Monday, May 26, 2008

If I'd Known Then, or Shout Out to Girls Inc.

Much of who I am and what I've accomplished in my life (debatable as it may be) I owe to Girls Inc., which was still called the Girls Club when I joined back in grade school.

My girlfriend Kathy and I would ride our bikes up to the Unitarian Church the Girls Club rented, an airy space set back under a cool canopy of trees. Later, it moved across the street into some classrooms at West Park Place Elementary School, where I had attended kindergarten. Still later, it raised enough money to build a brand new facility not far away.

As I grew from a girl to a teenager to a college student, I went from being a member to a counselor to a part-time employee. I won writing contests there that helped finance my college tuition, took me to New York (where I kissed a mime, but that's another story) and gave me an opportunity to run with the Olympic torch.

I'm still on their mailing list, which is how I came to know about a book called If I’d Known Then: Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters To Their Younger Selves. Generally, I don't truck with these type of Chicken Soup for the Soul genres, but after checking out some of the women interviewed, I was impressed with some of the wisdom it had to impart. And it put me to thinking about what I would have to say to my younger self.

Knowing the stubborn girl I was, I feel a bit better knowing I wouldn't have listened to myself anyway and would have made the same mistakes. But maybe the exercise will channel my 60-year-old self (if I am fortunate to live that long), or at least remind my 40-year-old self of what I think I have learned that makes my life so fulfilling. So here goes, in no particular order.

Life isn't fair. That's not a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. The sooner you come to terms with that fact, the sooner you will appreciate your life for what it is, and stop judging it by its inadequacies.

Pray every day, even if sometimes you're not sure who's up there. And when you do, start off by saying "Thank you" before asking for anything.

You are beautiful. Trust me.

You are smarter than the average bear.

You are entitled to nothing, but you have the privilege of becoming anything you want to be.

You are younger than you think you are, and you are never too old to learn something new.

More people love you than you think.

Forgive yourself. No one is perfect, but believe it or not, your frailties make you loveable.

Delete the word "should" from your inner dialogues. Replace it with "can."

Wherever you go, there you are. It's just different scenery. And speaking of scenery: Pay attention to your surroundings. At best, it will help keep you safe; at the least, you might see something interesting.

Don't ever do something just for the money.

If you're unhappy with your situation, change it. Don't stay with a partner, a job or a living setup that is bad for you. Before you know it, you will have spent more years unhappy than you were happy with it. And you're not doing anyone else any favors -- they have a right to pursue their happiness, too.

Enjoy the ride, not just the destination. And take pictures.

If you are ever absolutely convinced of something, consider that the opposite might be true.

You are all you have. Learn to love yourself, and the rest will follow. The universe doesn't care whether you are happy or sad. So why bother feeling sad?

Be kind.

Laugh a lot, especially when you want to cry.

Walk on the beach, dip your hands in the water and taste the salt.

You will fail. People will leave you by dying or walking away. You will have moments of great sadness when you feel you can't go on. You can, and you will. And don't let the specter of loss keep you from trying or loving.

Life is short. Appreciate the small things. Breathe, and be.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I'd Like To Lease Another Planet, Please

The Earth is feeling a bit cramped to me these days.

I know it's all my fault.

Knowing that my ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend worked at Wired, I didn't have to hook up a newer ex-boyfriend with the older ex-boyfriend to get hired on there as well.

But now, things are really getting weird.

Although we both live and work in the city, share an affinity for North Beach and have jobs not only in the same field but same area of it (technology), you'd think my ex-husband and I would unexpectedly run into each other. In nine years, we have not.

Then a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from my ex, who I will refer to as G.E., which stands for Gay Eagle. That is what my girlfriends nicknamed him after our divorce, inspired by a) their suspicion that he is or should be gay and b) the similarity in proboscises. (I, however, maintain that he is a handsome, charming, talented man. After all, he was the love of my life, which makes this all the more heart-skewering, amid the humor.)

G.E. had spoken at some sort of journalistic event at UC and run into two of my reporters. When he learned they worked at my paper, he said, "Oh, you must know my ex-wife." My reporters, surprised to learn I had ever been married, replied, "She's our boss!"

Small world, ha ha and all that.

Now, you know my proclivity for All Things Facebook. So not long after, I was checking my "news feed" only to find that one of my friends "is now friends with G.E." Grr. Especially because when I mentioned to G.E. that I was considering friending him on Facebook, he replied, "Oh, don't bother. My FB life is very, very dull."

After obsessing for exactly three minutes, I let that slide out of my freakish brain as well.

(At this point, you might want to pour yourself a beverage, take a potty break or fortify yourself with a little snack, as I am not nearly done here. Fair warning.)

Along comes Thursday, and I get an e-mail from my good friend G., alerting me that while at lunch with a friend at Le Petit Robert in Russian Hill, she had come across a "large, three-color poster" advertising one of G.E.'s performances. (Did I not mention? He's a lounge singer now.) "I was tempted to pull it down and mail it to you, Stella, and K. offered to help, but we forgot to do it on the way back. Ha ha." (I treasure her loyalty. Don't ever change!)

When I mentioned this to my best boy friend, J., he said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you, I saw one of those too, in my neighborhood, for Mother's Day or something."


But the final straw came yesterday, when I was checking out the older ex-boyfriend's new blog about North Beach (he happens to be the one who created my fictional presence of Stella Haven). And found this:

"Local singer (G.E.), a new voice who interprets the great American songbook, is holding down Thursday nights through June. (G.E.) says his parents used to drive up from San Jose for romantic evenings at Enrico's, so the boy is totin' a little DNA with him."

I shot off an e-mail to the author, who I shall call T., inquiring as to whether he had gotten the memo that one of my exes was not permitted to promote another of my exes (please don't think my self-absorption here is lost on me. I am, after all, all about me), adding that in fact, he is incorrect: G.E. is not toting his parents' DNA with him, because he was adopted. Hahaha. So there!

So you see, until my exes become clear on the concept of moving -- along with all my friends' exes -- to The Island of Never to be Heard from Again, I am in the market for another planet. Preferably a lease-to-buy situation.

I'll even settle for poor demoted Pluto.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's Next, a Cigar Lounge?

Checking out SFGate this morning, I was accosted by this ad. It annoys me on so many levels.

If this chick tried to do this sitting next to me, I'd wrap the cord around her neck, saw off her hair with one of the plastic knives that accompany the overpiced Sky Chef repasts and steal her bracelet before being tased by an air marshal.

The airline industry appears to be unclear on the concept of its core mission: getting passengers from point A to point B, preferably on time and with working toilets.

I don't need to check my BlackBerry, or play a video game, or talk on my cell phone or style my hair. And I don't want any of the other sardines in the can to do anything, either, except sit there quietly, keep their kids away from me and refrain from farting.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Because I Can

We have a special guest reader now tuning in to a Girl, my sister D. And to welcome her, I present this photo, the mere mention of which never ceases to send us off into merry fits of laughter with an undertone of, "Thank GOD we don't look like that anymore!"

It is affectionately titled: "Stumpy and Pinhead." I am the 14- or 15-year-old Pinhead. That would have made it around 1982. The picture must have been taken by Aunt Bet, the early adopter of cool gadgets, as no one else I knew had a Polaroid camera.

Why am I posting this? Because I can.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Life, In Other People's Back Pockets

The avid Girl reader will recall a post last month in which I compared the life I always assumed I would have to the one I'm living now. After receiving some offline comments about it, I have some new thoughts:

First, being the editor of a magazine in New York and driving a '67 convertible Mustang can easily be translated to being an editor at a newspaper in San Francisco and driving a 2000 convertible BMW.

Secondly, after touching base with friends from high school and college who have gone on to get married and have families, I realize that my life is the persona that lives in their back pocket, of the road they could have taken. Which is kind of cool when you think about it.

Lastly, last weekend I got to actually visit the life I could have had.

My old boyfriend E. and I went out for one last breakfast in Noe Valley before he moves to Mountain View with his wife and 10-month-old son. E. and I have been friends and/or romantically involved off and on for the past eight years, until he met his wonderful wife. But there was a time when he and I were considering whether we should get married and have children.

So there we were, pushing a baby stroller together. When we walked into the restaurant, the hostess asked me if we would need a high chair. "Not the mom, know nothing about babies, just cats -- and they would need a high chair, but not today," I said.

E.'s son is adorable and pleasant and smart and is going to get to laugh a lot in his life, as E. is the hands-down freaking funniest person I know.

Looking at Jacob, I saw a facsimile of what I could have had with E. And while it felt really good to hold him and play with him, at the end of the afternoon I was more than ready to hop into my BMW, roll down the top and drive home to have a glass of wine with my cats.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pops.

My dad was born May 3, 1923. He died June 26, 2005, of stomach cancer.
I thought the old grump was immortal.

My dad, who was Polish, admired Pope John Paul II, the first Polish pope. Somehow, between the myriad pictures and literature I grew up with in the house, and the fact that my dad and the pope kind of looked like each other, I felt their fate was intertwined. When the pope became ill, I felt a strange sense of foreboding. When he died on April 2, 2005, something told me my father was not long behind.

For my dad's birthday a month later, I wrote in his card, "Isn't this cool: You're 83 and I'm 38!" When I spoke with him on the phone he said, "You know, you're wrong -- I won't be 83 until next year."

I had a superstitious pang: He wouldn't live to be 83.

That June 6, my sister's birthday, she took my dad to the doctor because he was so weak, he couldn't get out of bed. Four days later, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer that had started migrating up his esophagus. The doctors told him he wouldn't live more than six months.

I was shocked. I shouldn't have been -- after all, at 82, my dad had outlived the average life expectancy, as well as everyone in his immediate family. But he just always seemed too damn stubborn to die.

Growing up, I didn't like my dad much. He was eternally pessimistic, seemingly unengaged with my life and always said "no" to whatever I wanted permission to do. He could be manipulative and mean. In general, not a pleasant presence to be around. I wondered what my mother -- who I viewed as a saint -- ever saw in him.

After my mom died in 1990, my dad started to change. It wasn't overnight, and he remained set in his ways til the end of his days. Or maybe it was I who changed, and stopped wanting to force him into the mold of the father I had in mind, and instead started to understand and appreciate who he was.

Whatever I did, he supported me. When my boyfriend moved in with me in North Carolina, he simply said, "You know I don't agree with living together before marriage, but I'll always support you."

When I moved to Boston for grad school, when he would have preferred I move closer to home, he lent me money and support. When I announced my engagement to the boyfriend I'd lived with in NC, he opened up his checkbook and happily paid for my modest wedding. When I moved to San Francisco, he told my sister that he didn't want me to feel lonely, and so dropped notes in the mail to me every week; my favorite ginger snaps at Halloween; Valentine's candy; and my favorite Reese's peanut butter eggs at Easter.

He would end every phone call with, "If you ever need anything, you just let me know." He nicknamed me "Bootsie" (with the emphasis on the "Boot") and liked what he called my "big laugh."

A wise professor at Emerson College, poet John Skoyles, once advised: "Whenever you think you are absolutely sure about something, consider that the opposite may be true."

And so it was: After a life of missing and mourning my mom, it turned out that my dad -- who I had so many arguments with, who I disrespected, who I tried to change, who I couldn't understand -- became the man of my dreams, the man who I would admire out of all men, and who I would miss, every single day of my life.