Tag Archives: goals

the pursuit of happiness

it happens suddenly and it breaks your heart.  and sometimes you’re so ashamed you can’t tell anybody, not even your very best friend.

you become emeritus, of counsel, senior advisor, sustaining member of the board.  your clients are reassigned to the kid who tagged along to meetings last year.  the volunteer job you’ve done every year since you joined the dear charity is now done by a gal who has already had four meetings and didn’t think you’d be interested in attending.  your kids have graduated, left home, you don’t have to drive them to school in the mornings or make them dinner and when you call them they say they love you but they’re busy they have to go.  you almost envy the neighbors, whose son dropped out after a semester and has been living in the basement ever since.

you get dressed up for a wedding and think “maybe i’ll meet someone!” and you get seated at the “old ladies” table.  you linger over your coffee at the shop in the morning hoping you’ll run into someone you know.

you’ve lost your purpose.

for me it happened when my youngest son eastman didn’t come home between his freshman and sophomore year of college.  he had a job at a bowling alley and a girlfriend.  i had dressed up his freshman year with a flurry of freelance work, volunteer committees, yoga lessons.

i even wrote a history of northfield, illinois for arcadia publishing company. between permissions and paying the images specialist, i spent close to two thousand dollars. i will never make that money back.

i tried looking for work in the last refuge of a divorced woman in my town of winnetka–i would become a real estate agent.  bad timing–the market had tanked.  i failed at getting a job at caribou coffee because i couldn’t manage the cash register.

i was, in a word, old and obsolete.  it happens to everybody at some point, and it happened to me when i was fifty.  i stopped taking a shower every day.  and not just for environmental reasons.  the domino’s pizza delivery guy stopped saying “thanks!” for the tips and instead developed an “alone again, eh?”  sneer.  i didn’t have to work out at six so i could get to a meeting at eight, so if i woke up at two a.m. and started reading a good book, what did it matter if i didn’t get back to sleep?  and if i wanted to go to sleep at six p.m., what was wrong with dinner at one o’clock in the afternoon?

a cat or dog is a gateway animal. they’re so cute. they need you. sometimes they return affection. then you get another to keep the first one company. . . .

then you’ve got seventeen cats, you save all the back issues of national geographic and the grocery bags from lakeside foods and your neighbors think you’re weird. you die alone and lonely and your body isn’t discovered for weeks. the forty seven cats (there will have been some adorable new litters) are sent to aspca and some of them are adopted. some of them, not so lucky. (many apologies in my analogy to my friend pink ninjabi!)

but this is not to say i didn’t have an active social life just because i never got out of bed, wore my pajamas all day, smelled like sweat and left over mother’s day perfume circa 1992.  i had friends on facebook.  we played scrabble and mafia wars and shared links and signed petitions and congratulted one another for grandchildren, graduations, homecomings and successful recipes for fish tacos.  the fact that i hadn’t seen any of these friends since college or maybe not at all didn’t make any difference.  it was a party and i didn’t have to shave my legs or get nervous that i’d say the wrong thing!

i found purpose in a small but crucial goal:  i wanted to meet all my facebook friends in a single year.  at 325 friends, it was a sprint but it made every morning have its own reason i had to get out of bed.  reason i had to get out of the house.  reason i had to get on a plane or learn how to pack.  my goal seemed to some people utterly stupid.  silly.  strange.  but it was my goal.

having a purpose, having a goal, is happiness.

what’s your purpose?  what’s your goal?  because the wonderful thing about life is that you can hit that old and obsolete moment, but then you can set yourself up with a second act.  and a third and a fourth.  and sometimes there’s more freedom in your choices.

maybe the founding fathers meant the right to the “pursuit of happiness” to mean that we all have the right to have meaning and purpose in our lives. in any event, on this father’s day, many thanks to those dudes!

my facebook friend michele piersiak has a goal of going to the new york restaurant laconda verde.  she lives in staten island and has trouble leaving the house, much less the island.  but she is working on expanding her horizons and her boundaries.  on august nine, we’re going to test that goal.  and when she finishes lunch she is going to set her sights on another goal.  and then another.  i think this is bliss!

thin and writing a best selling book that will make me happy, financially secure and . . . thin!

ninety percent of american women want it.  ten percent are probably deluding themselves.  what do women want?  to be thin.


thin is a $60 billion industry.  diet pills, exercise programs you can do in your home, health clubs, liposection, rubber band surgery.  and yet thin is more elusive than ever.  is it carbs? is it processed foods?  is it big gulp soda pops?  because mayor bloomberg of new york is banning new yorkers from buying big gulps.

what if the new yorker wants a diet coke big gulp? what if the new yorker is an underweight supermodel who really needs the calories? what if the new yorker is a constitutional scholar who believes that commerce can’t be regulated in this manner?

so thin is what every woman wants.  i want it too.  but why do i diet and fail and diet again?  is it that i lack willpower?

willpower is a funny thing.  if you really really want something you don’t stop for an “i need some willpower”.   if you’re being chased by werewolves in the forest at night, you don’t think “i need some willpower to keep with my running program!”  and if your kid is trapped under a car’s tires, you don’t have a problem with willpower.  you just DO, LIFT, RUN or die trying.

so you gotta ask yourself:  why do i want to be thin?  because something about being thin isn’t attractive enough to change myself.  so i should think about why i want to be thin.  i want to be thin because i want to be attractive but i think i like cupcakes more.  so why waste time and energy worrying about thin?  enjoy the cupcake.  on the other hand, maybe there’s an obstacle that has to do with the unexpected consequences of being thin.  for some women, this can be remembering how uncle bertram made everyone so uncomfortable commenting on one’s pert figure.  maybe it’s worry that a change in one’s appearance might make one think about a marriage that was founded on “settling”.  whatever makes a woman (or a man) unconsciously decide that “thin” isn’t worth it is so personal.

and then i think of another goal:  to write a book that really matters to people.  i want to write about my year of meeting facebook friends.  it was an extraordinary, magical, terrifying, exciting time.  why am i stalled at chapter three?

when i was a kid i used to write stories.  two or three pages of hopelessly romantic, strained, achingly girlish exposition.  my adoptive mother mrs. patrick wondered why i couldn’t get behind the statement “there will always be a need for engineers so if i go to college i’m majoring in engineering” . . . so i was forbidden from writing stories–a policy mrs. patrick thought would get me all fired up about metallurgical or chemical engineering for sure.

but it didn’t.  i just learned to hide my stories.  under mattresses.  under drawers.  even under the carpeting in my bedroom.  and if i was out with mr. patrick doing errands and returned home to see my bedroom lights on, i knew i was in for it.  the drill was to find her sitting on my bed with a cup of coffee and a cigarette–and my latest opus.

“just what the hell is this?”  was generally the question.  then i’d explain it was a story.

“about what?”

what do all girls like to write about? romance, adventure, handsome princes, pretty dresses, fancy parties, the crumbling of the european union, and unicorns. one of these things is not actually true.


and then the second part of the drill:  i had to read the story aloud to mrs. patrick, who would drag off her cigarette and stare off into space until she heard something confusing.  “what the hell does that mean?”  she’d asked.

i became very attention to plot development.  and decided that grammar doesn’t matter in an oral presentation.  and that i’m terrified of people picking apart my writing.

and maybe that’s why i stall.

i’m going to test out that theory.  i’m also going to figure out why a cupcake means more to me than thin.  i’m fifty one.  it’s taken me this long to figure out that there’s a question i need the answer to–

facebook, friendship, fear. . . and the power of index cards

i woke up yesterday morning with a feeling of unbearable dread.  it didn’t help that i was in ohio, having drove six hundred miles to drop off my son eastman at college, and  that there was a steady gray rain tapping at the window.  tapping and remind me that i had promised to drive to michigan.  i couldn’t do it.  i couldn’t take the highway, the cars, the trucks, the lights, the police.  put that pillow back over my head.

i drive a mini-cooper. sometimes the driver's seat makes me feel like the victor hugo character quasimoto. add a few cups of coffee to create acid reflux. which has the same symptoms as a heart attack.

still, i had made a promise to molly parshall.  she’s a new facebook friend.  i had never met her.  a lot of her friends on facebook have probably never met her because she is housebound.  her agoraphobia has reached a point that she is confined to the house although she can and does try to walk out onto the front porch and pick up the mail once a day.  but she does spend a considerable amount of time confined to her bedroom.  she asked for me to come see her.  i could not refuse her.  i drove  along the ohio turnpike which was the route i had to use to get to chicago anyway, but there was a point where i would have to make a choice.  east to chicago and home and safely.  north to michigan to molly’s house.

i sat at the rest stop for a while.  i ate seven pepcids.  then i got sort of stubborn.  i headed north, into michigan.  i realized  i was going to be late. i called molly.  it was the first time we had ever spoken.  her voice was trembling.  i asked her how she was and she said nervous.  i said i was too.  and that i was going to be late.

i was wrong about one thing, well, two.  i was probably just as scared of her as she was of me.  and i needed her as much as she needed me.   i’m fifty one years old and my children don’t need me as much.  once you are a mother, the part of you that needs to be needed is permanently installed.  a facebook friend needed me.  i parked the car.

this is a terrible picture of her house taken on a rainy, gray day. the parshalls live in a quiet, family friendly neighborhood in a small town in michigan. they have a row of trees out back and a river just beyond the trees. every new yorker with a rent controlled eight by ten loft apartment is now officially jealous and should be.

i knocked on the door.  i heard a dog barking from inside.  i waited.  and waited.  i had thought it was possible she would simply decide not to talk to me.  but at last the door opened.  she was crying, or had been.  i started crying and i did the only thing that moms know how to do.  i hugged her.

but only after she got the dog settled down.  i realize i’m sort of scared of being bitten by a dog.  we sat down in her living room and held hands.

molly is a beautiful twenty six year old wife and mother.  when she was seventeen she became engaged, then discovered she was pregnant, then lost her beloved grandmother, married, and then nursed her father through his final illness.  all this within the course of a year.  and that’s when she started being afraid.  she has had periods of time in which she has been able to leave the house.  but there’s been a definite slide and now it’s the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, then back to the bedroom.  she is trapped but communicates with the world with her cell phone and facebook.  facebook is a fun diversion and a way to stay in touch with friends (even to make new friends) but she wants more than that.  and i sort of wonder if she couldn’t communicate through facebook and phone, what would happen to her. . .

i had brought her a present for her son blake.  it’s a magic set (shhhh!  that’s supposed to be a surprise) and i had brought her a set of yarn.  she crochets and i wanted her to have something to distract her when she was nervous.  because i was going to ask her to do some things that would make her nervous.   over the next hour we came up with a plan–taking the scary things and putting them in order, least scary to utterly terrifying.  we used index cards. i’m a believer in index cards.

at the end of the visit, i realized she was nervous again.  so was i.  i drove the four hours home, thinking the whole time that maybe i shouldn’t have interfered in her life.  but we’re friends and that’s what friends do, right?

molly and i said goodbye and i promised i'd be back. she countered by saying maybe she should come to chicago. that made me so happy!

i got home and had a message from her:  she has created a blog in which she’ll write about her progress.  i’m a subscriber already!  and she had felt the urge to go out for a car ride with her husband jeff.  jeff is her “safe” person and being in the car is something that she used to be able to do with him.  i don’t know if they went for a drive, but just the optimism is wonderful.  today, i hope my friend molly gets out on the front porch for fifteen minutes, just like she promised on the index cards.  why?  because she’s crocheting me a damn scarf, that’s why!  🙂

it’s january fifteenth and i’m a little behind on my new years resolution. . .

at the beginning of the new year, the ancient babylonians made promises to the Gods that they would return borrowed items and repay their debts.  the romans made their new year’s promises to janus, the two faced God for whom january is named.  and the medieval knights made a “peacock vow” right after christmas to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry.  these days, a lot of people make new years resolutions.  fully 40% of americans make resolutions.  the most popular ones being losing weight, exercising more, getting a better job, getting control over one’s finances.  but 88% of people fail at their resolutions, almost half giving up before the end of january.  last year, i resolved to meet all 325 facebook friends that i had at the time.  for a variety of reasons, i managed to meet up and have real face time, with 292.

in the third episode of season three of the hit series glee, mike chang's father demands that the principal force mike out of the glee club because mike has received an A- on one of his tests. the A- is referred to as the asian F, in part because of the stereotype that asian parents expect perfect grades from their children. i met 90% of my facebook friends last year so i guess that's an asian F.


this year, my resolution is to meet 12 facebook friends who would like my help getting out from behind the computer screen.  i think we sometimes use facebook friendships as a way of avoiding the chaos, confusion and just plan scariness of modern life.  and some of us have our worlds get smaller and smaller.

i made three new years resolutions:  one, i have to lose ten pounds.  i gained that much over the course of last year–damn, those taipei soup dumplings, the weiner schnitzel in dortmund, the smashed peas in bristol, the seven course meal in eastbourne. . .  the next is a little more embarrassing.

white wine, we have to talk. . . . i like you too much. so we have to break up. i'll still let myself drink beer but the white stuff's offlimits. if you see me with a glass like this in my hand, call me out on it!


and the big resolution is that i will take what i have learned and visit twelve facebook friends who are stuck.  and i will do what i can to help “un-stuck” them.  but january’s nearly over.  i have to get moving.  people who are successful at new years resolutions do two things:  they engage in interim goal setting and they announce their intentions and ask for support from their friends.  in order to make my facebook new years resolution work, i will have to meet one facebook friend a month.  and it can’t just be one meeting or one interaction.  it’s going to have to be a little more intense.  but i have made the first step:

on january 26th, i will be in pennsylvania meeting with a facebook friend who has been housebound for some time.  she would like to be a “better” mother and see her son succeed at things like little league games.  i will be meeting her for the first time.

on january 29th, i will fly out to boston where i will meet with a facebook friend who has similar issues.  i hope she’ll let me take her to lunch at the “top of the hub” restaurant in boston because one of the focuses of her anxiety is heights and elevators.

if you want to succeed at whatever you’ve chosen as your new year’s resolution, you should announce what you plan to do and you should celebrate your interim successes.

if you’re shaking with fear, i am too!

so last year right around this time i couldn’t leave the house.  i was scared.  i had scared myself witless by making a new years eve resolution to meet all 325 of my facebook friends.

it would take a lot to get me to leave the house. you might have a phobia that everyone knows about or that you keep to yourself. it might sound silly to others or to yourself but it's real. okay, except maybe freddy krueger in my house isn't. . .


so i hope you have made a resolution.  something about yourself that you want to change.  something that defeats you, makes you feel like you’re not as good as others, that paralyzes you.  i want you to figure out a specific goal that will show you once and for all that you are strong.  make it a very specific goal and write it down.  and then go tell every one of your friends. . . some of them will laugh, some of them will shrug their shoulders like it’s no big deal.

but some of your friends already know what this means to you.  and they are the ones who will tell you that you CAN!  


i want to know your resolution.  you can email me, you can comment, you can friend me on facebook and tell me about it.  but i want to know what it is.  and if it’s that you want to leave your house, i want you to tell me too!

one of my new facebook friends messaged me that his sister is getting married in march.  he’s housebound and most of his family assumes he won’t be able to go to the wedding.  much less dance at the wedding.  which is something he’d really like to do.  i hope he emails me today to tell me that he has visualized himself having fun at the reception, or that he’s visited the website of the church so that he’s familiar with the layout, or even that he called his sister and asked her to show him some of her wedding preparations.  just one thing.  tomorrow is soon enough for step two.

i spent the first week of january last year unsure of what to do to reach my goal.  to visit a friend in the philippines?  to see someone in nome, alaska?  to travel to new york city?  325 friends, all in one year?  time for the blindfold.

pick one small thing you can do today and write down immediately what you did.  and tell me about it.  

the first day i started working on my resolution, i visited one friend.  my younger son eastman.  we went out onto the front porch and smoked cigarettes.  i know, not a very good thing for a mom to do but i really felt that i was getting one step closer.  just 324 more friends, i thought.

if i had thought too much about how many countries i would visit and how many times i would shut the door on my house and leave i couldn't have done it.


so pick the first step for today.  one tiny tiny thing that gets you an inch closer to your goal. 

my goal this year is to take what i learned about last year and make this YOUR year.  to write and share about my experiences.  to give back what my friends gave me in 2011, namely their support and their time and their energy.

so tell me about your goal, tell me about what you did today.