhappy -- things that we don't generally evaluate very often. So often we’re in autopilot mode, such that we don’t really stop to think about whether this is what we want to be doing, what we should be doing, and whether these things provide us satisfaction or dissatisfaction.  (A few months ago I gave up my weekly personal to-do list for this very reason and I was amazed to see that I was actually more productive without it.) 

What I've realized is that when you cut out something that doesn’t give you happiness or satisfaction, you have much more time and energy to do other things that are relaxing and enjoyable and provide long-term gratification versus short-term gratification.  They also force you to be in the present.  For me, these things are doing yoga and meditating, listening to and cataloguing music, reading and writing. They are relaxing activities that make me feel like I'm, on even a very small level, growing, evolving, and not watching life passing me by.  But it's only since I've reflected on what it is that both relaxes me and gives me happiness, I've learned that these are the kinds of activities I enjoy doing when I’m simply too tired to do anything else.  When I'm not so tired, well, that's a different story.  I do like a little adventure in my life!

But satisfaction and happiness and living life to the fullest is about finding appreciation in the simple things too -- having dinner with a good friend, enjoying a crisp evening breeze after a hot summer day, listening to your favorite song on the radio, or smelling the peonies in your front yard. 

The other evening I read a parable from The Pocket Pema Chodron about there always being "tigers above, tigers below", which happened to be the perfect prescription for my current angst.  I'll end this post with an excerpt from the passage:

              Tigers above, tigers below.  This is actually the predicament that we are always in,
              in terms of our birth and death.  Each moment is what it is.  It might be the only
              moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we'll ever eat.  We could get
              depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness
              of every single moment of our life. 

Image Credit: Pinterest

July 6, 2012

On Honesty

"Your best work is your expression of yourself. Now, you may not be the greatest at it, but when you do it, you're the only expert." - Frank Gehry

The one place where I’ve always felt completely open and uninhibited, with the exception of those who know me well, has been with my writing.  When I write I have no worries about feelings of inhibition, concerns about being misunderstood, or fear over the potential for rejection.  Writing is just my words and me.  I’ve kept some blog or another for the past few years as a space for my thoughts and opinions, and consequently to share with a few readers, be it friends, family, or the occasional foreign visitor, and all the while it has been a great exercise in the ultimate practice of honesty.

My mom happens to be a regular reader of my blog, which I think is great, even if the subject matter doesn't always appeal to her.  She readily expresses her opinion (whether positive or negative) about my chosen topics -- from spray tanning (negative), pink Legoes (positive), or the new HBO show, Girls (negative).  “You know I think you’re a great writer, Sarah,” she says cautiously, adding, "but sometimes I don’t always like your subject matter.” 

“That’s okay,” I tell her.  “You don’t have to.”  I am not offended by this, nor am I surprised.  Knowing that she even takes the time to read my blog is a compliment -- it would be overkill and unexpected, even, to think that she would agree with everything I say.  “Just be careful,” she continues, as if writing a blog that very seldom people read is going to set me up for being kidnapped or raped, but I take her expressed concern as a term of endearment anyway. 

“I appreciate your honesty,” I say.  And I do.  My mom’s perspective is, well, that of a 50-something-year-old Mom – much different than mine, but nonetheless I appreciate her point of view, even if it's slightly old fashioned, the focus of which is on the following issues: my keeping up appearances, being a “lady”, and maintaining a sense of morality.  These are not bad things, and while her opinions make me reflect more about them, they sometimes have the unfortunate side effect of inhibiting me a little bit -- not the best thing when you're trying to attain the ultimate sense of freedom through your creative pursuits -- though it's usually temporary. 

“You are not trash,” she says, referring to my various posts, some of which sometimes contain inappropriately explicit content, according to her. 

I pause, and smile, “Well, maybe I am trashy,” I say. 

“You are not trashy.” 

“Maybe I’m a little trashy,” I respond, testing her. 

I give my mom props for raising the woman I’ve become – she instilled in me the ability to become a pretty strong and dynamic person; she showed me the value of good manners and of being a lady (to which I sometimes succeed at); she taught me all the housewife basics (I am no housewife, but if I were I think I'd be a damned good one); and, she reinforced the importance of gumption and follow-through.  By way of leading by example, and perhaps most important, she also taught me to have a voice, an opinion, a perspective.  I cannot remember ever not having an opinion about something, whether I shared it or kept it to myself.

The truth of the matter – which I tried to explain to my mom in this conversation and which she understood being the reflective person she is – is the importance of having a little place in the world where we can feel free to be ourselves, away from what society expects from us, from what our parents expect from us, from what even we expect from ourselves, because often, when we let down our guard, when we give way to inhibitions, we surprise ourselves, giving way to greater depth than we ever thought possible, and that is a pretty special thing -- inappropriate or not. 

For me, that space happens to be my blog, which is mostly anonymous, except for friends and family who know I keep one.  For others who happen to stumble upon it, well, they only know me as Sarah, that “wallflower with a lot of opinions and a bit of sass.”

I believe that practicing honesty by shedding inhibitions is a big step to sharing yourself with the world, even if that “world” happens to be only a few handfuls of people.  It’s a short life to live if we’re always consumed with appearances and how people are perceiving us  -- something we all struggle with in one way or another because we’re all just trying to be understood.   Ultimately, the gratification we get from a life fully lived is achieved by being as honest with ourselves as we can be and then attaining the self-acceptance that we're all striving for.   And you know what?  Life is too short to be ladylike all the time.  Right, Mom?

Photo Credit: Pinterest

June 29, 2012

On Adele: The Sweden of Pop

Adele is that kind of artist that everyone likes. Be you a music aficianado or not, you like her, let’s be honest. She is the safe bet, the Sweden of music. She’s like gay marriage. Everyone’s for it, so why even mention it? It’s a moot point that everyone supports it (except for the one important caveat that it’s not technically legal yet, but you get my drift, right?).

If you put some Adele on at a party (no matter what kind of party it is), no one will bust your balls. Everyone will say how much they “love Adele”, ironically, as if it’s the greatest revelation in the world, and everyone will agree. (Or, you can be like me, and put on Elton John’s "Madman Across The Water" at your 6th grade Halloween party, and everyone will sneer, and you can keep playing it anyway because it’s your effing party and you can play what you want.)  She is the epitome of a neutral party, which isn’t a bad thing.  It's simply that it's not all that interesting to make the proclamation that you are her biggest fan, because everyone is.

I bet you can name at least five of your Facebook friends who shared or posted about how much they “loved” Adele particularly the overplayed "Rolling in the Deep," in the past year. It was almost like seeing someone sharing their Words with Friends results except that it was even more insignificant, because it was not identifying any interesting or relevant information about themselves, because, news flash: EVERYONE IS POSTING THE SAME THING.

I’m all for fanship and music appreciation – don’t get me wrong. If there is one thing I’m passionate about, it’s music, and there is nothing wrong with sharing that excitement for an artist or song you love. So please don’t take this as bitchiness, even if it is. (But, come on, we all know I’m a bit of a sassy bitch.)  The same goes for hot-button issues that everyone believes in. Maybe it’s just me, but pretty much everyone I know is “for gay marriage,” voted for Obama, is a vegetarian, and, well, apparently everyone loves Adele – or is scared to admit otherwise.

It’s something about the bandwagon nature of the human race that I can only sometimes relate to. People like that thing or say they like that thing because someone else does, and therefore it immediately makes them become interested in that thing they may not have ever discovered otherwise. This is perfectly fine and acceptable and completely human, but when they advertise the discovery with complete utter disregard for its already widespread fanship as if it’s a unique characteristic about themselves, it drives me nuts.

On the flip side, I have this unfortunate trait wherein when mass groups of people like something – especially people who know nothing about what they’re participating in – I am immediately turned off by it. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING I’M PROUD OF, BY THE WAY, just something I can't same to shake about myself.

This is not true for dance pop – the Britneys, the Carly Rae Jepsens, and Selena Gomezes. I love that shit, because it’s fun and unpretentious and made for disposability. It’s music, but only kind of, you know? There are also other exceptions to this trait, generally when it comes to fashion, because fashion is everchanging and really isn’t something to be taken very seriously anyway.  It's just for fun.

So, last week (I promise there's a point to this) I was in a consignment shop in Portland, and as I’m sifting through the denim rack my instinctive trait for disliking what the masses like was challenged. I hear a song that instantly catches my ear, you know, the kind of groove that you’re instantly pulled into and want to hear over and over again. I only listen to 45 seconds of the song before I have to leave the store, and I had already fallen in love with it, with the beat, the cadence, the instrumentation, the lyrics. It was a song I had never heard before, but I knew that voice: It was Adele.

My initial reaction was annoyance for liking a song by that girl who’s overliked by everyone and therefore kind of overrated, and then my second reaction was embarrassment for attempting to make a conscious effort not to like a song by that artist who is liked by everyone and their mother. It is one thing to not like something that everyone covets because it is no longer special – that’s a trait that I am either fortunately/unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) always going to have – but quite another to make a conscious effort not to like something simply because everyone likes it. I remember being a closet Britney Spears fan for years until I realized, I effing like Britney Spears – who cares if she's the Princess of Pop? So, even though Adele is the Sweden of Pop -- the safe bet that everyone likes -- I’m not going to dislike her just to be a cultural rebel. I’ll blame it on that beautiful song, “He Won’t Go,” for changing my inner rebel to a bandwagon fan.

June 10, 2012

Old Man Camp

I am not planning on having children any time soon, if at all, but if I could I would like to adopt a small camp of old men as my children.  Usually when I see an older man who happens to strike me of the kind who might fit in my camp, my outward reaction goes something like this:  “Ohmygod, he is so adorable.  I want to adopt him.”  Meanwhile, my internal reaction is that my heart melts, my tummy aches a little, and the world slows to a snail’s pace.  (If you saw the old man in the movie Up, and have any kind of heart at all, you know what I’m talking about.) 

And if I didn’t have a fear of rejection and/or otherwise didn’t think the execution of it might not go quite as I envision it in my head -- this would include my camp of old men playing checkers and watching WPRK in Cincinatti reruns, entertaining me with funny stories of the good old days, and going out to breakfast at 7 a.m. (because that’s what old people do) -- I might consider making the proposal.  An added bonus – and I’m being completely picky here -- would include their insistence on helping me out with some light household chores like doing laundry and emptying the dishwasher. 

Today, during my morning workout, I spotted two perfect candidates for my old man camp.  They were decked out to the nines in camp-type attire just to walk the college track.  Five-foot-tall wooden walking stick?  Check.  Fishing hats?  On their heads.  Decorated t-shirts from some tourist attraction (location unidentified)? Keeping them warm.  Tiny, six-inch boombox (complete with handle) playing Roberta Flack’s “Where is the love?” You bet!  This last detail was what melted my heart into pure gold because of the beautiful dichotomy of two old-thyme Mainers not listening to some old-folky Conway Twitty or Shelby Lynne, as one would expect (which would’ve still been adorable and dandy, BTW), but rather taking their morning constitution jamming to some sweet old-school R&B.  These men knew how to do it right.  Let's just say it was a sight for sore eyes on a Sunday morning. Complete with smile and a friendly hello, Clifford and Lou (my invented names for them) were the men for me. 
You may ask why I don’t envision a camp for old ladies too, or even a co-ed camp, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure.  While old folks, in general, get my heart strings, I have always had a particular soft spot for the old men.  Something about their way just speaks to me, I suppose.    

So if you know of any old men who are adorable, good natured and fun, and are in need of a granddaughter-type figure, you know who to call.

June 5, 2012

Hello, Spray Tan.

I shun laying out in the sun and UV tanning beds, because, let’s be honest – I’m too effing vain for that.  Premature wrinkles and skin cancer?  That’s for the birds.  As a result, I’m forced to embrace my alabaster pallor, even if I do think a little color is a necessary accessory for bikinis and sundresses.  With summer upon us, I decided it wouldn't hurt to go Hollywood for a day and see what this spray-tan business is all about.

So I did as I always do before embarking on a new situation by doing my research.  Specifically, I Googled, “What to do before getting a spray tan.”  All signs pointed to exfoliating and not applying deodorant and greasy lotions, to which I heeded. 

At the salon, Terry the Technician walked me through the process, which included getting undressed to the point that I was comfortable and standing on the white towel on the floor.  She said people wear whatever they’re comfortable with, which is either going completely nude to wearing a bathing suit. 
See?  Tan lines are hot.  Bar thinks so too.
Terry started spraying me using an airbrush, having me turn and lift my arms in varying degrees.  Once she was finished spraying, which took about five minutes (I made sure to tell her to go light on my face so I didn’t look like “tanning mom”), she instructed me to stand for about 10 minutes while the tanner dried.  Afterward, she checked in on me, touched my skin to make sure it wasn’t still tacky, and told me to wait to shower until the next morning.  She said that when I did shower to dry myself lightly with a towel – helpful advice considering I hadn’t yet researched “What to do after getting a spray tan.”  I dressed back into my post-spray-tan uniform -- sweats and a loose t-shirt that I didn’t care about getting stained, and black flip flops. 

When I got home I admired my head-to-toe glow, which I haven’t had in years since the tanning-booth tan I got when I was a silly 17-year-old prepping for prom.  Remarkably, there was no orange hue or icky self-tan smell and it actually looked really natural and passable for a "real tan."

I understand the temptation to tan, because everyone looks better with a little glow.  The beauty of a spray tan is that it imposes the same kind of glow that a suntan does, but without the potential for accelerated wrinkles and skin cancer.  But at $30 (plus tip) a pop, though, to have it done right, it’s not something that every person’s budget can accommodate, especially on a weekly basis when the tan fades.  But who needs to be bronzed all the time? 

I think a spray tan is a perfect once-in-a-while treat, especially when you want to wear a cute sundress or bikini, and are like me who pretty regularly dons the SPF 30 every time you step outside.   Long story short: you'll definitely find me getting my spray tan on again. 

May 26, 2012

I Love Girls!

I am a pretty big fan of the new show Girls.  About twenty-something recent college graduates trying to make it in New York, the show is no Sex and the City (SATC).  In fact, Girls is in many ways the antithesis of SATC: there’s no jazzy soundtrack, no sheen illuminating the sexiness of New York, no particular ambition whatsoever as showcased by the ladies of SATC.  Instead, the Girls of Girls are barely employed, can hardly pay their rent without the help of their parents, and are ill-matched by beta males who suffer from a similar lack of ambition.

The show represents a time when an expensive degree from Oberlin College does not a success make, when your parents pay for your Blackberry, and when boys treat you like shit even though they’re pretty shitty themselves.  In that sense, the show is both unrelatable and relatable.  When I graduated from college with my state degree, there was no question that I wasn’t going to get a full-time job with benefits.  With nearly $50,000 in loan debt, I had to get a full-time job with benefits.  And even though the job I got gave me anxiety and cold sweats every day, I stuck it out for three and a half years, while going to grad school and being miserable pretty much every day.  (That’s my walking-20-miles-to-school-in-4-feet-of-snow-story for you.)

So while I don’t understand the lack of hard work and motivation exhibited by these Girls, I do understand being in my early 20s, with so much promise ahead of me and yet being overwhelmed by it all – by the supposed promise that “the world is your oyster” -- because life is pretty hard when you’re young and no one wants to give you your big break.  It’s only when you learn that getting any kind of big break comes with hard work and sacrifice, both of which are things these Girls haven’t yet learned and which I didn’t know myself at that age.  You work that shitty job, you pay your dues, you get a little experience, and life gets easier and better. 

Where the Girls are particularly relatable, though, is in their need for love, attention, and ultimately, for their need to be understood, for better or worse.  Hannah spends her time fulfilling these needs by sleeping with Adam, an unemployed dirtbag of a guy, whose sexual demands range from asking that she pretend like she’s a prepubescent girl with a lunchbox, to smacking her around a bit, and to telling her to humiliate him while he masturbates in front of her (when she tries to take off her dress, he tells her it will ruin the fantasy and she obeys).  They have no relationship outside his apartment, aside from the occasional phone call or text, and have never set foot outside his apartment together.  We have all experienced a relationship like this in our lifetime, right? If you haven’t, well, good for you.  In your late teens and early 20s (for women in particular), it is not about being sexually satisfied on a personal level – it is about seeking sexual gratification by pleasing the other.  Once you hit your mid-20s, you hopefully learn that this is not the way any kind of romantic or sexual relationship should be.     

While I ultimately became a fan of SATC, I didn’t like it the first time I watched it.  I thought it was tacky and trashy and poked fun at the institution of romantic love.  Do you remember the pearl necklace episode?  Well, I was only 17 the first time I saw it, and the show’s target audience was clearly not 17-year-old virgins.  When I watched it a few years later, I had reached the point that sex and love are not always mutually exclusive.  Having developed that understanding, the show endeared to me the way it hadn’t the first time I had watched it.  To this day, I maintain that it’s one of the best series ever.

But what I like about Girls even more than SATC is that it does not sugarcoat the dim realities of love and sex, to want and to be wanted, and to find your way in a world that doesn’t give a shiznit about you.  When you're in your early 20s, the promise of hope and possibility looms over you like a dark cloud.  Hope and possibility are not necessarily tangible even if they exist in theory.  Moreover, wanting is much different than getting, and always requires some sort of painful sacrifice, something that this culture of young women may only be beginning to understand.  Girls is revealing these struggles in a very real, and at times, maddening, way, resulting in one of the best series out right now.  What can I say?  I'm in love with Girls.