Friday, June 29, 2012

Power Napping for Self-Improvement

I’m not asking for a thump on the head.   

But some guys have all the luck, don’t they?   

Maybe you saw that guy on CBS Sunday Morning who took a knock to the noggin and woke up with a talent for playing the piano.  And he can really play - not just “Heart and Soul,” either.   

He woke up from a mild concussion, felt the urge, sat down, composed and played like a son-of-a-gun.  He says now he sees the notes, not just on the page, but also in the air.  That’s a big payoff for a small smack.  Hooray for him. 

But it’s irritating to those of us who deal with the simultaneous impediments of trying to learn to play the piano past the point when our synapses have ossified, coupled with an aversion to taking a hit.  

My husband offered to help me out with this, but I think he was making fun.  Something in his eyes.  Too eager.  He salivated.  I can only hope he’s not planning an “accident” to do me a favor! 

Here’s the dilemma:  I want to play, but all that study and practice – whew!  I just don’t know if I have it in me. 

It’s like that quote I saw online the other day:  “I’ll do anything to lose weight – except diet and exercise.”  

Then there’s that other guy on the Science Channel who had a stroke and came back an artist.  

Since coming home from the hospital, this guy has painted every surface available to him.  Literally.  He’s on his fifth layer.  And he’s not using antique white.  He maps out poster-sized sections of walls, ceilings, floors, furniture and countertops, and creates.  His living room looks like a mob of muralists threw up on it.   

The mystic in me can’t help wondering if he ever wished he could just paint all the time instead of being a day trader or whatever his regular job was.  Rod Serling warned us about that sort of thing. 

Doctors speculate that his stroke created an imbalance between the excitation processors and inhibition suppressors in his brain.  Painter excitation is winning and this poor schmuck can’t stop himself from artistic expression.  I don’t think I want to go that far.  

Of course no one in her right mind would go to that length, even for her art.  But a slothful person does look for miracles. 

That’s why I read with interest the new research saying that imagining practicing the piano, or shooting baskets, or “virtually rehearsing” just about anything produces improvements in that skill approximating those accrued from actual practice.  Really.  If only that could apply to housework.  Cause I can visualize a clean house and it’s nice.  Smells good, shines and everything.  But I don’t like to visualize the actual cleaning.  That must be why we’re all caked over. 

To get the full benefit of your imagination, you have to visualize the activity for the same amount of time you would put in to doing it.  What’s the good in that?  If a person has to visualize practicing her scales in order to procrastinate practicing her scales, well, that little chore just lost its appeal.  That’s like the commuter stuck in traffic who takes a 20-minute detour to avoid a five-minute delay. 

On the other hand, innovative dream researchers have now demonstrated that reflection on a task while asleep and dreaming produces the same brain waves as actually completing the task.  So, if we dream of playing onstage at Carnegie Hall, it boosts our ability to play there one day.  This is the ultimate in multi-tasking.  Lucid dreamers hone their talents while catching their z’s.   

One can extrapolate that gainful achievements await the daydreamer, the blank stare-er, and the while-er away of time.  At last!  A regimen that plays to my in borne aptitudes.  I’m feeling excited about my potential accomplishments! 

I could start the day by picturing some time on the treadmill.  My chair at the computer is comfortable enough to accommodate reverie on the memoir I’m writing.  Next I’ll nap next to the piano.  Laundry?  A mental rehearsal!  Soon, it’ll be time to envision dinner.   

I’m liking this.  It fits my lifestyle.  It’s the next generation of armchair quarterback:  naptime artiste.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Iron Mike Tyson on Broadway

“This is…what [I] decided to do after I gave up using drugs and being a pig and stuff…”  

That’s Mike Tyson speaking to Ann Curry on the “Today Show” about his upcoming collaboration with Spike Lee.  He’s going to do a one-man show on Broadway.  That’s right.  Limited engagement.  Six nights only with a metaphorically naked Tyson.   

It’s the new Mike.  The improved Mike.  You have to love a guy who gives up being a pig.  Not to mention drugs and stuff.  Don’t you? 

While we all have room to grow, Iron Mike’s margin for improvement dwarfs that of the average schmo.  God love him for embarking upon a plan of self-improvement. It must be staggering.  He didn’t break it down into short-term, long-term, personal or professional goals.  “Today” only has a two-hour timeslot.  But apparently it’s a general overhaul.   

I’d love to see his notes on the brainstorm.  “Let’s see,” he must have said to himself, licking the tip of his pencil, “where to start?”  The “stuff” category offers the greatest range of opportunity.  No more wet towels on the furniture, for sure. 

Mike says he’s a vegan now.  He won’t eat anything with a face.  Birds, fish, insects and mammals across the globe exhaled in relief at the news.  Too late for Evander Holyfield, of course, but it’s a step on the personal growth highway. 

One wonders, after such a prolonged period of porcine existence, what triggered the change?  Did Mr. Tyson have an epiphany?  Was there a crystalizing experience?  A flash of insight or inspiration?  Well, yes.  There was such an event for Mike.  During his interview with our cultured and genteel Ms. Curry, Tyson revealed the moment he realized he wanted to live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle: 

"I just threw up the white flag," he said.  "There was too many prison cells, too many jails, too many lawsuits, too many bankruptcies, too many women, too many venereal diseases, too many everything.”  

OK, stop.  We get it.  Ann has leaned away on her stool, clutching her notepad.  No need to go into greater detail, is there?  But it seems there was a need.  Tyson pressed on, “I got tired.  I really got tired of, you know, like every time a prostitute –- I would head back from a trip -- I had to sleep with her.  So I just said, 'I'm going to live a different life.'” 

Not unlike others who’ve turned themselves around, right?  (I’m searching for a comparable example here.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Anyone who overcame those odds, that background, that ingrained behavior?)  

But my mom used to tell me, the time to make up your mind about people is never. 

Is it too late for Mike Tyson?  Can he redeem himself after decades of decadence?  Were there too many prisons and prostitutes for us?  Does his prison time, paying his debt, satisfy our need for justice after such heinous crimes?  Does bankruptcy on the grandest scale, losing $350million, truly wipe the books clean? 

Are we willing to let him start again?  Could he ever become a kinder, gentler Mike Tyson?  More than that, can he become a successful song and dance man? 

If you saw him in “The Hangover II” you already know he can’t sing, and dancing in the ring does not equate.  But there was that one thing - he seemed willing to laugh at himself.  I don’t think the old Mike would have done that. 

As for Tyson’s Broadway debut, which will feature Iron Mike offering a personal look into the highs and lows of his career, including his addiction to drugs, alcohol and women, Spike Lee says, “What Mike’s going to do is [display] the same courage he displayed in the ring.  I think [it takes] just as much courage to go on stage [and] bare your soul to the audience.”  

If you’ve been a pig the first step in recovery is taking responsibility for the sty. 

“I have to be careful,” said Tyson, “because I can’t stay on some subjects for a long time.  I can’t stay … for a long time because I might cry, something might happen,”  

What will happen, if he pulls it off, will be an object lesson in redemption. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Here's Why Rats Pack

It’s hard to explain my Fluffy.  I see her every day.  She looks down from her perch above the racks in my closet, googley eyes frozen into a dazed stare. 

I have a picture of myself at 5 years old, sitting on the front porch of my parents’ starter house in Tulsa, grinning, proud, holding Fluffy by her felt ears.   

What causes a person to save such a thing as this raggedy stuffed cat?   

Had to replace her eyes some years ago.  Actually, that was the second time I replaced them.  My first effort consisted of carpet tacks pushed into Fluffy’s face where her original eyes sat.  One had fallen out and disappeared.  To my little girl way of thinking, at least she could see again, even if the tacks had no pupils and rusted in their sockets.   

More recently, I found myself in a bead store running my fingers through a bin of green eyes on stems.  They’re like Lasik for Fluffy.  A miracle. 

Why I bothered…unsure.   

I still take her down on occasion and commune with her.  Turns out she’s not a plush toy at all.  Not like the teddy bears and Elmo’s of today.  My Fluffy appears to be made from a complete rabbit pelt.  Well, almost complete.  No true legs or telltale rabbit’s feet.  She doesn’t stand, but rather lies on her belly with nubby legs splayed.  Just visualize a rabbit skin spread out like a bear rug.  Toymakers took that, wrapped it around stuffing, stitched it closed and voila!  Fluffy, a little girl’s kitty. 

She’s got rabbit fur and leather hide and she’s packed with straw – I found this out long ago when her tail came off, gone the way of her original eye. 

They attached felt kitty ears since keeping the rabbit’s ears would have been impractical.  No doubt over time they would have stiffened and cracked.  Not to mention the fact that rabbit ears would have made a bunny, not a kitty.  Though admittedly, I still could have called her Fluffy. 

Last week I made the mistake of introducing Fluffy to my macho year-old Burmese cat, Jesse, king of the Plath jungle.  He seemed quite stunned that I’d kept another feline (except Uma, his mate) in the house without his knowledge.  With cat-like reflexes (sorry) he lashed out at Fluffy and hooked her with his claw.  After a brief skirmish during which his pupils enlarged and his focus never wavered, I rescued her, smoothed her remaining fur and returned her to her shelf, high in the closet.   

But now Jesse knows she’s there and he continues to stare upward, plotting, humorless.  My task is to divert him and hope he forgets.  Have you ever known a cat to forget where he saw a mouse?  Me neither. 

I could pack her away.  But, but… 

I think my parents gave me Fluffy to distract me during our upcoming trek across the globe.  My dad took a job in Iran when I was five and we were packing for a series of long flights to get there.  No jets, we crossed the Atlantic in a four-engine propeller driven TWA airliner.  My brother and Fluffy and I slept under the air conditioning vent in a fold-down cot where overhead luggage is stored today.  Tulsa to New York to London then Paris.  Damascus to Beirut to Abadan.  Then two years in the desert - a lot to take in for a little girl and her Fluffy. 

Oh, I’ve read the advice from those meddling do-gooders, the terminally tidy who click their tongues when they see Tupperware tubs filled with photos-to-be-sorted and drawers devoted to handwritten letters of uneven sizes.  They know just what to do with refrigerator magnets and knick-knacks and do-dads and childhood toys still living at home.  

Decades of nostalgia could be uploaded, categorized, and stored, untouchable, in the cloud.  Even mementos can be photographed for efficiency and donated or dispensed with, leaving desktops and chests of drawers clean and serene. 

If they had their way, my house would be streamlined, orderly, positively Scandinavian. I’m not sure I’d be at home in that place.   

And what would life be without Fluffy?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lemons & Cherries on Facebook

I read that in the not-too-distant future, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook will merge to form one giant, idiotic, super-sized, time-wasting, non-productive, mind-numbing, do-not-need-to-know website called YouTwitFace. 

I read it on Facebook.   

There’s no denying, so much of the stuff that shows up on Facebook is inane:  “‘Share’ if you love your kids more than anything.  It’s a shame how few people will take this simple step to show their love for their family.”   

So, you mean if I don’t ‘share,’ I don’t love my kids?  Uh oh.  On penalty of not proving my love for the requisite thing, God, country, or bar-b-qued beef, I decline to repost pretty much anything that tells me to repost it.  Just on principle.  Or obstinate defiance.  Quit telling me what to do.  Share this if you agree. 

Too many posts manage to shrink the trivial from microscopic to subatomic:  Sandy changed her profile pic! – Hello Kitty!  Or:  Sherry “likes” Target.  Or:  Boating - 1,948,515 people like this.  Be the first of your friends! 

So many people post pictures of their food!  Who knew that lunch with Dad would warrant the effort?  And so misguided!  The pic includes salads, sides, and entrees, but no likeness of the man who raised the photographer and most likely bought him the camera.   

Then there’s the unbearable cuteness of dancing doggies, piles of kittens, ducks rescued from drainage pipes, and deer touching noses with goats.  Oh my.  But full disclosure is in order:  I look forward to a video posted daily from  This morning I frittered away 1 minute 29 seconds on “A pig and his oatmeal.”  So worth it. 

And I confess; I smile at the pics of people with their pets.  All that unabashed love and foolishness.  Count me in.  Grandbabies?  Oh yeah.  I grin and coo at the screen every day, time after time, with each new wobble or burp.   

Here’s how I see it:  I’m experiencing joy that would be out of my consciousness had little Markie Zuckerberg chosen to compose music instead of computer code.  A rationalization, you say?  So be it. 

When I was a classroom teacher 100 years ago, (1990), I traveled to the (then) Soviet Union with a couple of other teachers and 25 high school students.  What a great experience.  I’ll tell you about it sometime.   

One of the best things about the trip was our courier, Tatyana, a teacher from Grodno.  She spent three weeks shepherding us through that conglomerate of contradictions.  She knew everything, translated everything.  Because of her, everything was possible.  

You form a bond after 21 days of total dependence. 

After that trip, Tatyana and I wrote back and forth the hard way.  I just couldn’t bring myself to use Microsoft Word when she didn’t even have a computer!  Ten years or more of beautiful, enlightening, tedious, handwritten letters.  Then alas, we fell out of touch. 

But lo and behold, thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev and Mark Z., Tatyana found me last week – you guessed it – on Facebook.  Say what you will about hoodies and IPO’s, you’ve gotta admit that’s pretty cool. 

A young woman whose family moved back to Cairo before she graduated from the high school where I was principal friended me on Facebook.  (Isn’t it great that “friend” became a verb?)  Through her postings, I had the privilege of witnessing the Egyptian revolution from her personal, life-altering point of view.   

She’s now a university student there majoring in political science and journalism.  Most recently, she posted pictures showing her interview of former President Jimmy Carter.  That’s my girl!   

Another alum posted video of himself rehearsing with John Legend for an upcoming episode of “Duets.”  You’re not going to get that on Gmail.   

So instead of slamming Facebook in its entirety, I embrace it like a weekend in Las Vegas.  It’s the nickel slot machine of my online gambling experience.  Mostly my deposits earn mismatched cryptograms and lemons.  They tax my time, threaten my dignity, and even chip at my self-respect.  If my husband walks into the room, I must have my justifications ready for time ill spent.   

But just often enough, it comes up with a few cherries and the jingle of a payout.  So I keep going back. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Slim Pickin's - Then and Now

My mom used to say there’s someone for everyone.  Specificity was not her strong suit.  I thought where is this elusive “someone”?  And how will I recognize him in the thoroughly improbable event that we should lay eyes on each other? 

When mom offered that consolation, it meant I’d been dumped.  I’d cling to her and cry and leave soggy spots on her shirt.  She would hold me for a little while, but soon would push me back to arm’s length and say, “Now get out there and try again.” 

“Out there” meant school, or church, or (though Mom didn’t know it) Pennington’s drive-in restaurant.  Not drive-through, drive-in; our own live-action dating service.   

My friends and I slathered on mascara, blush, and Pink Baby lip gloss, drove to Pennington’s, looped through at least twice finding the best strategic location, pulled in and put it in park.  We sipped cherry Cokes and surveyed our options from the privacy of our own Pinto. 

We weren’t too discerning in those days.  With a functioning car, good teeth and personality almost any unsuspecting young man landed on our list of “possibles.”  Perhaps it wasn’t the most reliable method for assessing the potential of a future life partner, but somehow it all worked out.  

Occasionally, someone would “fix you up.”  Awkward!  Though now that I think of it, that’s sort of how I met the love of my life, my husband of 22 years. 

St. Patrick’s Day, 1989.  I was, let me be gentle on myself, single again.  Too old for Pennington’s, but not too proud to look, I put myself “out there,” open to opportunities. 

My friend convinced me to go with her and her man-of-the-moment to a local pub for a St. Patty’s Day celebration.  It was all about rock and roll and green beer.  We’d hardly settled in before my friend suggested I have a look around.  I did. 

Weaving through the dance floor, zigzagging among the bystanders, hopefuls, first time lonely guys, and all manner of oddballs, I spied only one presentable prospect.  He was quite striking.  But he barely glanced up when I not so subtly brushed past. 

I got back to the table and pointed him out to my friend.  “Only one,” I said.

She promptly got up and went directly to him, took him by the elbow, and led him to our table.  “What’s your name?” she shouted over the din.  Then before he could answer, she yelled, “This is Carolyn.  Ask her to dance.” 

Romantic, huh? 

Now that same friend is single again and lamenting the dearth of suitable suitors.  I’d like to return the favor and find her a wonderful man with whom she can spend the rest of her life in bliss.  But when I asked her to describe the kind of man she’s interested in, her response went like this:  Artistic.  Sensitive.  Long walks.  Yadda yadda.  Ho hum.  What is she talking about?  She needs a man with a job! 

Then it settled in.  That’s what you say online.  OMG.  She doesn’t need me to sit in the front seat with her and peer through the windshield.  She’s peering through an online dating window!  Mom’s “out there” has expanded to include the ether.  My friend’s on  And  And eHarmony.  And Zoosk and Badoo.  Really. 

Like any wise investor, she’s diversified.  Yet here she is – dateless. What’s wrong with this picture?  

Once upon a time actual men sought actual women.  And vice versa.  Now virtual men and virtual women create best-case scenario cyber-versions of themselves, put those renderings on computer-generated fishing lines, throw them into multiple electronic pools and troll.  They can sift, sort and categorize by everything from age, height, location, religious preference, favorite food, playthings and pastimes, to life philosophy and means of support.  Witness: where hopefuls can connect with “1000’s of down to earth country folks, because city folks just don’t get it.” 

Yet with the hundreds and thousands, no hundreds of thousands of men online, she’s sitting at home on Saturday night.  Water, water everywhere. 

Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw years ago in Sitka:  Alaskan men - The odds are good, but the goods are odd. 

Don’t worry though.  There’s someone for everyone.  You just can’t be too specific.