Tomboys or Just Kids? (Outgrowing Labels)

This weekend I read an article in The New York Times titled “Outgrowing ‘Tomboy'”, and it got me thinking. It examined how the term “tomboy” had fallen out of fashion. The article argues that our ideas of those historically viewed as tomboys have changed in light of a growing acceptance of transgendered children. Now children who once would have been described as tomboys are “gender non-conformists” or “gender-expansive.”

Clearly those formerly known as tomboys are still running around, playing in the mud, and that’s just one shade of grey in identifying little girls, and people in general. After I finished reading, I kept thinking: do we really need to continue to put people (tomboys, or anyone) in boxes? We categorize individuals to make it easier for us to understand them. It seems the number of “boxes” in which we could place people proliferates by the day (gender fluid is a prime example), so isn’t it time we skip this step and accept individuals as…brace yourself…actual individuals? Can’t someone just be Bob, without a qualifier?

I was considered by many to be tomboy, although I didn’t understand that phrase until later in life. That fact proved painful at times, and now I wear it as a badge of honor, maybe because of the painful parts. When I asked my mother about my tomboy tendencies, she said she didn’t think of me as a tomboy but, she declared, she certainly “wasn’t going to raise any sissies.” Full disclosure: my mother was a total tomboy so she likely thought this was perfectly normal. And that’s just the point: it is!

I loved to play and watch sports, I wrestled with my father and brother, and was teased for playing with “boy” toys and not Barbie. When I realized the latter was a bad thing, I remember making up an excuse to those first grade mean girls that I only played with them with my brother. But I was made to feel bad…and different (maybe even worse for a child) because I liked GI Joes, He-Man and Transformers (let’s face it, they were way more fun than Barbies…because they transformed, duh!)

My father emailed me the picture below, one of his best friends sent it to him. He recalled the context, “You are smiling despite a bloody nose from diving for a football. You were goal oriented even then.” While nursing that bloody nose, it appears I chose to wear a plastic Wonder Woman costume (good thing it was plastic, a bustier is a little much on a five-year-old). Not only is this photographic evidence that I developed my keen fashion sense early, but also of the duality of what being a child is in many, many cases. Can’t we play football and be Wonder Woman? If I had a pink bow in my hair would that be better or worse? If I had a short, “boy” haircut, would that mean I wanted to be, or felt as if I was a boy? Who cares!

Plastic was on-trend in the '80's I swear

Plastic was on-trend in the ’80’s I swear

For me it was a phase, I came to enjoy Barbies, but as my mom points out, all my Barbies were “professionals,” frequently journalists, covering breaking news in our basement. I grew to embrace dresses, and boys became more than just playmates. But had this metamorphosis happened a few years later would I have been the subject of high school bullying for what I was perceived to have been?

Was I really a “gender non-conformist” as a child or was I just a kid doing kid things based on preferences and not society’s traditional gender assignments? I can’t imagine my mom ever referring to me as “my gender non-conformist daughter.” And I will never refer to my future daughter as that (although I will not raise sissies either). She will just be my daughter, whether she hates pink, or loves it.

Will we every be able to accept each other as just Bob…or Emily…and lose the labels? I hope so. Maybe retiring “tomboy” is a step in the right direction.

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My Boston Marathon

We are one week on from the 119th Boston Marathon. I sat down to write this post several times over the past seven days, but it almost seemed too soon. I had to spend a few days icing and recovering physically and emotionally. While walking was a little painful, not to mention funny looking (maybe that’s why so many runners insist on wearing their Boston Marathon jackets for days…it explains their awkward gait) I felt as if I was floating on a cloud of accomplishment. True the weather was terrible, the headwind brutal, and my legs painful, but the Boston Marathon was an amazing experience.

I woke up on Marathon Monday and turned on the TV, hoping Mother Nature had made a game time decision and not rain on my parade. It was a total buzz kill when every other phrase uttered by TV journalists was “the weather is not ideal.” Maybe this is what professional football players feel like before a big game played in the middle of winter.

My Dad walked me to the Common where I boarded a yellow school bus for the journey out to Hopkinton. On the Mass Pike the reality that my feet alone would be carrying me back home started to sink in. Thankfully, passing motorists waving and honking jogged my thoughts out of that mental rabbit hole. The stranger sitting next to me was even more nervous than I was, and trying to calm her down (which ultimately resulted in me passing her my People Magazine) actually calmed me down. There was nothing else either of us could do at that point. We had the clothes on our back, it was too late to get another layer. We knew it was going to rain, the only question was whether we would be running in it for all 26.2 miles, or only some of them. I figured there was no point in worrying; basically everything was outside of my control…except for my head. My legs were trained to run this distance, but it would be up to my head, my mental toughness, to get me to the finish line.

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After arriving at the Athlete’s Village and waiting in a 40 minute line for the bathroom, I finally saw a friendly face: a co-worker also running Boston for the first time. It was great to have someone to walk and chat with, it cut the tension building in my mind and body. With 30,000 plus people running this race, I saw another familiar face when I reached corral #7 (actual proof that Boston is a really small town). As we started to trot towards the starting line, the excitement was palpable, and the rain started falling. Hard.

The first several miles were slow, congested and wet. I got into a near shoving match with a Belgian, (thanks to that kind, and cute, stranger who acted as a bodyguard of sorts after the run-in) and I nearly fell after a runner right ahead of me stopped short trying to avoid a monstrous puddle.

The first 10 or so miles are a blur. It was raining, miserable, and the crowds were thinner than I had expected and hoped. My windbreaker was soaking, and my muscles were cold and tight. I had a moment when I wondered to myself: Why did I think this would be fun? Could I call an Uber? But I just put my head down and ran…and ran…and ran.

At mile 13 my right IT band (a polite way of describing my butt) and my left achillies started hurting. I felt pain with each step. This is when the power of the crowds and my fellow competitors meant everything. Between signs that read “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever,” and the herculean efforts of some of my differently-abled fellow participants (including Maickel Melamed) inspired and motivated me to keep going.

The turning point was around mile 17, still in pain, but with a heavy mist instead of a downpour, I heard a bellowing “It’s a Mahlmarathon!” and “Go Mahlman!” From some dear friends. My pace instantly increased, and a broad smile took over my face (Thank you Hannigans! That is exactly when I needed you!). As I took the right at the Newton Fire House with Heartbreak Hill ahead of me, I saw an incredible sight. A man in a wheelchair, using his legs to shuffle himself up the hill…backwards. As I passed him I told him how great he was doing, choking back tears, and nearing causing me to hyperventilate. That is what marathons are all about: individuals of varying abilities pushing themselves as far as they can.

Once I passed mile 20 I realized I was not going to make my goal time, but quickly got over it (pleasantly surprised with myself about that), as the crowds thickened and I started spotting more and more familiar faces among the thousands braving the rain to cheer us on. That’s when I got really emotionally, again fighting back tears because the combination of running and blubbering was causing hyperventilation.

Prior to that day, folks had told me not to weave from one side of the course to the other, it would mean taking extra steps and wasting energy. But when I saw my two besties at Kendall Square, I didn’t care. I swerved, nearly sprinting to the other side of Beacon Street to give them huge hugs. I don’t know if I said anything, but I felt a huge lump in my throat and again had to fight back tears. As I took that famous left from Hereford onto Boylston I saw my Dad waving, I could barely contain my excitement. After shedding that soaking wet windbreaker, hurling it at him, I took off. With about 300 yards to go my legs were hurting and tightening even more, but I felt like I was in a nearly full-out sprint. I couldn’t hear anything, the crowd was so loud.

Crossing the finish line was euphoric, but also a reality check. As soon as my legs slowed to a walk they stiffened up and I started shaking from the cold. Thanks to the volunteers who helped me get into my tinfoil blanket and peeled my banana for me because my fingers were too cold to function. I limped to the bar where I would rendezvous with my Dad and friends. Within minutes I had warmed up, and I chased my marathon with a banana and bubbly (a great combination, in case you are wondering). Celebrating with my Dad and some of my best friends, a celebration that eventually devolved into a 90’s dance party, was the icing on my Boston Marathon cake.

A banana and bubbly

A banana and bubbly

My People

My People

Despite running for 4 hours and ten minutes (although I stopped to go to the bathroom, so really four hours and 8 minutes, but who’s counting. Hint: me.) I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t get over how amazing the entire experience was. I learned about the Children’s Advocacy Center, and helped them with the important work they do. There were so many amazingly generous people who donated to my marathon efforts, plus all the emails, calls, tweets, posts and texts of encouragement I received. Then those brave souls who tracked and cheered me on in less than ideal conditions. And I’m pretty proud of myself as well: other than a less-than-serious passing thought, I never seriously considered stopping. Despite the rain and pain, it was never really an option, I was committed. It’s overwhelming to think about, even now, one week later. Which is one of the reason it took me so long to write this post. I am still so touched by everyone who shared this experience with me.

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In the end, I can corroborate the expression….There’s nothing quite like Boston.

22 Miles Down, Two Weeks to Go

The count down is on. There are less than two weeks until the 2015 Boston Marathon and the infamous “tapering” phase is now in full swing for me. But to reach this carb-loading, easying up phase I had to do one last long run a week ago. And it was my first time running the actual course.

After months of training in challenging winter conditions, I was feeling pretty nervous about whether I would be ready for the big day and the notorious “Heartbreak Hill.” I had felt good on all my long runs, but many of the week-day runs had to be cut short or never happened because of brutal cold, ice and snowy roads. So when I heard that New Balance and Marathon Sports were sponsoring a 21 mile run on the course, I jumped at the chance…then got really nervous.

Because so many runners work hard to qualify for the chance to run Boston, it seems the training surrounding this marathon is more intense than others. I did not qualify, rather I earned my bib number by raising money for a very worthy cause (there’s still time to donate, please click here), and I’ve been training in a relative vacuum of isolation; running all by myself, on basically the same course (along the Charles River). I started reading “26 Miles to Boston,” which was recommended to me by just about everyone, but it really messed with my head. Every page had a reference to hill repeats, track work or speed workouts. I had done none of the above. I have just run around the Charles (and a few other bodies of water: the Seine and Wissahickon) a lot.

Suddenly, despite intellectually knowing that I am not a Kenyan, I started getting nervous that I was not ready…to win the marathon. Instead of focusing on the good I was doing by raising money for The Children’s Advocacy Center, or revel in the experience that is running Boston, I felt my competitive juices starting to flow and my mind getting focused on hitting a certain time (my previous marathon time of 3:56:05).

Our sweet ride out to Framingham...courtesy of New Balance

Our sweet ride out to Framingham…courtesy of New Balance

So the night before this last long training run I was nervous the way I would be before a job interview. Yes, I am indeed insane. We gathered at Marathon Sport at 7:15 a.m. and dozens of us filed onto trollies for the 21 mile ride out to mile 5 of the marathon in Framingham.

Our trolly full of runners

Our trolly full of runners

During the long trolly ride it started to sink in how far away we were headed and how far I was about to run…in the snow. Oh, did I forget to mention that it was snowing? Huge fluffy flakes.

It was at that moment when I realized I should have reviewed the actual course before embarking on this run. I asked the person sitting next to me if there was any way I could get lost (because if there was a way I would likely find it). She assured me that there wasn’t. “It’s all straight and then a right at the fire station.” I mused that this fire station better be really obvious. At that point I was really getting nervous, I decided to run with my phone in case I needed to be rescued by Uber, and I missed the group picture because I was peeing behind a tree.

We started out on the road (I guess it was RT 135) and I immediately realized that everyone had been right; there is just something about Boston. My first sign was right there in front of me: hundreds of runner on the shoulder of the road. And there were folks out cheering for us. Some had signs, some had cow bells, some had water, cookies, bananas. This wasn’t even race day and we had a cheering section for 15 miles. Police officers in Newton set up orange cones and stopped traffic so we could run unencumbered by cars.

After about four miles my running watch decided that the only display it liked was the direction in which I was running. Why any runner, unless they were involved in The Amazing Race, would need to know that they are running northeast is beyond me. I could no longer log how long I had been running, how far I had gone or my pace. So I had to rely on more primitive means; I shut everything else out and concentrated on my breathing. I should not be huffing and puffing at mile 6, so if I was, I needed to slow down. I listened for church bells to mark the hours, and when I saw a lot of running related litter (gels, goos, etc.), I had a goo too to keep my energy up.

A long line of runners (I think this was in Natick)

A long line of runners (I think this was in Natick)

It was great to get a sense of the course, because despite how sad this sounds, my first time in some of these towns was running through them that day. And yes, the infamous Newton Fire Station is obvious (thank goodness!). There I took a right turn, signalling the end was if not in sight, at least less than 9 miles away. When I got to BC I asked a fellow runner where Heartbreak Hill was. She said I had already passed it. I was elated, it wasn’t even that bad. Just three hills followed by downhills where you can recover. I told her that was the best thing she could have possibly said to me at that moment. And it was the truth.

the infamous Newton Fire Station, complete with water station

the infamous Newton Fire Station, complete with water station

The runners really thinned out after mile 21 (it seems many planned a run from the start to mile 21, as opposed to mile 5 to the finish), and I did manage to get lost. How did that happen, you may ask? Well, my terrible sense of direction is not solely to blame. A friendly runner thought I was on her Dana Farber team and took me to their meet-up location and I didn’t know enough to realize that the marathon course does not in fact go though the parking lots at BC. I tried to find my way back but ended up on Comm Ave. instead of Beacon Street. I actually had to ask for directions from someone on the street. But I got back on track after only running one extra mile.

When I finally saw the Citgo sign I felt a surge of energy. The end was near. By the time I turned onto Boylston I was dodging pedestrians in nearly and all-out sprint (or as sprinty as I get after 22 miles). When I crossed the finish line (or, more accurately, the sidewalk next to it) I was so relieved, and excited. Relieved because I knew that if I could run 22 I could run 4 miles more on Marathon Monday. And excited because if I had this much fun on a training run, imagine how great the actual marathon will be!

I also felt really proud. I had been training (in one way or another) everyday since December 17th and I was ready. The snow did not stop me, the freezing temperatures did not stop me. I had put everything I could into training, and now it was time to taper, rest up and get ready.

I have just two weeks to go, and I really could not be more excited for this experience. Will I push myself to beat a certain time? Probably (did I mention 3:56:05?). But I also know I want to savor each mile, and all my friends and the crowds along the way. Just like when my watch broke, I am going to try to tune everything out and just be in the moment, absorb everything around me, and enjoy the run.

Yes, there are only two weeks to go before the marathon, and only two weeks left to donate to my fundraising efforts to benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center. If you have not done so already, please consider donating today. You can do so here.

Americans In Paris

So last week was a rough one for all of us in the North East. If you didn’t actually experience a historic storm, you may have been threatened (by your mayor) with one. I too suffered hardship at the hands of Mother Nature; Juno left me stranded in Paris. I know what you’re thinking, How did I survive? Barely.

Let me set the stage: two of my best friends from growing up live in Europe, one in Paris, one in London. We had planned a larger girls weekend, but it ended up I was the only one able to make it across the pond. I flew the day after my birthday. As readers of this blog know I have a complex relationship with my birthday. I love it, but I also cry…just about every year.

This year when folks asked me if I was doing anything “special” to kick-off my new year, I felt empowered to say “Yes, I leave for Paris tomorrow,” And it felt great! The trip also provided a unique perspective on where I am in my life right now. That perspective has filled me with a distinct feeling of gratitude. I’m going to try to keep that gratitude with me all throughout this year.

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While there are tons of places around the world still on my long list to visit, there’s something lovely about returning to a city to really experience it, having already checked all the tourist boxes on an earlier visit. I feel I experienced more of Paris this time around through leisurely meals at cafes (complete with a Kardashian sighting), drinking a lot of wine, wandering the streets and visiting Paris’ famous markets than waiting in line at the Louvre. Plus, I managed to squeeze in two marathon training runs along the Seine. Anywhere else that would likely make me feel like a local, but no one in Paris exercises, let alone runs outside.

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Sacre-Coeur

What was also wonderful about this trip—and my friends and I discussed this—is being at a stage in your life where you can jet off to Paris to spend a long weekend with your friends of 20+ years. How lucky am I that I was able to give myself Paris with these amazing women for my birthday? If my life was different I may not have been able to do this. Kids, for one thing, would certainly have made it harder to make the trek to the France. But I decided that until I do have a family, I’m going to savor all these amazing things I have the luxury to experience.

To keep this gratitude train rolling, I was also struck by how lucky we are that there we were, friends for decades, and we still get together (in Paris!), trade makeup tips, laugh and genuinely enjoy each others’ company…a lot. What a gift that is.

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Three of my besties. Photo courtesy of Sarah Salmon.

The weekend was so wonderful, that when I started getting emails from the States warning that a blizzard may make getting home hard, I didn’t (for once) get stressed out. I may have actually said out loud, “C’est la vie” like a true Parisian. My flight was canceled and my trip extended by an day. Even when I was forced to fly from Paris to Dublin to Boston to NYC for work meetings, 16 hours of travel still could not wash the Paris gratitude off me.

As I thought about this post, I started to hope that it would not always take a trip to Paris to provide me with this need perspective on life. Maybe we just need to not get stuck in the weeds so much, focus on the big picture. What if we took more time to recognize and treasure the wealth of people and experiences we have in our lives and focus on the positive? Maybe we just need to shine a light on all the gifts we have. But as I learned, the City of Lights never hurts either.

Work-Life (What) Balance

As you may have noticed, in the fourth quarter of last year my posts on this blog were few and far between. I wish I had a good excuse, but I don’t. Life just got busy. I was often traveling for work (London, Indiana, Virginia and good old Minot, North Dakota) with much of my time spent on planes and in hotels. As a result, I was not able to line up “adventures” the way I have in the past. I felt really bad about that. Guilty even. I missed writing, and was worried you all were wondering where I was. Thanks for your concerned comments by the way, I am still alive.

These thoughts were marinating in my mind when I was asked to sit on an advertising industry panel of women talking about finding work-life balance. My first thought was, did they mean to call me? I don’t always feel I successfully find that balance. I was, however, extremely honored to be asked. So I enthusiastically agreed…despite the fact that I was supposed to be on a stay-caction that week. No, the irony is not lost on me.

The panel was moderated by the amazing Micho Spring, who I have admired for many years. She served as a role model from afar when I was navigating the move from journalism to PR and from New York to Boston. With a panel full of successful women (again, I was so honored to be among them), naturally, the conversation turned to how to balance work with the demands of a family. I was determined to validate that for those of us who do not yet have children, finding that precious work-life balance is no less important. While I do not yet have to care for children, I do have to care for myself…my mental health, my emotional health and my physical health. We all do, no matter if we are single, married, mothers or grandmothers.

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Now, women finding balance is talked and written about extensively, I mean a lot. I’m not so naïve to think I’m going unearth the solution in this post, nor am I delusional to think my thoughts on the topic are ground-breaking. But what’s a blog for if not one’s ruminations on topics of the day. So here I go.

Finding a balanced life, and the desire to “have it all” is not just an issue for certain women. I would argue it’s an issue for all women.

How do we—regardless of our marital or parental status, and regardless of whether the important work we do is inside or outside the home—find the semblance of balance when it seems almost in our nature to compromise ourselves and to tear each other down? How and when do we wave a white flag and take care of ourselves with a myriad of obligations pulling us in what can seem to be a thousand different directions? And if you are like me, you wrestle with the fear of letting others down, even if it means sacrificing yourself. I don’t think my experience is unique to any one demographic of women, I think most women grapple with the same concerns, and we seem to have little empathy for each other.

I wonder if we, as women, were a little easier on ourselves…and each other (I have seen those mommy pages on Facebook, we are hyper-critical, and at times, downright mean)…if that would make attaining a balance, or at least more accepting of trying to find a balance, easier.

I felt true camaraderie on that panel. Here was a collection of women from different walks of life (two single ladies, a single mother, a married mother, a married stepmother and a grandmother) exploring and discussing how to find that elusive work-life balance in whatever form it takes for each of us. I wonder if women could be more supportive of each other, less mean-girlish, if that would help us all get closer to finding that balance and be more accepting of our—and each other’s—attempts to get there?

If we stopped judging ourselves so harshly, and didn’t feel so judged by others…would it feel more attainable to have it all, or to admit that it may not be possible for us to have it all, at least not all the time. What if it didn’t feel as if there was a “right” way to live, work, mother, fill in the blank…and instead there were just different ways to do all of the above…and more…all at the same time…while still looking great? Would we feel better about ourselves and each other?

You may still be wondering, like I was, why I was asked to be on the panel? Well, when the colleague who asked me explained why she thought of me, it was partially because of this blog; the fact that I carve out time (of varying amounts) to devote to this venture that is wholly unrelated to work and wholly about me. That, in some ways, represents a balance I strike in my life. It’s a priority. It’s certainly not as demanding as a child, but it is something I devote time and energy to. So I guess each post I write, no matter if I miss a week or two, represents a commitment…to myself and to finding that elusive balance.

I hope my thoughts above can spark a constructive conversation, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Different Sort of Resolution: The Boston Marathon

Happy New Year friends!

How many of you made a resolution when the clock struck midnight? According to the US Government (I must have missed this questions on the last census) the top New Years resolutions are to lose weight, volunteer more and to quit smoking. While all of these are very worthy goals…and 40% of us do indeed make these sorts of resolutions (only 8% of us keep them)…I’m making a different sort of resolution for 2015, or at least first four and a half months of it: I’m running the 2015 Boston Marathon.

This will not be my first marathon, but it will still be a serious challenge (duh!). I love to run, so motivation will not be my big obstacle. While I was training for my previous marathon (or as my mother describes it “practicing” for the marathon…although a dress rehearsal is not a bad idea) I was working in TV and I didn’t have to be at work until 2:00 in the afternoon. I had all morning to diligently train (arguably I over-trained judging by the IT band injury I sustained) in the best season (August through November). This time around I work normal people hours, so training will have to be squeezed into those dark hours before the sun comes up over frosty New England. Plus I absolutely hate treadmills, so if you follow me on Instagram (and I hope you do) I’m warning you now you’re in for dozens of frozen Charles River sunrise shots between now and April 20th.

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Another challenge, although I really do see it as an honor, is the fact that as I train I will also be raising money for a worthy cause. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County may just be one of the most important Boston organizations you have never heard of.

I’ll start at the beginning: a very good friend of mine is an assistant District Attorney in Boston. She prosecutes individuals who have been accused of sexually abusing children. I frequently think about her when I’m having a bad day at work. I get stressed about the logistics of an event, or the phrasing of a press release. She is putting sickos behind bars. She is keeping children safe. That’ll certainly give you some perspective on your “work emergency.”

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I learned about The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) through her. When a child is abused and comes forward, although heartbreakingly, many do not come forward, there are multiple parties and moving pieces involved in prosecuting such a case (police, prosecutors, doctors, etc.).  A coordinated response from experts in their respective fields is required to reduce stress on the victim throughout the investigation and intervention process. CAC believes that helping abused children and their families requires an approach that addresses the physical, emotional and legal dimensions of abuse. It is terrible that so many children are the victims of this god-awful kind of abuse, and they deserve to be protected, to get justice, to be safe and to heal. This is a cause I can get behind that…and I am…for 26.2 miles. Will you join me?

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I’m going to be bringing you all along for both facets of my marathon challenge. I will be updating you on how my training is going, with words and images. I will also be telling the story of The Children’s Advocacy Center through the dedicated folks who help these victims, from DAs, to Victims Advocates, maybe even a police officer if I’m lucky. It won’t be my typical adventure, but I hope by spending time with these dedicated professionals and shining a light on all the hard work they do every day, it will help us all gain a some much-needed perspective and will inspire us all to help those in need, whomever they may be.

If you are feeling generous and would like to contribute something (doesn’t have to be a lot) to my marathon effort to help CAC you can do so by clicking here. Thank you in advance!

Let the training begin!

An Old Fashioned Path to Love?

There are many of us out there looking for love. We try bars, we accept any and all fix-ups, some of us dabble in online dating, and some try apps (don’t try to deny it, I know you swipe). But in this day and (technological) age, does there come a point when we should leave all those modern devices behind and attempt to find someone special in a more traditional way? For my friend, who I will call “Suzy” for the purposes of this post, putting her romantic fate in the hands of her parents and a matchmaker reminds us all it’s never as easy as it looks.

(note: while I did change Suzy’s name this story is true one)

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Let me set the stage, Suzy and I were having a drink, we had traded texts and emails over the preceding months, but it was probably six months since our last face-to-face catch up. “What’s been going on?” I asked, not realizing how substantial her update would be. “Well, I was recently engaged for three months,” Suzy replied nonchalantly. When last we saw each other she did not have a steady boyfriend (although what is that these days?) so I was understandably shocked. I mean my chin hit the floor and I let out a prolonged and painful sounding “WHAT?” Then Suzy launched into her story which made me laugh hysterically, then think deeply about cultural nuances, and the criteria that we all use to judge who would make a good life partner for ourselves and those we love.

Suzy took a sip of her martini and began by explaining how her mother (who, along with her father, split time between New York and Taiwan) had grown frustrated by Suzy’s inability to find a suitable husband. At 35, Suzy’s mom thought she was old and on her way to being a spinster. Her mother decided to take matters into her own hands and work with (i.e. pay thousands of dollars to) a matchmaker to find Suzy a nice, successful, Chinese husband.

The parents of her soon-to-be finance, a 40-something New York City dentist, must have felt the same way. They paid the same matchmaker a lot of money, hoping (I can only assume) that it would bring their child happiness…and them piece of mind.

I’m not sure if I was more surprised by the fact that Suzy’s mom thought she was in such a tough spot, (it had not occurred to me) or the fact that this was the prescribed remedy. Matchmaking with the expectation of a date is not uncommon, I even wrote a post about a high-priced matchmaker. But matchmaking with the expectation of marriage is a practice that I had assumed had gone out of style, at least in America, a hundred years ago.

Disclosure: based on Suzy’s description and my own research, it is much more common in Chinese culture for parents and matchmakers to be involved in helping singles find spouses. This type of matchmaking happens informally (and not always with an exchange of money) in many other cultures as well, even in 2014. So despite my initial disbelief that this was Suzy’s real life and not a sitcom, this is not be quite as crazy as you may think. But Mom and Dad don’t get any ideas!

When Suzy’s mother told her about the matchmaker, instead of being offended and outraged (which is what I would have done), a very practical Suzy said why not. If she was not having luck finding her soul mate on her own, maybe it was worth a shot to see what an expert could come up with.

And with that, a first date was set…with both sets of parents, in from China, in tow. I asked Suzy what one wears to a blind date/betrothal dinner in 2014. “Well, I went with business casual,” she stated matter-of-factly. Who was I to disagree?

Suzy got a ring and a succession of dates with her new fiancé. She described him as “fine” and “nice.” But after three months, and a few make-out sessions, she realized this was not a love connection. Despite the fact that they had many cultural and intellectual similarities, he was not the one for her. She said that when she explained this to him, he didn’t put up much of a fight; he seemed to know it too. Despite their seeming compatibility, there was just something missing…shall I be cliché and say…chemistry?

Suzy’s mom was furious. She spent a lot of money to find her this perfect man, and I can only assume she thought Suzy didn’t truly appreciate the opportunity. I’m going out on a limb here, but maybe Suzy did appreciate the opportunity, but realized she wasn’t right for her.

Where am I going with this? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Dating stinks, it really does. I think anyone who says that it’s fun is lying (or just on Tinder). You spend a great deal of time and energy on a stranger just to realize you don’t really like his jokes (or more importantly he doesn’t get yours), or he can’t carry on an intelligent conversation on mid-term elections, or he gets so drunk you wonder if he has a problem. After so many lousy dates, I can see how having someone perfect for you (in theory) dropped in your lap would be appealing.

But if we didn’t have to weed through all those bad dates, those painful conversations and those head-scratching moments (Didn’t he say he was 5’10” in his profile?) would we really appreciate when we find a good one who laughs at our jokes, and teaches us something about the new Majority Leader, and is 5’7” and we don’t care?

Well, I’m not really sure, I’m single, but I will let you know when I find out.

 

Thanks to my dear friend Suzy who let me write about her life. And a shout out to my creative partner in crime Bill Knight for creating the visual for this post. It’s good to have friends in high places.

Adventures on the Other Side of the Pond

I am very lucky that I really like my job. Of course, I have moments when I get frustrated who doesn’t? But I don’t dread going into the office every day and I actually enjoy what I do and whom I do it with. One of the biggest benefits of my job is that I get to travel across this great country of ours. I have visited places I never thought I would (Cheyenne, Wyoming) and spots I never knew existed (Salina, pronounced seh-LINE-a, Kansas).

Last week I was lucky enough to be working in the UK. I have been to London several times, a dear friends lives there with her adorable family, and it is one of my favorite cities on earth (I have a few more to cross off my travel bucket list before I declare an absolute winner), so that was a treat. But I also got to explore the English countryside, appropriately armed in my Barbour jacket and Hunter boots. My London-based friend gave me the tip that “Hunters are only for the country.” Thankfully the country is where we were headed.

Bury

Bury St. Edmund Cathedral

We spent an afternoon and evening in to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, which is about two hours north of London. This village (technically it’s a town, but for an American audience it is best described as a village) is known for its abbey in the center of town. The town is named after King Edmund who was buried at the abbey after being killed in 869. No, I did not leave out a digit…869. That is the aspect that I get most excited about when traveling through Europe; everything is so old you start to appreciate how young our nation is. Comparatively speaking, we are a tween with an attitude. Not to get political, but many people talk about “American Exceptionalism,” but have we really been around long enough to be deemed truly exceptional? Maybe we are just having a 200-year hot streak before we burn out. Too much, too soon…or something like that. I digress.

ely catheral 2

Ely Cathedral on a typical English (i.e. cloudy) day

We also went to the town of Ely (pronounced E-lee) in Cambridgeshire. Like many other older societies, towns here cropped up surrounding abbeys, and were–and still are–if not the center of activity in a town, at least the literal center of town. Ely is no different. The Ely Cathedral’s scale is so large I couldn’t capture it in one frame. It was built in 1083.

ely catherdral

When we ventured away from both Cathedrals narrow, cobblestone, often winding streets allowed us to imagine what it may have been like to live there hundreds of years before because at times it doesn’t seem as if much had changed. And just to remind me we were in the country we ran into these fellas.

horses

Another part of this adventure was the experience of driving on the other side (not the wrong side) of the road. I had not driven in a car in the U.K. since college, and the perspective of being in the passenger’s seat on the left side was unnerving. I kept trying to use the mirrors that were not meant for me to use. Although I had total confidence in the skills of my trusty driver, I was still gripping surfaces, gasping and letting out periodic “oh my goodess-es.” It nearly blew my mind when I realized there was a glove box at my knees (I have no idea why) and when we saw a child, likely 12, pull up beside us we all gasped…we all had a momentary lapse and thought he was behind the wheel. Nope, he was just fine. We were the crazy ones.

I’m so thankful that we did have that car and drove through countless towns and villages on this adventure. The U.K. is not known for its sunsets, but we were caught quite a few amazing ones.

sunset

sunset max

sunset 2

When we arrived back in London, I was excited when people I spoke with had never heard of these tiny villages, and some and never even been to Suffolk or Cambridgeshire. Maybe even a day at the office can be an adventure…it just depends on your outlook.

big ben

 

Tough Love

Do you ever have one of those experiences that suddenly casts everything in your life into doubt? Good, I hope you never do. I don’t wish it on anyone…or then again, maybe I do.

I recently had one of these experiences, it was a conversation over lunch that sent me reeling and had made me rethinking my life and my choices. If you read this blog regularly you know I do have moments of self-doubt (don’t we all?), but usually these periods of self-pity self-analysis are passing and I’m able to find the silver lining in any situation pretty quickly. This one was tough to shake off.

On a recent trip back to my former city, NYC, I visited my first professional stomping ground: the CBS Radio network newsroom on 57th Street. This newsroom contains a lot of history, both for the profession of journalism (it’s where Walter Cronkite delivered his nightly newscasts) and for me personally. I was actually supposed to go in to CBS on September 11th 2001, but after smoke started rising from lower Manhattan (visible both on TV and out my window), I walked downstairs to use a pay phone (remember those?) on 78th Street I left a message for the woman who would hire me a few days later. The message went something like this:

“Hi Linda. This is Emily Mahlman. Obviously I know you are really busy this morning. I’m not sure if you still want me to come in. I don’t think the subways are running, but I can walk. And even if you don’t have time for the interview, but if you need any help in the newsroom, I’d be happy to come down, even if it’s just to help you answer the phones. Thank you!”

I started the next week, at a distinct moment in history, working long hours, nights, weekends, and loving every minute of it (although on the day of my visit, Linda said she remembered me crying a lot, which I have absolutely no memory of. I’m such a drama queen). I learned so much from the amazing journalists in that newsroom. I also made some great friends. One of them is named Ingrid. She still lovingly (I hope) refers to me as a pilgrim (my going away cake referred to me as “Mayflower Madam”), I hypothesize because I was (and still am) so pale and have the lexicon of an octogenarian.

That day, after a decade away, I managed to find my way to the newsroom (the hallways of the CBS Broadcast center, which used to be a dairy, are so narrow, long and uniform that it really was a miracle) and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. Familiar sounds, smells, and smiles. After delivering hugs and updates to my former colleagues in the newsroom, Ingrid and I crossed 11th Avenue to have lunch.

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Kaye

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Kaye

Ingrid is also a writer, a very talented one at that, so as we caught up on life, talk naturally turned to writing. Ingird doesn’t sugarcoat things; it’s one of the things that makes her such a valued friend. As our meals arrived, she asked me if I regret leaving New York. She recited all the reasons I had given her, over another meal five years prior, for why I was moving to Boston (wanting to slow down the breaking news pace of my life, wanting to have more time to write what I want to write, wanting to make more time for a personal life) and asked me if I was happy with my progress. She basically called me out on my shit. I didn’t know what to say, and she was waiting for an answer. I did a quick survey: at times I am just as tightly wound as I was when I was a journalist, I still haven’t written the book I’ve talked about for years and I’m not married.

As she waited for me to answer, my voice started to quiver and my eyes filled with tears. “Are you disappointed in me?” is all I could croak. I was being confronted with the reality of a huge life choice, one I can honestly say I never regretted before that moment, and suddenly I was worried I had made a terrible mistake.

She insisted that she was not disappointed in me. She is a devoted follower of this blog, and acknowledged that it would not exist if I had stayed in The City. But that did little too quite the suddenly excruciatingly loud voices in my head.

“Are you crying?” Ingrid asked, as if she could not believe I was reacting this way. I tried not to blink. I didn’t want the moisture welled in my eyes to be forced down my cheeks.

Weeks after this conversation–weeks of inactivity on this blog—Ingrid again doled out a dose of tough love in the form of a Facebook post.

Take 3

Her message was loud and clear: even if I had made a mistake (still deciding, may be deciding the rest of my life), and even if I was lacking the free time and inspiration to keep this blog up the way I like to, I just have to suck it up and keep going. I may not have accomplished everything I set out to when I got behind the wheel made my brother get behind the wheel of that U-Haul headed to Boston. And every post on this blog may not be a work of art in prose, but that’s ok. I’ll just keep moving forward, and eventually I will get there, wherever there is. And if I don’t, because circumstances or priorities change, that’s ok too. I’d rather my life be a zigzag than a straight line.

Thank goodness I have friends to give me a swift kick in the butt when I need it. Thanks Ingrid!

 

 

Panic! On The Green Line

I have often ruminated on this blog about how trying, and sometimes failing, at all these new things has helped me shake off some of my Type A tendencies. I admit I used to be pretty tightly wound, but I am certainly making strides. But last week I took a step back; a step back into panic.

It’s not easy for me to admit, but I have had four panic attacks in my life. Well, I think they were panic attacks, I felt pretty darn panicy. But for the sake of full disclosure I was never clinically diagnosed with any sort of anxiety disorder, been under a doctor’s care or taken medication. But for me, these were panic attacks. The circumstances surrounding my three previous panic attacks sum me up to a tee: I had two after making mistakes at work and having those mistake show up on TV (one was a misspelling, the other was getting a New York city council person’s first name wrong, disappointing my absolute favorite anchor and friend). The third took hold of me when I was running late for an appointment with a councilor whom I started seeing because I wanted to stop having panic attacks. While the irony of that last statement is not lost on me, it turned out to be helpful for this counselor to see me in the throes of my anxiety.

What do these instances say about me? Basically, I don’t like to be wrong and I don’t like to be late.

Yep, that’s me.

I learned some techniques for calming myself down and leaving the insanely fast pace TV news industry certainly means less acute instances of extreme pressure (although stress was certainly not the reason I left the news business). The world of advertising and PR can be stressful, but it’s not the same as working on the lead story of the 5:00 broadcast, but because the signal from the satellite truck is weak, its 4:58 and you are still waiting for Minton to feed (sorry Tim, I had to say it). As we joke in PR, “We’re not curing cancer here.” And we’re not. We’re also not breaking news.

MBTA_Green_Line_B

Last week I left work to head to one of the many Flywheel classes I am attending each week, hopped on the MBTA’s Green Line (yes, I know, that was my first mistake) intending to stay on for just four stops and make it to Flywheel with plenty of time to change, get on my bike and ease into a stress-releasing after work ride. Had I walked, maybe even crawled there from work I probably could have made it faster than that darn subway, but the T stopped between each stop for what seemed like an eternity. As the seconds ticked by, I could feel my blood pressure rising, the muscles in my back tensing and my shoulders inched closer to ears. I started fidgeting trying to release some of the tension that was building up inside me. I felt hot, but also had goose bumps. When the conductor announced he would be letting everyone off the trian one stop before mine, I could feel myself getting hotter and hotter.

I ran off the T, down Dartmouth Street IN HEELS, completely freaking out. I really must have looked as if I were escaping from an insane asylum. By the time I reached Flywheel I was sweating, hyperventilating and nearly crying. The kind and patient staff said they cut off entry to the class five minutes after it starts, so I had to change quickly. In the bathroom I started peeling clothes off my sweaty body as I tried to control my breath, I was cursing myself and my eyes welled with tears to the point I could not see clearly. When I tried to put my belonging in a locker, I froze. I literally could not comprehend the directions printed clearly on the front of the locker. Put in my four digit code? Not once but twice? I use the same bloody code for everything in my life and in that moment I had no idea what it was.

With tears now streaming down my cheeks, I begged a staff member to help me, while admitting, “I can’t work the locker. I think I’m having a panic attack.” Really, ya think? They were so nice, grabbing my stuff to hold behind the front desk and making sure I had water before I headed into the studio. When I got on my bike, the lights had already been dimmed, so luckily no one could tell that I was already sweating, breathing heavy and had tears rolling down my face.

After a few minutes, my erratic, panic-induced breathing pattern was replaced by  a hard, yet steady flywheel-induced breathing pattern. I was calming down. After class, I apologized to the Flywheel staff “for acting like a freak.” As I walked home I went over the evening’s events and got upset (and embarrassed) again. I was upset with myself for letting the possibility of being late for a gym class–one that I didn’t even pay for–reduce me to an anxious, sweaty mess. But that’s the thing about panic attacks; you have no control.

Typically, I wouldn’t share this, or any of my other shortcomings with anyone…let along the world wide web. In fact, I would likely not admit that I have any shortcomings period. But over the last week, I have been thinking about this a lot, and I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t share, it would be acknowledgment that a anxiety is a shortcoming, or something to be ashamed of. It’s not. It’s just who I am. The NIH estimates that 4 million Americas have had at least one episode of acute anxiety in their lives. I’ve had four in 30-something years, and that’s ok. I’m ok.

Have others had panic attacks (diagnosed or undiagnosed) and felt embarrassed or ashamed about it? I have to say, I feel much better, and even a little more clam, now that I have shared this with you and the entire interwebs. I’d love to hear from others if you feel comfortable sharing.