On what to do when someone else falls down

trikeI took a header on the sidewalk this morning. It wasn’t really a face plant, because I sprawled onto my knees, but it was a doozie. I wasn’t texting (thankfully), but I was moving along at a brisk clip and I just missed the hiccup in the sidewalk and down I went. Horrifyingly, mortifyingly, quickly.

And then there was this young woman beside me. “I was just admiring your bum before you fell.”

I mean, really. Everyone who comes upon you after you fall should tell you that, even if it isn’t true. In a British accent. It makes everything better. It is a humiliation eraser. I’m telling you, this woman did everything right. She didn’t touch me. People who saw me fall–and I fell with a glorious bag-busting dramatic phone-case-popping pavement-shaking clatter–gathered with all kinds of American earnestness to reach toward me and ask if I needed to call anyone or if I needed a hand. My knees trickled blood like a three year old who’d fallen from her trike. Dirt smeared my arms. Involuntary tears started from my eyes. This woman imperiously waved away the concerned faces. “She just needs a moment to collect herself,” she said commandingly, “Move on.” British imperialism still works. They moved.

“Nothing broken?” She inquired cheerily, “just a bit of an ego bashing, it looks like, and aren’t those the worst? Just sit here for a moment and wallow. But look here, you’re going to have some lovely cool shreds in your jeans and a quite nice story to tell, now aren’t you? and you still have that great bum of yours.”

And you know what? When she walked off, I was smiling. I picked up my own stuff and heaved myself to my feet and walked home. I was a bit trembly, but I was no longer the least bit embarrassed about having fallen down. I went home and cleaned up my bloody knees. And I mean bloody in both the American and the British sense of the word.  See? She did put me in a good mood.

Plus, she was right. I do have some pretty cool shreds in my jeans now.

 

On Murray (a sort of eulogy)

 

Cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes from Magnolia. I would’ve bought stock in the company had I known Murray would live this long. Two chocolate-on-chocolate cupcakes every week. He would eat one and I’d say, “Maybe you can save the other one for later,” and about 45 seconds later he’d say, “Maybe I’ll have that other cupcake now.” Sometimes when I’d ask him what he was doing, he would tell me that he was waiting to die and I’d simply say, “Murray, maybe we can talk about it after cupcakes” and he’d perk right up. He ate the cupcakes like a raccoon eats rubbish and I think his various care givers grew to hate me for the trail of crumbs. But I brought them anyhow. They made him happy.IMG_2276

Cigarettes. PallMall tall. I used to be ashamed to buy them for him and mumble some explanation about my dad or my grandpa. Then I figured out that no one cared. Murray never taught me that lesson directly, but I’ll give him credit for it. In case you are worried about what somewhat else thinks of you, give that up. You’re not that IMG_2165_1024important. They don’t care that much whether or not you buy cigarettes. Or anything else. They just don’t want you to blow smoke in their faces.

Cash. Every week I gave him a twenty. I could spare it and he felt deeply reassured to have some green in his pocket although there was no earthly reason he needed it (he eventually couldn’t leave the house) and I’m not sure what he spent it on. He just liked money. In his day he was an accountant. That’s how we met. A law professor friend of mine employed Murray as his tax guy and suggested that, even though Murray was retired, he might help me out with mine. He did my 1993, 1994 and 1995 tax returns. Murray and I met when he was 72 years old. He called my friend the next day to tell him that “Jeannie is magnificent, but a little ditzy.” My friend was outraged on my behalf and attested to my wit and competence. Murray, a notorious misogynist–in spite of fathering two brilliant daughters–was abashed and often recounted the story of my friend’s defense of me.

In Murray’s later years he decided to squander his money. He spent about $680,000 on hookers and gambling and other shenanigans.  That sounds like a lot of money for a man in his 80s to spend on sex and good times, but it was complicated and had more to do with mortality and power and masculinity than simple adventures. It led him into all kinds of interesting trouble and eventually to his last days where he was much more reliant on Uncle Sam and my weekly twenty than he had ever anticipated.

Cupcakes, coffin nails and cash. (We are developing an alliterative theme here, I see, especially if I call the cigarettes coffin nails.) A cornerstone of this bit is conversation. Cheeky, lively, irreverent conversation. No holds barred. He loved double entendres and spoonerisms, those ridiculous tangles and turns of speech. “It is customary to kiss the bride” turned neatly into “it is kisstomary to cuss the bride” (that one really made him laugh). He also loved “Is the dean busy?” and got a kick out of asking me if the “bean was dizzy.”  “Smart feller” turned into…well, you get the picture.

Part of our conversation was about testing our wits.  I would ask him to name the Mets’ starting line up (he’s the one who turned me into a Mets fan) and was astonished at how many of the very old (long dead) players he began to recount. I couldn’t keep up and had to resort to my smartphone. He developed a little crush on Siri. Ever susceptible to a smart woman, he said, “She is very knowledgeable! Is she a friend of yours?” As Murray aged, he became less and less intellectually agile. He called me “Jeannie Darling” until he started to forget my name and then he just called me “Darling.” The official diagnosis was moderate dementia, but the truth is, he was smarter than most folks about most things even when he got pretty damn daft.  I used to be able to quiz him on the Supreme Court justices and he would rattle them off in order of their year of appointment, along with the name of the president who appointed each of them. A few months ago he started to falter. When he told me Golda Meier was on the bench I knew we were in trouble. Even though he got the name wrong, he described Ruth Bader Ginsburg perfectly.

My beloved friend and son-in-law, Reginald, carries a little rock in his pocket named Murray. Here’s why.

Murray, at some point a few years ago, started calling me in the middle of the night, “burning,” to use his word, with remorse. He was regretful about decisions he made or actions failed to take. None of those things made particular sense to me, especially at 3 in the morning, but when I would wearily recount the tale of some dark-of-night call to my friends, they would scramble around to make better and more life-affirming choices for themselves. We were all terrified that we’d reach the end of our lives and wish we’d made braver choices. And Reginald made some radical ones. He has a partner and twin babies to show for it and carries a rock named Murray to remind him that life is short and that we should wring out every bit of joy that can ever be allotted to us in this life.

Murray loved life until he didn’t. He went to my kids’ graduations and countless winter and summer solstice parties where he squeezed the bottoms of pretty girls and held forth with dirty jokes. He loved a sharp rejoinder. He loved a good wet shave. He drank Coca Cola and hated to drink water. He loved sitting on a sunny bench near Strawberry Fields in Central Park. We moved his bed into his living room a few years back and when I’d visit, he would dish and gossip shrewdly about world politics. He would fall asleep with either NPR playing in his ear via transistor radio or a baseball game.

Don’t be confused. Mine was not a pithy Tuesdays with Morrie kind of deal. Lots of what I’ve learned from Murray has to do with Reginald’s rock. If you take anything away from my musings today it should be this: pick up a rock from somewhere and name it Murray. Put it in your pocket as your momento mori. Let it remind you to make wise choices, choices that load your life with joy, choices that privilege love.

May 13, 1922–April 27, 2015

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On taking your meditation on the road

I have an amazing commute right now.  It involves walking through two New York City parks to get to an office that also is full of air-scrubbing plants.  But many times the walk to work is obscured by my “thinkiness,” as a friend refers to it.  I have a compulsion toward list making and I pitch hard toward the future. I was born with a hyperactive planning gene. Sometimes I have a headache by the time I even get to the office and I’m figuratively vibrating with solutions to the day’s anticipated problems.

So I meditate before I leave and I can tell the difference in my day if I miss a “sit.”  When I meditate, I’m a little less anxious and crabby; I laugh much more easily. This week I took the meditation out the door with me.  I hatted and gloved and jacketed consciously.  I walked down the steps and listened to the birds and noticed the protective layer of shoe between my feet and the concrete as I stepped. I dodged–okay, I admit to some pejorative judgment–as texting pedestrians failed to notice the on-coming traffic.  I gently noticed my thinking and brushed it away like a gauze curtain, going back to the breath, quickened a little from the walk.  Lists seemed to emerge unbidden from nowhere and I smiled and brushed them off, along with the endlessly-urgent options for how to spend the first hour  at the computer. The not-now bounced toward me relentlessly.

Lest you think I have this walking-while-meditating thing figured out, one fifteen second internal dialogue went something like this:

Breathe, breathe, breathe. In and out. Fill your lungs, let it go.

Oh, Eureka! What a good idea! I will call him as soon as I get to the office. I’ll forget this if I don’t text it to myself. Oh, also I must, must, must remember to answer Julie’s email about that committee.

Chill out, Hopalong.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Seriously, you know you have middle-aged dementia; you can’t even remember a grocery list.  Oh, yes, I can, too.

Breathe, breathe.

I need toilet paper, razor blades and what was that other thing? Damn, it came to me in the shower and I can’t believe I forgot already.

Chill out, Hopalong. Breathe, breathe.

Cool how your intercostals expand with the breath, right?

Jeez, look at that guy! He’s wearing his pants backward! I wonder if he moved here from DesMoines just because he thought he wear his pants that way and still get lost in the shuffle here. My friends would probably like playing poker with me more if I really learned how to shuffle. I could get a new deck of cards and practice sometime, maybe when I’m on the phone. I could keep the cards on my desk. Oh, there’s that homeless woman and I keep meaning to bring her Murray’s leftover cigarettes. Is it ethical to give someone cigarettes when you know it’s not good for them? It’s not like she’s going to stop smoking because of me one way or the other. I can’t break my own bad habits, so where do I get off judging her for hers?

Chill out, Hopalong.

Why am I so winded when I walk? Eeah, I need to get a check-up.

Chill out, Hopalong, breathe.

Funny how we don’t think of sparrows in the same way we do rats. I wonder why that is?

Chill out, Hopalong.

Anyhow, it was worth trying and I’m going to keep at it.

 

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On talking to strangers

Many of you have reached out to me lately in the spirit of concern.  (Thank you.) I’ve been scattered and distracted. I look pale and a little leeched.  My posts have been flavored with melancholy.

Sometimes snapping out of it isn’t just such a snap.

But recently, I stopped at one of my favorite bars/restaurants where I’m in danger of becoming a regular. (Listen, you can order a Penicillin there, so I consider it medicinal.)  There is something very sweet about knowing the bartender’s name in this giant city, of feeling like we have created small villages within the vast Metropolis. Since I’m fearless about asking the person next to me what he or she is eating (what better way to know what to order?), I struck up a conversation with the open and charismatic Anthony Hull. Anthony, who is a 28-year old producer and actor, shared his food with me. And his inspiration. And his energy. He said he knew I was a traveller because of my willingness to talk to strangers, that only people who have travelled in many strange countries are open to engaging with people they don’t know. Often only people who are far from home are willing to transcend the invisible boundaries between human being sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at a bar. I ate one of his eggs Benedict and he shared my roast duck wrapped in a chive pancake.  Later, Rudy the bartender gave me a bite of his fried duck with waffles and mascarpone.

I walked away feeling better about life in the Big Apple and feeling more confident that we should all be sojourners in our own country. Why not toss our arms open to destiny? Why not talk to strangers?

May it be so.

On load-bearing walls

If we’re lucky we have a trifecta–a run of three good things–in our lives. Sometimes a twist of fate brings a trifecta of pain into our days. Recently, I had some setbacks, heartaches, and even a bad bout of winter flu. While I didn’t succumb (publicly) to full-on whining, I definitely didn’t feel like my normal, resilient self. What surprised me was the number of people who saw me as strong, and even infallible, and therefore couldn’t seem to comprehend any other aspect of me.  That should be a compliment, you might think. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt dismissive and scary, like I was yelling from far, far distance: “Hey! Over here! I need you!”

I don’t want to trivialize the service of the folks who comforted me, the ones who brought me soup, juice and coconut water, and the really close friends who mopped up my tears. I am deeply grateful. And here are some direct quotes–albeit complimentary!–of things you shouldn’t say to someone who is deep in the mire:

“You’re one of those hardy sorts–you’ll bounce right back!”

“Ah, you’re such a durable, sunny creature, I can’t imagine this will last.”

“You’re wearing your heartbreak on your sleeve, girlfriend, and that’s not like you.”

“You’re the greatest, most vigorous, most buoyant woman…”

After I got done throwing dishes, these comments made me commit to do two things.  One, make sure I’m open and honest about the depth of my need and vulnerability (check out Brene Brown’s now-famous TED talk on this issue) when I’m experiencing it (and not after).  There is always a limit to how much anyone wants to play the hero (great song by Family of the Year from Boyhood). Even heroes need to take a nap now and then. And two, take stock of the people in my life whose strength I count on…and call them with a voice of support. Just in case they, as the load-bearing walls (you know? the ones that seem to hold up the entire building?) in my life and in the lives of others, might be weary and aching.

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On longing for a permission slip

Years ago, my very first coach, Dr. Elaine Millam, had me make a list of the things about my day that I enjoyed and the things that I hated doing. She helped me develop a job that could very well have overwhelmed and capsized me into one where I surpassed everyone’s expectations, including my own. Often I use some version of that exercise with my clients today, with a nod to Elaine. It’s a great self-awareness assessment tool, and we call it the “loves, dreads and longings” list around here.

The first step is to identify what you feel good about (those rare energizing meetings, that person on your team who inspires you, the phone call that puts the bounce back in your step) and the second is to get clear on what you dread (the meeting with the go-nowhere agenda, the busywork assignment, the minutia that is dissatisfyingly distant from the big picture). Once you understand what you look forward to with happy anticipation you can start to shape your life to have more of that stuff in your day. Once you fully understand what you dread and why, it’s easier to make choices about minimizing those features that drain and devalue you.

In the workplace, this matters because it influences who you hire and what skill set you need around you. It creates purposeful delegation. It assures you that your day is going to be full of energy and insight rather than a drain on your capacity. It shapes your calendar so you can leverage your highest value. In your life…well, if you want to have a life that matters and brings your best self to the fore, it requires courageous intentional planning and action.*

When you’ve gotten clear on the first two steps, it’s logical to tackle the third: what you long for. Often tricky because it requires the most action, this step calls for you to disrupt the status quo enough to at least add to it.

I revisit this list because I got a call from a former client who referred to that exercise. I chuckled when she called, pleased to know she was still using it. A few months ago, Susie** headed for northern California to visit her father, who was facing the end-stages of his life. She was driving cross-country because she had some heavy items and thought she’d enjoy the time to think. She told me about steps she’d taken since our work together to further assure that her work life was much more supportive of her best self and how she’d dropped elements–even from her personal life–which felt draining and disempowering. She had taken careful steps to preserve the aspects of her life that worked and innovatively discarded the elements that were eroding her. Susie said it continued to be hard, however, for her to think about her longings list.

What she really yearned for terrified her, mostly because it was impossible.

She thought about her father’s last weeks and struggled with the idea of the kind of daughter she wanted to be, the kind of daughter she imagined her father wanted her to be, the kind of daughter she always thought she would be. She couldn’t be assured that she would get peaceful time with her dad, since his health wasn’t stable and their relationship was turbulent. She longed for–“Ridiculous, I know!”–permission from him to live her life in a way that best suited her. Not, Susie said, that permission would ever be granted in a million years. Not, Susie said, that she’d even be willing to give herself that permission. And besides, look! the road ahead was closed because of bad weather. Forget longings, Susie said. The road ahead reminded her that there were too many obstacles for her to really have what she yearned for, a life where she felt she had “permission” to be her fully sparked-up self.

Susie took a different route. She turned back, then drove south until she was beyond the reach of the storm front and then just drove on west. Even in clear weather, she got held up in shabby motels overnight because of car trouble; she almost turned around completely because of a crisis at home.

She called me after she got back to the east coast to report that somewhere along the way she’d had an epiphany about her longings list. She saw that–obviously–there was more than one way to get to California from New York, that there was more than one way to get “permission,” and that there was more than one way to get what she longed for. Her father didn’t give her permission to live her life in any particular way, she said, but they said their good-byes in as loving a way possible. He died both disapproving of her and idealizing her. And Susie gave herself a big ol’ permission slip.

permission-slip1In spite of her fathers death, Susie sounded joyful when she told me that she’d figured out that neither the route to the permission slip nor the source of the permission slip was what she expected it to be.  And I really needed the reminder myself.

 

 

 

 

*You can usually figure that out with a good therapist.  Call me for references.

**Although she has given me permission to share this story, I’ll use a fake name.

And this image is thanks to The Yellow Kite.

 

On stray dogs

My kids and I were driving across the Nevada desert some years ago. We stopped for gas well after dark. While I filled the tank, I noticed an abandoned dog–filthy and cowering–sidling up to us. “Stay in the truck,” I told the kids. But when I came out after paying the bill, the kids were on either side of the dog and there were three pairs of pleading eyes looking up at me. The dog had her tail between her legs; one side was stove in from where she’d clearly been kicked hard. Her face was caked with some hideous combination of dirt and blood and both her ears were flat with submission. The kids stood up and faced me, knowing full well that I’m only hard-nosed selectively. “We have a pick-up truck. She doesn’t have to ride in the cab. But we can’t leave her here.”

The debate didn’t last long. I sighed, leaned over, scooped up the dog, and said, “Open the tailgate.”

That dog, named Needles for obvious geographic reasons, lived with us for many years as a much-beloved part of the family. She cleaned up well, although one of her ears never did recover and stayed perpetually flopped over. She eventually stopped widdling uncontrollably, her ribs healed, and her tail came out from between her legs. She developed a spark of mischief and a highly-expressive use of her eyebrows. She still quivered around raised voices and forever looked panicked when we left, but her coat grew out glossy.  And boy, did she ever love us back until the day she died.

Everyone has an internal Needles, a part that is scared and scarred and grubby. How do you deal with the element of you that just needs love and kindness? Well, try scooping it up and carrying it home, looking with a tender eye toward the flaws and broken bits. Give your internal stray some compassion. And watch what happens.

IMG_4371_1024Needles with her rescuers.

On loss

 “The people we most love do become a physical part of us, ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.” 

–Meghan O’Rourke

There is nothing, really, to be done about grief, except ride it out like a surfer rides the waves. Grief does come in big splashy I’m-gonna-drown-you waves. There is an aphorism that time heals all wounds, but when we’ve faced profound loss, we learn that time doesn’t quite make it all better. Instead the waves calm down a little and our brokenness heals and scars.  But I’m not going to kid you, the sea can be punishing, even years later.*

When facing loss, there is some utility in checking out various support tactics and the internet abounds with advice for the grieving. One of my favorites is from Good Grief Center, which more or less says that the grief process has run its course when you feel weary of rehashing events and memories and finally accept the facts as they are.  Having weathered some heinous grief in my day, I can say the the process is never truly over; it just gets easier over time and the spurts of raw pain subside into something like nostalgia. Another favorite is from the wonderful Elephant Journal’s post of a field guide to falling out of love (it’s amazing how death and break-ups can feel the same).  Of that list, I take most comfort from the reminder that “infinite possibilities and memories and sufferings” made us who we are today.

This is an old hymn from my Christian childhood that comes to mind, with which I’ve taken some liberties here, so apologies to the anonymous author, and to my mother who sang it to me with the originally-gendered lyrics.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall She unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern She has planned.

I’m not a surfer or weaver, but I am a quilter. I’m famous for never really following the recipe (see adaptation to hymn lyrics above) or never succumbing to a pattern (see my life in general), which means I’m never quite sure how things will turn out. Finishing a quilt does two things for me when it comes to grieving a loss. IMG_4975_1024This one (“Lily’s Quilt”) has 1) helped me productively channel my energy without totally diverting me into mindless distraction (See Good Grief’s tip number five)  and 2) allowed me to see a happy outcome in what started as an entirely random set of scraps, reminding me that all the experiences of our lives can add up to something lovely and interesting if we let them.

 

 

 

 

*NOTE:  Grief can be disruptive of lifestyle, perspective on the world and even basic beliefs about life. It can also create lasting psychological damage and overwhelm ordinary human adaptations to life if not dealt with tenderly. Please seek professional help in the face of any kind of trauma where recovery seems at all difficult.

On your ocean

I often think of the parable about a little fish swimming next to a big fish. “Tell me about the ocean, please,” the little fish asked the big fish.  The big fish swam on in silence.  “Please tell me about the ocean,” the little fish begged, “You have been around so long and you know so much!”  The big fish swam on in silence.  The little fish twirled with impatience, “Oh, you have no idea how much I want to know about the ocean! Please tell me what it’s like!”

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Finally the big fish turned slowly and said, “You are swimming in it right now.”

 Sometimes the best argument for a 360-degree assessment is that we simply don’t see what we don’t see, even when it’s right in front of us, even when we’re surrounded by it.

Recently, I’ve been dabbling with a new activity, one that is so unfamiliar to me that I’ve had to grapple with being completely…well, at sea.  One night I shared this experience with my daughter as we sat in the dark, rocking her twin babies to sleep.  We chatted.  “I’ve learned so much about myself in this process,” I told her, “I had no idea that–” and I explained what I had figured out. She laughed out loud in the darkness. “Mom,” she said gently, “I’ve known this all my life about you. Everyone knows this. We all just wonder how it is that you don’t know this.”

You are swimming in it right now.

A client told me after a recent intake session that he had no idea that a certain characteristic of his was so visible to others. How did you know this about me? he wondered a little nervously, as though he thought I was psychic. It was almost comical. How could I not know? It was as evident to the observant eye as his hair color.

How best do you start to get a vision of what you don’t see?  Ask questions of yourself and others. Put yourself into situations where other people can give you feedback. Get really brave about dropping into unfamiliar situations so you can experience yourself from the world’s perspective. Then you start to get some sense of your own ocean, or to use another metaphor, a vision of your blind spots from the rear view mirror. It’s that character flaw that everyone knows you have. It’s that skill set you don’t even recognize, but it fuels your success. It’s the persistent mood in which you live. It’s the temporary situation that’s become permanent. It’s the understanding you have of the world that you assume everyone shares. Getting a look at blind spots takes some intention and effort  (there’s a reason they’re called blind spots), but it’s always just a little safer to have the knowledge.

 

 

On setting yourself up for the coming season

We are at the time of year when our little place on the planet tilts away from the sun. Professionals increasingly report that they are impacted by the blues at the very thought of winter. Fatigue and reduced motivation, hallmarks of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), are already beginning to surface.  We can dread it or deal with it. What if you have to get up before the sun and commute into a job that doesn’t release you until well after the sun sets?  Going out in the cold can be a dismal business if you’re not prepared for it (and even if you are).

I dug out an old list from my days in clinical practice to throw into the mix of your planning for the season. It made me laugh to see that several of them are contradictory. For instance the original list included both “hole up” and “go outside,” which suggests to me that you might want to develop—out of your own self-awareness—your personal list of tactics and get conscientious about putting them in place against the coming winter.

First, there are the tried and true techniques for coping. Read GadgetBoy’s reviews and buy some good light therapy.  Your understanding doctor may prescribe a seasonal anti-depressant to help stabilize you through the dark months. She may also suggest a dose of Vitamin D, which is purported to help. Since I slather with sunscreen, I take the Big D year-round. And she will almost certainly tell you to watch your diet, since carb-craving leads to a vicious cycle of eating precisely the kinds of foods that will dull your energy levels. Stocking the house with healthy snacks in advance of the blues will help head off those cravings.

Create a play list. Music has always been a huge game-changer for me; one of my favorite playlists is called “Cheer up, bitch,” (which is not meant to be at all self-denigrating, but a reminder that the interpretation of my fate is in my hands). Write to me and I’ll happily share my Spotify list with you, although I suspect you already know precisely which music you find irresistible. Then dance. Even if you’re self-conscious about your skills, the combination of music and movement elevates your dopamine and pushes it through your system.

Create a play list of sad songs, too. My other favorite list is called “The Break-Up Blues” and it’s basically a compendium of the most melancholy tunes ever sung. The twang of a steel guitar, the cry-break in Dwight Yoakum’s betrayed wail, the soaring pain in Alison Krause’s perfect voice, Leonard Cohen’s raspy sorrow…I listen to them, curled up with a cup a cocoa and wallow. Then I get up and go on, comforted in the awareness that I am not alone in my mournful human condition.

Any sort of physical exercise helps, so set up occasions for going to the gym with either a buddy or a trainer, either of whom can help haul you over the lip of your bleakness. You’re less likely to miss the gym outing if you’ve planned to go with a friend or actually paid someone to cheerfully put you through the paces.

Sex is a great bummer-blaster.  Embrace your cave and your sweetie. Plan an erotic in-house adventure with someone you love (or maybe just someone you dig a lot), complete with candles and winter shadows.  That lighting is so much better for the body image than that raw sunlight of summer!

Carefully shop for your cold-weather gear. Make sure your winter jacket is not just toasty, but also cheers you up (splurge on a new red or hot pink one, if you can, and donate your more-dreary one to the local coat drive now, when they are starting to collect them. If you’re warm enough to truly face the winter conditions, you’ll be happier. Buy a stupid hat. I have a collection of hats with cat or monkey ears and I find that when I walk down the street wearing one everyone grins at me. For a long time I commented on how friendly New Yorkers were in the winter until someone pointed out to me that they were probably just laughing at my hat. I didn’t care much about the reason they were smiling at me, frankly.

Plan a sunny holiday now for late in the winter season. We know that the months of January, February or March are when seasonal affective disorder reaches the peak of its pow. 2010 research out of Holland—land of long winters and happy spring tulips—suggested that milking the anticipation of the sunny get-away was better for our happiness quotient than the actual getting away! So plan accordingly. Leave the brochures and travel posters around the house. Then when you get home, the anticipation of spring can help temper your mood for the rest of the season.

Commit to a no-complaining policy. Late at night during one of those epic snowstorms last winter, I walked past a doorman and made a comment on the glorious crowd of snowflakes pelting us. His response was, “Ugh.  What terrible weather.” Mood smasher. Don’t be that guy, even if you do have to keep the walks clear. There are great theories called fake it ’til you make it that suggest it is worth it to be of good cheer, even fake cheer.

Hike into the dreary landscape and actively spot the beauty in the starkness.  In an urban environment, that can be tough because the snow goes to unforgiving slush in about four minutes and the puddles become one more assault weapon for the cab drivers. But there are still moments of beauty. When I lived a more rural life, I used to go out into my bleak snow-covered garden and imagine what was under that frozen scene. Then I’d go inside with a pile of stashed seed catalogs and immerse myself in the heartening activity of garden planning.

Make something, especially something for someone else—knit funky socks, bake apple crisp, simmer a rich stew, paint a postcard—and either give it away (a cheer-up tactic by itself) or invite someone over to share. If you’re low on inspiration, check out Pinterest.

Autumn is a time of year that has long been linked to mortality because winter is close on its heels.  The changing seasons remind us of the temporary nature of our own lives.  With that comes the urge to savor all the moments, even the less sunny ones. There is something bittersweet in understanding that everything changes, everything ends. But everything begins, also. And some things endure deeply. Don’t dismiss the heartbreak of the up-coming season, but don’t lose the beauty of it. Here’s a tiny slice of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem to get you started.

 

The birds they sang

at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what

has passed away

or what is yet to be.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

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