Friday, August 26, 2011

Shiny Happy People

I was sitting in Baskin Robbins this afternoon, enjoying some gold medal ribbon (my fave!), when Shiny Happy People by R.E.M. came on. I found myself mindlessly singing along to some of the lyrics I remember from when that song was popular about twenty years ago. And it occurred to me ... I've never really listened to the lyrics and I have no idea what the song is about.  Is it being sarcastic? Critical? Judgmental? Observant? Seriously, I have no idea.  I started to look around as I tapped my foot and hummed along and I noticed ... shiny AND happy people all around me. 

Now let me be clear: I may be (mostly) happy, but I am NOT shiny. Ever. Better words to describe me are frazzled, disheveled, discombobulated, sometimes even unkempt. The image I emanate is probably "lazy."  I simply don't have time for all that fussing; I don't shop, and I will choose sleep over time-for-primping 100% of the time.   

There was a woman with a little girl about 5 years old.  I couldn't tell if she was the girl's (young) grandmother or (older) mother. Anyway, the woman was very "shiny."  She was bleached blonde, faux-tanned, in good shape, adorned in "bohemian" clothes and jewelry, and impeccably groomed and made up.  (I'm sure those tendrils coming out of her tousled ponytail were intentional!)  She almost glowed (in a good way, not in a give-the-self-tanner-a-rest way.)  I caught myself staring at her because, seriously, how much time must she spend on herself?  It's a Friday afternoon, and I'm assuming this is probably what she looks like all the time.  So she had to shop for her clothes and jewelry - and unless she has superpowers, you know that took more than one trip! - go to the hair salon and sit for an hour or two, sit at the nail salon for an hour or two, plus travel, and then the showering-shampooing-moisturizing-blowdrying-makeupping-dressing-accessorizing routine every morning, and the removal time in the evening.  That's HOURS every day, and HOURS every week, and even more HOURS every month.  I'm not judging at all, it's just that I am the complete opposite of her.  Anyway, she was shiny and - at least in the fantasy world I have created for her in my head - she's happy.

The little girl was shiny and happy too, but in an age-appropriate way.  She had blue eyes and blonde hair pulled back off of her face and falling out of her barrettes just a little, a beautiful green dress, sunkissed skin, painted (short) nails, cute sandals, and a radiant smile.  She was getting some sherbet but was also picking out her ice cream cake for her birthday party.  What's not to be happy about, right?

There was an older gentleman in line behind me and guess what?  Shiny and happy!  He looked like he's retired and plays a lot of tennis or golf ... tan, fit, looking relaxed.  He smiled at me and struck up a conversation while we waited in line.  I learned he was givng ice cream gift certificates to his grandchildren as a back-to-school treat.  He noticed the little girl and smiled at her.  So many times older folks ... and in my experience, older men in particular ... are crabby.  Not this guy. He was shiny. He was happy.

A different woman ahead of me in line was shiny, too, but in a more subtle way than the other shiny, happy woman.  This one emanated clean and fresh and cool. In a relaxed state her face was calm.  She was waiting for the employee to write a message on a cake she picked from the freezer.  When the gal came out with the freshly written-on cake, guess what? HAPPY!

There were two mid-twenties guys eating sandwiches who looked shiny in a literal way; they clearly had been exercising or something and had that fresh-sweat sheen. And they were laughing and joking and bustin' each others' chops.  Happy.

This seems like an awful lot of shiny happy people in one place if you ask me.  I mean seriously, where are the Maxines and the Walters?  Then it hit me ... the employees were neither shiny nor happy.  That's too bad but at least it gave the place some balance.

I left with a little spring in my step. I want to be a shiny happy person.  And so it shall be.  Further updates on Project Shiny Happy Person as events warrant.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bad Decisions Make Good Stories

We all do it. We have those moments when we make bad decisions. If we follow the usual path of growth, and we are not affected by alcohol, substance or other abuse, the bad decisions we make become fewer and farther between as we age and mature. Sure, some of us do it more often than others, but the point is we all do it. Even the most mature and responsible person makes bad decisions now and again.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that bad decisions make good results. That almost never happens. Bad decisions usually lead to bad results. But when it is over, there is usually a good story there. Sometimes the story is funny, sometimes it is poignant, sometimes it is sad, but when you come out the other end and have recovered, there is almost something good to share. Maybe I feel this way because I am forever searching for the silver lining in every dark cloud.

Yesterday marked six years since The Ex and I split. Marrying him was a bad decision. Of course, I have no regrets because I got Sweetie and Stinker out of it, but if I am honest, choosing this person was a bad choice. There were signs that he was a bad choice for me, but either I was unaware of them at the time or I chose to ignore them. It was bad for me financially, it was bad for my self esteem, it was bad for my health, it was bad for some of my friendships and familial relationships, it was just a bad decision.  No matter, what's done is done and it does no good to look back. I've chosen to forgive him, and to forgive myself, and move on.  Even though the marriage was a mistake, our story is a good story full of friendship, laughter, love, family, joy, frustration, disappointment, heartbreak ... the gamut of the human condition ... and at least for me it has a happy ending (so far).

I started a new job six weeks ago and it is my goal to avoid making some of the bad decisions I made at my former job. As I've been thinking about some of the mistakes I made before so that I don't make them again, I find myself smiling at the story about the bad decision to go work for my former employer in the first place.  I have no regrets because it afforded me the opportunity to spend time with my children that I might not have had otherwise, and it forced me to become aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an employee, but it stalled my career.  I turned the job down initially, and I should have stuck with my instincts. It's a good story though ... female lawyer forges a non-traditional path in a tough profession, shines at times and stumbles at other times, gets terminated for putting family first, and comes out the other end stronger, wiser, more focused on her career ... and happy.

At a work retreat last weekend, we spent a lot of time around dinner tables telling stories. Why is it that so many of the best stories begin with "so I was out drinking one night ..."? Some of my colleagues made the bad decision to order bottle service at 1:30 a.m., knowing we had a 9:00 a.m. meeting. It was a bad decision for them - they were miserable at the meeting and for most of the day - but it's a great story that I'm sure we will recount at every retreat.

I've made plenty of bad decisions in my life, like that time I stepped in between two huge drunk guys to try to break up a fight, or that time I thought it would be fun to snoop around in my husband's email, or that time I ate the worm in Mexico .... Bet you'd like to hear the stories about those bad decisions!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Get Out and Push!

My new employer takes all of the attorneys (and their spouses) on a weekend retreat every other year, and this year we went to Sausalito, California.  They spare no expense, being sure to set up nice accommodations, meals, and transportation (so no one is tempted to drink and drive).  I had a two-room suite with a giant sunken tub at Cavallo Point.  A gift basket was waiting for me when I checked in.  We had a group dinner Friday night (with booze of our choice if we wanted) at a nice restaurant in the City and then we went out to some bars afterward.  (There are a lot of stories in there but I will save them for another post.)  I seriously did not spend a dime, not even for my cab back over the bridge.  We had a breakfast meeting on Saturday and then we had about six hours of free time on Saturday.  We had to be at a group dinner in Sausalito at 7:00.

When I learned of the location of our retreat, I researched what I could do to keep myself occupied during said free time on Saturday, knowing that almost all of my colleagues would have their spouses with them and I am the lone singleton.  I could get a massage, go ziplining, take a segway tour, shop (in Sausalito or in the City), hike, ride my bike ... the possibilities are almost endless.  I decided to do things I can't do when I have my kids with me.  After some poking around, I settled on GoCars in the City.

What the heck is a GoCar?  It's not a go-kart.  It is a little yellow, three-wheeled vehicle licensed as a motorcyle.  It seats two, it is convertible, and you must wear a helmet to be safe.  It's cute.  But the BEST part is ... the car talks to you.  It is a GPS-directed car, so it tells you where to turn and where to drive and narrates along the way.   There are different tours available; I wanted to take the Mister SF tour because it was the shortest (1.5 hours) and it takes you to the "cool" places that tourists never see.  You learn about movie locations and notorious crime locations, that sort of thing.  I was excited and I coaxed four other attorneys (two pairs) to go with me, and then I got my Julie McCoy on ... I made reservations, figured out how we were going to get there, decided which tour to take, etc.

So Saturday "free time" rolls around and we are ready to start our adventure.  We planned to take the 12:45 ferry over from Sausalito (a 30-minute ride), which we thought would give us plenty of time to grab a quick snack before embarking on our tour.  We thought wrong.  The ferry was late, so I called the company while we were on the ferry and pushed our reservation back 30 minutes.  When we got to the restaurant, we had terrible service; I pushed the reservation again.  Now we were an hour behind schedule, which should be fine for purposes of our group dinner but would cut into our post-GoCar drinks (including my must-have Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista).  Finally, a little more than an hour after we had originally planned, we watched our safety video, donned our helmets, got our operational lesson, and we were off.  All was going smoothly until ....The Mister SF tour was not available due to road construction.  I had to think fast and choose a different tour.  I remembered the Urban Parks tour sounded cool so we picked that one and off we went.

The little cars are easy to drive, though they are a little unnerving because they are low to the ground and hard for cars to see, and they don't go very fast.  Because they are licensed as motorcycles, they are not allowed in the bike lanes or on sidewalks so I'm sure it's very frustrating for the drivers who get stuck behind them.  We were a trio of GoCars, with mine being the last in the line. We got a lot of attention; people waved and honked and lots of tourists took our picture.

So off we went.  Not only does the car tell you which direction to go, it tells you what you are looking at, its history, and suggests where and when you should stop and get out.  It gives you detour options.  As long as you stay on your route, the car chats merrily, even cracking wise ... when we drove by a golf course it yelled "fore" really loud and then laughed!  We went by Robin Williams' house, though the wise-cracking car wouldn't tell us which one it was. 

After about two hours, my car merrily told me I was now "half way" through my tour.  WHAT?  Two hours is only half way?  Not surprisingly, my colleagues immediately pulled over after they heard this in their cars, and we collectively decided to go off the path and return the cars; it was getting late and we needed to get back to Sausalito for dinner.  As we were pulling over, the car told me to turn right at the next stop sign because the hill ahead was too steep for it.  According to the safety video, as long as you follow the car's directions you will be able to navigate the steep hills but if you venture off on your own - which is certainly allowed - you may find yourself on a hill that is too steep for the car to handle.  If that happens, you must get out and push. Oh, and the car has no reverse.

So after we decided to return the cars, I watched as my colleagues drove straight up that hill!  I turned right and then ignored it when it told me to turn again.  Here's the thing ... when you go off of the path, the car stops talking and you are left to your own devices.  We three got separated so I decided to just drive toward the water (since I know how to get around once I get near the water).  At one point I caught up with one of the other cars, but they went up another big hill and I went a different way.  At another point I must have veered close to one of the tour routes because suddenly my car made a loud pinging noise and it yelled at me: "STOP!  You're going the wrong way.  You were supposed to turn left at the last street.  Turn around."  It scared the crap out of me, but I soldiered on.  As I was nearing the return, I flipped around to go talk to my colleagues on the other side of the street and didn't quite make it ... I had to get out and push.  I learned later they had had to get out and push, too!

All in all, it's a fun little adventure and a great way to see parts of the City you might otherwise miss. It's not cheap, and we were cold by the time we were done, but I really enjoyed it. And I laugh really hard when I tell people about our little adventure ...

** Photos taken from the GoCars website at