Sunday, December 30, 2018

Goodbye 2018, Hello Future

Mara here:

Well, this is our last blog. It's hard to believe that two years have passed. I want to start off by saying Thank You to everyone who has shared this journey with us. It has been a really wonderful experience sharing little bits of our lives and getting to know some of our readers.

As always, at the end of the year, it's nice to reflect on everything that happened—both what we appreciated and the things that were harder—each of which helped teach us important lessons. It's equally nice to think about what's in store for us in the coming months and years. 

So I thought that since it's the last blog and it's also the end of the year, we would list three things we appreciated about 2018 and then three resolutions for 2019 and beyond.


1) I am very grateful for the change that prompted me to find a new job and be open to the idea of moving houses. I had been in a rut that really closed me off mentally to the idea of that much change. And I'm really happy that I was finally able to push past it so I could move forward. It was time for change for myself and for my family.

2) I'm happy to have met some really nice people last year. Being stuck in the rut I was in, I had closed myself off to new people for many years. But last year I finally met some of my neighbors and befriended some people at work. And it reminded me how much I do appreciate and value meeting new people.

3) Along with meeting new people, one thing that I finally truly understand—after 44 years—is that you don't really know people until you know them. That probably sounds silly, but most of my life I've been afflicted with the unfortunate habit of judging people prematurely. And my judgments have sometimes kept me from being open to friendships that I would have benefitted from. I'm not sure why, but at some point in 2018 my brain finally realized that whatever thoughts immediately pop into my head about people aren't "real." That just because someone does something that leads me to make a snap judgment doesn't mean that I actually know anything about that person or that person's life. And while I still sometimes find myself having judgy thoughts, I am now quick to remind myself to just let them go and keep an open mind.

2019 and beyond:

1) Going forward, I want to work on simplifying things. This recent move from our house has shown me that I have way too much stuff. The stuff that was piled in our garage and took up every nook and cranny of our house was truly a burden. And the same thing happens with my thoughts. So I want to work on physically and mentally trying to clear space. 

2) Another thing I would like to work on is being more generous. I want to be more generous with my finances, but also just more generous with my thoughts and my actions. I often find myself hesitant to get involved with people because it feels burdensome to invest my energy into their lives. But I want to be willing to give other people more of my time and energy. And I want to try and change my thinking from having it feel like a burden to being grateful I can help a fellow human.

3) The final thing that I will continue to work on is appreciating every situation I'm in. This is something I have been working on for the past few years. But the older I get, the more I am able to appreciate just how truly fortunate I am. Even when things aren't necessarily going the way I want them to, I have discovered that there is usually some sort of silver lining. There is usually something about the event that can be viewed in a positive light. I don't want to get to Pollyanna-ish on everyone. Sometimes sucky things happen. But I also want to be able to recognize that and then let it go. Sometimes things suck, but it's ok. It's ok that sometimes life just feels bad. But what I don't have to do is complain about it constantly, or dwell on how bad things are. Acknowledging your unhappiness is fine, but it's important to remember that you can also let it go. Most of us are lucky enough to have something positive to turn our energies towards. And that's what I want to work on doing.

Once again, thank you to all of our readers. I will forever be grateful for sharing this experience with you. I hope all of you have had a wonderful holiday and I wish nothing but happiness for you in 2019 and the future. 

Toni here:

I admit that, although this is the right time for Mara and me to end our joint blog, I'm sad about it. I'm sad mostly because I'll miss reading Mara's essays. I've learned a lot about her and from her the past two years, and that's been a special treat since I rarely get to see her in person. I love her with all my heart.

And now to my contribution to this piece...


1) I'm grateful to my husband, Tony, for continuing to take such incredible care of me and for sacrificing so much due to my illness. He doesn't just passively make sure I'm okay. He does things for me that he need not do. And the best of those things is the feast he cooks for me every night he's home (sometimes he's out for the evening, leading a meditation group somewhere in Northern California). His cooking has become an art form. He rarely uses recipes anymore or, if he does, he uses them as a jumping off point for creating something original. You never know how someone will react when his or her partner becomes chronically ill or otherwise disabled. Well, now I know, and it's a blessing I count every single day.

2) I'm also grateful to my two children, their spouses, and my two granddaughters: Mara, Brad, and Malia; Jamal, Bridgett, and Cam. They accept me as I am. That is not always the case with family when someone is chronically ill. I know, because people write to me about what's going on in their families. They often literally get harassed ("just get up off the couch and do something"). My family has never complained about my inability to be the active parent and grandparent I wish I could be. That is also a blessing that I count every day.

3) Finally, I'm grateful for the Buddha's guidance in this life. I've said before that I don't practice Buddhism as a religion but as a practical path. I'm not saying it's the path for everyone. But it's the path for me. His teachings—particularly those on impermanence, suffering, mindfulness, compassion, and equanimity—are at the heart of what I focus on every day as I make my way through life. I am so grateful to have discovered the dharma as it's called.

2019 and beyond:

1) Tony and I will be moving in March from a house we've lived in for almost 36 years. We're downsizing and moving to a small apartment. My resolution is to treat this move as an adventure. Sometimes all the things I see in front of me in the next few months are scary—downsizing (which will be the subject of my next piece at Psychology Today); fixing up the house we're about to leave; renovating the apartment we're about to move into; pulling off the actual move; and then, of course, adjusting to living in a different place. It's a daunting prospect at times, but it helps tremendously to treat it as an adventure—the next chapter in my life.

2) I also resolve to continue helping people, not just through my writing, but in my responses to them when they reach out to me. I get emails every week from someone who's read one of my books or one of my online articles. Sometimes it's just a "thank you." But, more often than not, people want my help with some difficulty they're facing. I resolve to offer comfort to people who contact me and to help them when I can.

3) Finally, I resolve to continue with my writing. Now that the second edition of How to Be Sick has been released, my focus will be on writing articles for Psychology Today. Here's the link to my blog there if you haven't seen it: Turning Straw Into Gold. I've noticed that, since becoming mostly housebound, I've been teaching myself how to do a host of creative things (watercolor, embroidery, clay, freeform crochet). Those things come and go in my life. The one constant, though, is my writing. I resolve to keep at it. It's one of the ways I can continue to help others and, as the saying goes, make lemonade out of this lemon of an illness.

Dear readers, your support has meant the world to Mara and me. Thank you so much for coming along with us the past two years.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Presents and Wishes

Mara here:

Just a quick update. We are moved. Everything went as smoothly as a move could go, but it's been a crazy few days. I think after the weekend, we'll be in pretty good shape. And it's nice that things will be manageable for Christmas.

Christmas in a new house.

We didn't plan the move with much forethought. Had we put any planning into the idea of a house move, I don't think we would have chosen right around the holidays to do it.

But now that we have (almost) survived it, I'm glad that we did it when we did.

It feels like the right time.

I think having Christmas in the new house will be the perfect way to really make it feel like ours. It's the perfect way to make our house into a home.

Yes, having to pack presents and box them and move them into a new house was a pain. And yes, trying to cook a Christmas dinner in a kitchen where we are unfamiliar with the appliances will also make things more difficult.

Christmas always feels like a whirlwind regardless of what else is happening. This year is no different.

But by the end of Christmas day, we will have had a whole day of special family memories in our new home. What has up to now a little bit felt like a house that we were borrowing, will finally feel like ours.

So I am glad it all worked out the way it did. I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas present.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I know it sounds cliché, but when November rolls around, I start to feel festive. The weather cools off—the brutal heat of summer lifts along with my spirits and along with the happiness I feel when I get back into sweaters and cozy pajamas, I start to think about Christmas. 

It's probably somewhat culturally programmed into me to look forward to Christmas. After all, who doesn't like getting presents? Just like Halloween is associated with candy, Christmas is associated with getting things.  But now that I'm older, while presents are still exciting, it's definitely more about thinking about what makes people happy. I enjoy taking the time to think about things I can do to make my friends and family feel a little more joyful.

And even though I know I could send people warm wishes all year around, I tend to be more generous with my thoughts around Christmas. My spirits are more buoyant and I take extra time to wish people well.

As I get older, my focus is definitely less on presents and the commercial side of Christmas. I spend more time appreciating the little acts of kindness that I see. And I spend a lot more energy on sending people positive thoughts and hoping their Christmas wishes come true. 

If I could, I would gift everyone—people who do and don't celebrate Christmas—a wonderful day. 

And I wish all our blog readers a very Merry Christmas. 

For my mother, who is Jewish but was raised celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, I asked her if her feelings about Christmas have changed as she gets older:

Now that you have grown children, how has Christmas changed for you and dad?

It's changed a lot. I love your Christmas spirit Mara even though, as you know, Dad and I have never been great "celebrators" of holidays. We like to give gifts any time of year that feels right, not just on designated days. We've always been a bit goofy like that.

When you were growing up here, we tried to make Christmas a special day. We did our best even though, as I said, we're not big celebrators of any of the holidays. And so we decorated a Christmas tree and filled stockings and opened presents on Christmas morning and cooked a special meal. And I always lit the menorah for the eight days of Hanukkah.

Is still light the menorah. We did as I was growing up and I love the tradition. But we don't get a Christmas tree anymore, and sometimes Dad and I agree not to give each other presents so that we can make charitable contributions instead and spend some of that saved money of you and your brother and your families. We do have a Christmas dinner. Our friend Richard usually comes over and, this year, our goddaughter, Jessica will be coming too.

But it will be a quiet day except for one thing: I can't wait to open the present that's sitting in the living room from both you and your brother! I don't think you've ever given us a joint gift, so that will a treat to open.

I'm excited for you to spend Christmas in your new home. And I hope that all our readers who celebrate Christmas have a wonderful time and eat heartily on Tuesday!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"I Hate to See Us Part Old Friend"

Mara here:

Last week's piece was inspired by a Frank Sinatra song. This week's is inspired by Stephen Sondheim. You are probably familiar with his work, either on West Side Story or Sweeney Todd. One of my favorite musicals written by Sondheim is Into the Woods.  

Into the Woods is a show (recently made into a movie with Meryl Streep) that combines several fairytales into one made-up story. It has familiar characters including: Little Red Riding-Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk.

The show mimics a traditional fairytale, with the first act ending with "happily ever after." However, the second act looks at what the stories might look like after "happily ever after." What happens after what you've dreamed of comes true?

The song I referred to in the title of this piece is sung by Jack, as he leads his faithful old cow to the marketplace to sell so he'll have money to buy food for his mother. He feels guilty for betraying the cow because it's been his loving companion.

And this is how I'm feeling about our house.

Most readers of this blog know I am in the process of moving. After 15 years, we're packing everything up and saying goodbye to our little house. And I feel a bit like Jack, leading his old trusting friend to sell to strangers.

The process of buying and selling real estate is complicated. Much like the woods in Into the Woods, it's a scary journey with twists and turns and hidden dangers. The sale or purchase of a house can easily fall apart any moment during the process. So you work and work, not knowing if you have sold your current house, or purchased your new house until, all of a sudden, one day—the deal is done.

Then, for most people, you have a relatively short period of time to pack up all your things and move. There's not a lot of time for reflection. During the selling and buying process you know the deal might fall through. So you leave room for uncertainty in case it doesn't work out the way you are hoping.

For us, it was only three days ago that we knew 100% that we were moving. It's not until the loans fund and escrow closes that a house sale is truly final. (Escrow is the time when, during the inspections and negotiations, all sale documents and funds are controlled by a third party intermediary.)

All of sudden, we went from trying not to get our hopes up too high in case something happened during escrow, to scrambling to make all the arrangements involved with moving.

Now that everything is settled, I am able to truly reflect on what this house has meant to me and what it means to be leaving.

Our house, which has been our faithful home for all these years has been sold. Strangers will be moving in. And I'm finding it very hard to say goodbye. 

It's hard for me to think about never returning to our current house.

I'm excited about our new place, but there's no way for me not to think back on all the wonderful memories we've had in this house. Our daughter grew up here. We adopted our pets while living here. When we moved in, we did a bunch of renovations to the house—added hardwood floors, painted all the rooms, added crown moldings, put up new blinds...we made it our home.

And in a week, a new family will be living in it.

I'm telling myself all the things that I know I should be thinking. I'm reminding myself that we will be happy in our new home. I'm reminding myself of the things that have always bugged me about our current house. I'm thinking about how it will be nice to live in a different area.

And I'm trying to allow myself to feel sad. Change is hard. And thinking about change is even harder. Like Jack leading his cow to an unknown future, I feel uneasy not knowing what is in store for the future of our little house. And while it seems likely we will be happy in our new home, there's a level of uncertainty that is unsettling.

But I know all the things that are truly important—my husband, my daughter, and my pets—are moving with me. Our new house, that will be empty when we move, will quickly be filled with our things. And the memories of our old house that are haunting me right now will become less painful as we make new memories in our new house.

However, I will always think of our little house as an old friend—an old friend that I was sad to part with.

My parents are in a similar situation, planning in the near future to move out of their house of over thirty-five years. So I asked my mom about how she's feeling about moving:

How have you handled the inevitable sadness of leaving a place you've lived in for so many years?

It's very strange, Mara, because reading about your sadness and about the memories you'll have of the house where you raised Malia brought tears to my eyes. I feel as if I understand how you feel. And yet, I don't feel the same sadness about moving from this house.

It's particularly odd that I feel this way since we've lived here more than twice as long as you've lived in your house.

Perhaps it's because your special memories are still so fresh. After all, Malia is still living with you and will be until the end of the summer. By contrast, you and your brother haven't lived here for a very long time! And so, many of the memories I have of all of us living here have faded. Not the special moments of course. And not the memory of you and your brother arguing over how long the other one was monopolizing the bathroom you had to share!

When I think of this house, the freshest memory for me is that this is where I was living when I got sick...and have stayed sick for the past 17 1/2 years. I love the way this house has "cared" for me during this time. I truly do. But it hasn't resulted in sadness over the thought of leaving it. 

The things I loved to do before I got sick, such as gardening and little maintenance stuff have become a burden now. I'm looking forward to living in a place where your Dad and I won't have the responsibility for upkeep, inside or out. Your Dad is already too busy taking care of me and he has an active life outside the house, which is what I want for him if he wants it. It's as simple as that.

My guess is that when the actual move date approaches (we are aiming for some time in the next year if possible), I will start to feel sad since I love this house. But right now, I'm looking forward to being relieved of the burdens that come with it.

The only thing I already feel sad about is losing my bedroom. It's very small, as you know, but has so many windows in it that it often feels like a greenroom, especially in fall, winter, and spring when the sun comes in the south and east windows. And three of the windows are floor to ceiling so I can watch birds and squirrels on the ground outside. Yes, I'll miss this incredible bedroom—my favorite ever—the bedroom from which I'm typing this right now as the sun falls on my me and my doggie.

It's amazing that we might both be moving so close in time to each other, isn't it? I'm excited for you, even if that sadness lingers for a bit, which it might.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

One For My Baby and One More for the Road

Mara here:

I think "One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)" was originally a Frank Sinatra song. But what I remember is a cover Bette Midler did many years ago. The song always stuck with me for its soothing but melancholy sound. 

I've written previously about all the "lasts" that are happening this year with Malia. She's a senior in high school and turning 18. There was the last first day of high school. There was the last school shopping outing. There have been a lot of lasts that have passed by.

And there was one that I thought wasn't going to happen.

Malia spent several years acting when she was younger. However, in the past three years, she hasn't booked any jobs. I assumed that my job being her legal guardian on set (we call it "on set" not "on the set") had passed by. Similar to what people say about last kisses with a romantic partner. You don't usually realize it's going to be the last.

With Malia's 18th birthday only a couple months away, and at that point, she doesn't need a parent or guardian to go with her to a shoot. And I assumed that she would probably not act again before she left for college. She may or may not decide to return to acting when she gets older, but for the time being, I assumed that her acting days were over.

Then out of the blue she direct-booked an acting job.

Direct book means a production books an actor for a job the actor hasn't auditioned for. It's not uncommon, especially for smaller roles or for actors who casting directors know well. 

But Malia is relatively unknown in the acting world. So it's not something we ever expected.

Lo and behold, the night before Thanksgiving, at around 11pm, her manager emailed and said that Malia had been booked for a small acting role and that the work was the following week.


It's odd when you don't do something for a while and then you're suddenly thrust back into the motions of doing it again. 

For Malia and me, we unknowingly reverted back into roles that we hadn't played for three years. She was the young teen needing everything to be done for her. And I was the stage mom, handling her and networking with the production people.

And after the first day, when I realized what was happening, I felt a little ridiculous. I was behaving like a controlling mother and Malia was behaving like someone who needed help doing things she has been doing on her own for years.

There's a big difference between a 15 year old, and an almost 18 year old. And a parent needs to play a very different role for a child who is a young actor, striving to move up the Hollywood ladder, as opposed to someone who is simply acting because she's been asked to.

Malia doesn't have crazy ambition for acting anymore. She's happy to do it, but she's really looking forward to going to college. And she would be happy to act in things if they're offered, but she doesn't want to sacrifice pursing things she wants in her life to dedicate her time to acting.

By the second day she needed to be on set, I'd changed my role. I spent more time observing. I didn't feel the need to insert myself into the scene. I wasn't worried about whether or not people were "happy" with her. I just let her do her thing. She can take care of herself. 

I think Malia enjoyed having a little break from all the stress of school and applying for colleges. After all, who doesn't like being waited on and pampered. But even she recognized that she had grown up a lot since the last time she'd been on set. 

Most noticeably, she has passed her CHSPE, the high school equivalency test in California that allows her to be excused from having to do school on set. For some young actors, it means they can drop out of high school to focus on acting full time. Malia didn't want to do that. But not having to try and squeeze in three hours of school on set was freeing for her. 

While the whole experience was amazing, it came at a very crazy time. It's the holidays. And we're moving. The house is half-packed in boxes, and every day is filled with some new stress of trying to close escrow for the house we're selling and the house we're buying.

So, when the news came about her acting job, we were excited, but it meant shifting everything around. 

As most of our readers know, I'm not great with sudden change. I'm not great with changing plans at the last minute.

Going into the first day of production, I felt hassled and stressed.

But as we drove home from her second and final day on set, I was able to take a minute and feel grateful to have had one more chance to experience being on set with her. For one last time, Malia was on set as a minor, with little responsibility. And one last time, I was able to be on set, ready to take care of her if she needed me.

And making the familiar drive home out of Hollywood that night, a drive Malia and I have traveled hundreds of times over the years, the lyrics to that song that had stuck with me all these years floated through my head: "Give me one for my baby, and one more for the road." 

I glanced over at Malia, sitting next to me, and felt privileged to realize at that moment how lucky I was to have been able to experience something special with my girl for one last time. 

Toni here.

Reading through what Mara wrote, knowing that our blog together will shortly coming to an end, it was great to read one more of my girl's insightful and poignant pieces. All I could think about Mara and me was "One for my baby and one more for the road."

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Are You Bah Humbug about the Holidays?

Mara here:

I want to start by thanking all of our readers for being a part of our little journey for the last two years. It's been amazing to interact with everyone and share pieces of our lives with you.

However, we have decided that this will be our last month of blogs. Our final post will be Sunday, December 30th.

My mother will continue to write articles for Psychology Today and other online sites. And she'll continue to post on her social media pages, such a Facebook and Twitter. But the blog itself will not continue. 

That said, we hope you enjoy the final few blogs as we wrap up the end of the year.

This week I thought I'd write about the holidays. 

For many people the holidays are a really tough time. I have a friend who struggles with it every year.

When I talk to her, I can tell she struggles with her feelings about Christmas. There's so much pressure to "be happy" and "love" the holidays. But for her, December is filled with dread. She doesn't want to celebrate the holidays and knows people don't understand why she is such a "grinch."

But the reality is that the holidays are hard for almost everyone. Even for people who enjoy celebrating, it's impossible not feel the stress of busy schedules and trying to fit in additional activities into what are already hectic days.

And if you are someone who doesn't do a lot of celebrating this time of year or have close friends and family to share the days with, there's stress involved with not having enough to do. 

I have found that regardless of what the reality is for people, everyone ends up feeling a little frazzled. There's never enough time, and there's always more that could be done.

And of course there's the money.

Not included in most of the advertisements and stories about the holidays is the stress that comes from needing to pay for all the merriment. Parties and gifts and decorations all come at a cost. Trying to budget and manage expectations feels overwhelming.

And the social pressure to do things like everyone else does them is strong. It's hard to feel like you're not doing what other people are doing. I remember as a child wanting to do all the same things as my friends did. For me as a kid that meant making Christmas lists and looking through catalogs to circle coveted items.

However, my parents didn't like the emphasis on asking and receiving. They really wanted Christmas to be about giving us things as surprises. And they really tried to get me to just appreciate the holiday for what it was—which was time to spend with my family and get some special gifts.

But for most of my childhood, I spent Christmas just being upset that it wasn't what I expected. Or I would get upset that I didn't do things the way everyone else did them.

Fortunately for me my parents were very understanding. They put up with me and my constant pushing to do things differently. They were understanding of my feelings, even though I was unable to see things from their perspective.

Now, as an adult and a parent, the pressure to make Christmas feel special can feel very burdensome. It seems as if there's a never-ending pressure to try and make things better than before. And when our daughter was young, it was a lot of work to try and make Christmas feel special. For the first few years of her life, I was really trying to give her an experience that I felt I'd missed out on.

But the lesson I learned pretty quickly was that you can't force something to be special. The first few Christmases, I felt drained and stressed. I wasn't able to enjoy the day. I was anxious if it had gone the way it was "supposed" to go. I was focused on making sure I checked certain boxes off my mental list of how things "should" go.

I would run myself ragged baking cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, and going to light displays, etc. And by the time Christmas rolled around I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was lay in bed for a week.

What I didn't have the foresight to realize was that having set up the holidays in a way that I felt was "special," it was not "special" for my daughter. For my daughter, doing all these "special" things were just doing the regular holidays things. 

And I found I was unable to escape the familiar feeling of disappointment. Because it's impossible for reality to match a fantasy. And when we mentally try to pre-plan how we want things to happen and how we want people to react, we are usually setting ourselves up for failure.

Unlike my parents, I was less understanding of my daughter's youthful holiday demands. I was quickly resentful and unhappy because it felt like I was giving her a great Christmas.

What I failed to understand was that I was giving myself a great Christmas. I was doing what I thought would have made me happy at her age. And I can't expect my daughter to feel the same way.

This is why my friend immediately gets a scowl on her face when she thinks about Christmas. She has spent most of her adult life trying to shed the burden of expectation that her mother had about the holiday. And as soon as Thanksgiving ends, she immediately starts dreading the feelings of frustration. that she associates with Christmas. Those feelings of frustration then are quickly accompanied by a lot of guilt she feels about those feelings. She beats herself up in a cycle of resentment, guilt about the resentment, and then anger about the guilt, until she's numb. Her reaction is now to just want to say "Bah Humbug" and slam the door on all festivities.

So I guess I just wanted to say that to all those people who don't feel giddy about the prospect of the upcoming holidays—it's okay!  It's okay to not feel festive. And it's okay if other people don't understand how you feel. 

And remember, you don't need explain your feelings. You get to feel how you want to feel. And just like other people shouldn't expect you to feel a certain way, you don't get to bah humbug all over other people.

Hopefully, you can celebrate the holidays however you choose to celebrate, whether that means doing nothing—or it means going all out.

The most important thing is to try to do what makes you happy. Or at least aim for making yourself the least unhappy.

We sincerely hope that everyone is able to find some joy during the holidays.

I asked my mom a few questions about the holidays

Do you find it difficult to face the holidays, knowing that you aren't able to celebrate the way you wish you could?

Yes, it is difficult...but it's gotten better. I've written quite a few Psychology Today articles about coping with the holidays when you suffer from chronic pain and illness. As you said, it's a stressful time for everyone, so it's not surprising that it can be extra hard on those who are severely limited in what they can do.

When I first got sick, I became depressed during the holidays, but I finally realized that it was making things worse for me and those around me. So now I just do the best I can and try to enjoy myself...and it works out fine.

Oh, and writing about it for others has helped me. Writing about practical ways to survive the holidays when you're chronically ill has given me tools to use. This year I'm going to post a "holiday letter" (the what-we-did-this-year letter) that the chronically ill would write. Once again, it's helping me out just to write it.

For parents, healthy or sick, what's your best advice for managing family expectations so that parents and kids can enjoy Christmas or Hanukkah? (Or whatever holiday people celebrate!)

I would try to lower your expectations and to try and immunize yourself from all those ads that keep telling you that you should always be happy during the holidays. Most people feel a mixture of happiness and sadness this time of year.

Lower your expectations by recognizing that the holidays will be a mixture of fun and stress, joy and disappointment. I see this as an equanimity practice—working on keeping an even, balanced state of mind that isn't carried away by either joys or sorrows. When we get so joyful that we cling to the feeling (meaning we push ourselves to feel joyful throughout the holidays), we're setting ourselves up for always feeling that the holidays fell short.

I hope everyone is able to enjoy themselves and also recognize that the "perfect" holiday is something we've mocked up in our minds and that it doesn't exist in real life. Taking a more measured approach like this makes the holidays so much more pleasant.

And I wish the best to your friend, Mara. She's not alone in struggling during this time of the year. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

When You're Thankful for Thanksgiving

Mara here:

It's been a while since we did a post about things we're grateful for. Thanksgiving weekend seemed like the perfect time to reflect on this.

For me, one of the things I've been happy about recently is that things that I've always said wouldn't bother me—have actually not bothered me. My family was always pretty lenient about holidays and didn't make big demands on us about how we celebrated days like Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I always said I felt the same way. I always said, I wouldn't mind if Malia wanted to spend holidays apart from us.

But up to now, I had never had to walk my talk. She was young and spent all her holidays with us. But this year she has a boyfriend. And her boyfriend has invited her to Thanksgiving dinner with his family. And when she asked if she could spend the evening away from us, we didn't hestitate to tell her she was free to do what she wanted.

And I'm even able to be happy for her. I am not upset that she wants to be with him. And I'm happy for Brad and me because we truly don't mind if she goes. We are still going to make a turkey dinner and celebrate the day. And the fact that it's just going to be Brad and me doesn't make the day seem less enjoyable. We would love for her to be with us, but we're happy she's going to be happy.

We don't need her to be with us on Thanksgiving to know she loves us.

I'm thankful that it's a day we're all looking forward to, that nobody feels conflicted about.

Another thing I'm thankful for right now is that there are people who have more courage than I have. The fires that have devastated both Northern and Southern California have been so scary. When we first moved to Southern California, it seemed like every three or four years there'd be a bad fire. But more recently, it feels as if it's been every year. This year has been the worst.

We live by one of the major freeways in the San Fernando Valley. The Woolsey Fire was about 15 miles west from us on the 101. And for two weeks, every day, almost every hour, we heard the sirens of police caravans and fire trucks speeding down the freeway.

They were heading toward the fire.

In this time right now, when there seem to be crazy things happening almost every week—mass shootings, fires, violent protests—the people who keep us safe have been truly heroic. I witness most of the shocking events in my home through my television. It's easy to forget that the people we are watching on the screens are real people. It easy to forget the familiar flashing lights of the sirens are accompanied by people who are choosing to risk their lives every day.

I am so thankful for them.

Lastly, in my own little universe, in the midst of all the craziness happening for us right now, I also feel thankful for Thanksgiving. Even though we don't have a lot of family traditions, I'm happy there's a day where we focus on being thankful. Yes, we focus on eating as well. But unlike many other holidays we celebrate in the U.S., it's not a day that involves giving or getting things. It's just a day for people to spend together. And for my daughter and my husband, it's a week they don't have school or work, so they just get to recharge their batteries.

I'm thankful for my family. I'm thankful for the people who keep us safe. And I am thankful for Thanksgiving because it reminds me to take some time to give thanks.

And we are always very thankful for our readers. We hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

When Being Far Apart Brings You Closer Together

Mara here:

"Distance makes the heart grow fonder."

Long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. From what I've experienced, they either tear couples apart or they bring them together. And I don't think there's any way to know how you'll react until you're confronted with it.

My daughter has found herself in her first serious relationship as a young adult, and she's across the country from her boyfriend. They hadn't planned to continue on as a couple once he left for college. They were both convinced it could never last once they had a few thousand miles between them.

But when the day came, they simply didn't want to end the relationship. They spent hours on the phone, texting constantly and using all the powers modern technology has to offer to stay in contact.

And about three weeks into the separation, they decided to remain a couple. They decided to dive into the scary world of long distance relationship.

The thing is, it's really not that scary if you are in the right relationship. 

I suppose there are some people who just aren't suited to being physically separated from their partner. I do know people who simply engage with whomever is in front of them and the rest of the world drops from their radar.

However, I think most people, if they are willing to be active participants in a relationship, can keep the connection—even when they aren't physically together.

But it does take work. You really have to put effort into making sure you stay involved in the other person's life. 

Brad and I started as a couple living about a hundred miles apart. He had graduated from college and moved back to his home town in the eastern edge of the bay area of California. I was living and going to school in Davis. And, unlike Malia and her boyfriend, we did not have cell phones. We did have email, but it was clunky and not easy to access.

So we spoke some on the phone. And we wrote letters.

But the connection was something that had to be actively nurtured. It would have been easy to push the relationship to the side. But it was something we both decided was the priority, so we made sure to put the time and effort into making it work. And because of that, it wasn't something we ever took for granted. The time we got to spend together was cherished and appreciated. And it taught us that being a couple didn't mean you couldn't also be independent.

I spent my week on my own, going to classes and doing my activities. The weekends were time I could spend with Brad.

A year later, when we were finally able to live together, the bond between us was strong. We were used to putting time into making sure we communicated. And I think it's one of the reasons our relationship has been so strong all these years. 

Twenty years later, when we had to be apart for the majority of three years while I traveled with Malia for her acting career, the relationship between Brad and me never wavered. I never even questioned whether or not it would be an issue. 

So even though it is a cliché, I think there is truth to the idea that distance can make the heart grow fonder. It doesn't actually make you more fond of the person, but it structures the relationship in a way that you actively engage in the connection and appreciate the person more when you are able to be together. My experience from the long distant part of our relationship made communicating with Brad something I do proactively, not something I just assume will happen.

As for Malia and her boyfriend, they're young and the relationship is very new. But I can already see that they have put a lot of effort into making the relationship move forward. They have learned how to communicate and express themselves despite the time difference and distance.

So even though it's likely she won't end up long term with her current boyfriend, hopefully the experience has taught her some important lessons in maintaining a relationship. Distance isn't a barrier, it just makes it a little harder. It takes more effort. But in the end, being apart can bring you closer together.

Here are a few questions I asked my mom on this subject:

I don't think you and dad have ever been separated for long periods of time. Do you think your relationship would suffer from an extended physical separation?

We've been separated for a month here and there during our time together. One year, Dad was teaching in the University of Wisconsin in Madison during the summer. And then for several years, he went on a month-long retreat every February. Our relationship was already so strong that the concern that it would suffer was never a consideration in deciding whether he should go or not. I guess it's the same as you said about you and Brad when you were separated due to your traveling with Malia for her acting.

Yes, I think the distance has actually been good for our relationship. I'm not someone who is great at communicating in person, so having writing being our main form of communication is nice for me. What do you think?

I think this illustrates that everyone and every relationship is different. I realized as I read your piece how being apart from Brad strengthened your relationship because you communicate so well by writing. That was so fortunate for you! 

It's interesting to think about how different it would be if you'd met now. You'd probably FaceTime instead of writing. For you, writing might have been better. I'm not a great FaceTime person. It's harder for me than being with someone in person. With FaceTime, it feels as if someone always has to be talking, whereas, in person, pauses in conversation feel natural. 

But I know several long distant relationships that FaceTime has helped with. Our former housemate FaceTimed with her boyfriend in Sydney, Australia all the time, and it brought them closer. Sometimes she'd cook in the kitchen as they'd FaceTime and they'd chat as she cooked. In fact, she now lives in Sydney with him and now they FaceTime with your Dad and me once a month! 

Technology has made distance much less significant when it comes to relationships and friendships. Because your illness has made physical contact difficult, can you imagine trying to maintain friendships the same way 30 years ago?

I can't imagine it. In fact, the new technology is so important to housebound people that I write about it in my books, especially the new edition of How to Be Sick. When I think of people who were housebound not that many decades ago, my heart goes out to them because they were so isolated from others. It's still hard for me to be stuck with a computer for communication but, without it allowing me to email and text, I wouldn't be as close to you or as close to several friends, so I'm grateful for it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stranger Danger

Mara here:

Our daughter Malia has always been a cautious person.  She was never a kid who would wander off in a store. When we'd go out, I could watch her and see that she was always keeping tabs on us. She liked to know where we were and she'd always be within a certain distance of us. 

This was nice because we didn't actively have to worry about her getting kidnapped. She wasn't just going to walk off with a stranger. So when she came home from her first day of preschool, it's not a surprise that the first lesson she latched onto was "stranger danger." In fact, she came home from that first week with two phrases that have been repeated often and with zeal: "stranger danger" and "you're not allowed to touch my body." 

The second one was a fun one to deal with at the doctor's office.  

The first one was helpful. It's good for kids to understand that there are adults in the world who won't be nice to them. And Malia was ready and eager to believe that she was in danger.

One time when she was around 2 or 3, I took her shopping at Home Depot. I put her in the big cart and wheeled her around. If you've ever been in Home Depot, you know the carts are a little unwieldy and sometimes you can't get them down the aisles. So I parked her at the end of the aisle and walked about 5 feet away to look at something.

As soon as I glanced away from her (she was in my eyeline the whole time) she started screaming "I'm not safe! I'm not safe!" Apparently this was another helpful thing they taught her at preschool. 

Needless to say, people from all over the store started rushing toward us.

Not to spoil the end of the story, but she was fine. She was perfectly safe.

As she grew up, her wariness about the world didn't abate. She's regularly worried people might snatch her off the street. She would still run into the house if she was in the front yard and people drove by in their cars. It fortunately hasn't kept her from doing everyday things. But when she's somewhere by herself, she often calls me to tell me she's uncomfortable and nervous.

And while I have never really felt like she wasn't safe (she's usually places I'm familiar with), I have never told her she shouldn't call. I, of course, would rather she err on the side of caution.  

When she's upset because she feels like she's unsafe, I try to be a calming influence. When Malia was a toddler, and she was learning how to walk, I remember reading that when kids fall, they will look to you to see if you're worried about them. If you react in a way that scares them, they will immediately assume there's something wrong. 

However, if you act like it's normal, then they assume that they're ok, and if they're not injured they will pick themselves up and move on.

So stranger danger has always been a bit of tricky balance. I don't want Malia to walk around afraid of other people. But it is important to be cautious, especially as a young woman in a big city. So I always tell her it's important to be careful, but that even with all the scary stuff that happens, generally people are not bad.  

So. Now, here we are; she's 17 years old. She's still a nervous person. She still calls me to tell me there are weird people on the street she's walking down. Or she'll call and ask me when we'll be home because she can hear people on the street outside our house.  One recent evening, we were sitting at dinner talking about the open house that had taken place that day because we are selling our house. 

And Malia said, "Oh, some guy came in after the realtors left. So I showed him around. I even gave him one of the papers."

My heart skipped a beat.

The feeling that I'd had from 16 years ago, when I watched her splat on the cement as she tried to walk on her chubby baby feet, rushed back to me.

I was hit with a wave of fear. I felt like we had a near miss with disaster.

Should I get upset because she let this stranger in the house? Or should I act like it was fine and she handled it in the adult manner that she felt she had.

I will admit what I wanted to do was get upset and tell her she should never let someone she doesn't know into the house. And of all the completely irrational times she has asked me to call 911, perhaps this was the time to have that desire.

But I didn't. I took a breath and said, "Oh thanks."

We talked a little more and I said hesitantly, "You know in the future you really shouldn't just let people into the house you don't know."

And she said, "It wasn't a big deal mom. It was fine."

And it was fine.

It wasn't as if someone had just knocked randomly. The open house was technically supposed to still be happening, but we had to end it early. And again, I reminded myself that it's very unusual for people to be malicious. Most people are good people. Most strangers have no danger.

And she's not a little kid anymore. Stranger danger is one of those things that's good to be aware of. But it's not a way to live. And I'm glad that she has managed to figure that out.

I asked my mom a couple of questions about this topic:

Growing up in a small town, I don't remember "stranger danger" being a big thing. Do you remember trying to explain to us about being cautious with strangers?

No, I don't think we talked to you about it, but I could be wrong.
But now, even though Davis is still a relatively small town, were you growing up here today, I'd definitely talk to you about it. I've been thinking about why that's the case and, to be honest, I think it's mostly because of fear spread by the media. It may also be true that Davis is less safe today, but I don't see evidence of it on our local paper.

I personally am not particularly wary of strangers. Are you naturally nervous around people you're not familiar with? Are there any Buddhist teachings that might help relieve people of the anxiety of being nervous around strangers?

No, I'm not naturally nervous around strangers. Perhaps it's because I was never taught to be by my parents. As for Buddhist teachings, it helps to practice equanimity, which is defined as a mind that is balanced and at ease no matter what the circumstances. The reason this helps is that it helps stop us from being irrational. We can stop and look at how our mind is reacting and ask if it's reasonable to be afraid in this situation.

I think that you reached that "balance" of equanimity in your response to what Malia did. On the one hand, your general rule is "don't let strangers in the house" (a good rule that I follow in my own house). On the other hand, the open house was originally scheduled to go later and so the likelihood was extremely high that that's why he came to the door. Malia no doubt took a "read" off his face and demeanor and decided, given the circumstances with the open house, it was fine to show him around. 

And then later, by not objecting to what Malia did, you didn't feed a fear that she already harbors strongly.

Well done, Mara!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reflecting on the Updated and Revised Edition of "How to be Sick"

Mara here:

So my mom's book has been out for a few weeks now. After almost a year of witnessing her work on the new edition of her first book, How to Be Sick, I thought it would be interesting to hear how she's feeling now that it's been released.

From the feedback you've received, how are people liking the new version of How to Be Sick?

I've been so happy with the feedback I've had so far! One thing I particularly love is that a lot of people are getting the audiobook. That makes me happy because I love how Deon Vozov reads it. She reads it the way I would if I had the skill. I've never met Deon, but your Dad and she had dinner together the last time he was in L.A. She's now read my books four times ("How to Be Sick" twice!), and I feel close to her even though we've never met.

I know the book was a lot of work for you. Are you relieved that it's done?

Definitely. I'm always relieved when a book is done and this second edition really feels like a new book to me even though I didn't change everything in it. I still had to go through the process of back-and-forth editing with my editor at Wisdom, and then I did a final proofing (including "proof listening" to the audiobook), and also I also checked that the index was okay and asked for some changes to it. I realize that a lot of authors leave this proofing to their publishers, but you know me. I'm hands on. And a lot of authors never even look at the index, but I always find errors or a few entries that I'd like to change.

So I'm glad I did this second edition...but I'm also glad it's finished.

Are you surprised by people's reactions?

There's one thing in particular that's surprised me. Five people have written to me saying that they've been telling themselves for years that they need to re-read the original version of the book, but never got to it. Now, they tell me, they'll buy the new edition and finally read the book again. I love that! (And I know too well that feeling of wanting to re-read a favorite book but just not doing it.)

This had never occurred to me as a reason that people might get the new edition. 

Is there anything with hindsight that you wish you'd added to the revised version that you didn't add?

Not surprisingly, the way my mind works, the answer is "yes." I already I have several ideas. Thankfully, nothing major, but just a phrase here and there or an example I might have included as a way to use a new practice. My guess is that all authors feel that way as soon as their books are published!

Thanks for asking me these question, Mara.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

What a New Job Has Taught Me About Myself

Mara here. 

I recently started a new job. It’s a part-time job with flexible hours, which means I work with a lot of younger people—many of them students.

It’s been interesting to suddenly be around people in their twenties, who are at the beginning of their adult journey. I’ve been around lots of younger people in recent years. The dance industry is filled with people in their teens and twenties. But they’re a different kind of young adult.

Dancers have usually moved to Los Angeles on their own, ready to struggle in order to live out their dreams. They juggle jobs and are ready to face the unknown. Artists who leave their homes behind to come to L.A. to pursue their passions grow up quickly.

The kids I’m working with now are here because they grew up here or because they’ve come to the L.A. area to attend college. Their lives are still structured with class schedules and homework. They still have “next steps” to look forward to. They see where they’re at now as a starting point. They’re on the cusp of facing their “real” lives.

And it has made me realize how much I've changed in the last couple of decades. Because, unlike is the case with many of the young people in the entertainment industry, I can see my younger self in these kids. I can see the ambition that feels as if you want to be recognized and promoted. I can see them calculating how their current job is a stepping stone to bigger and grander things.

They’re young. They are all focused on growing up.

And then there’s me. 

I’m a bit of an enigma at the office. 

In fact, when I was interviewed for the job, they asked me why I wanted the job. I am overqualified. 

The simple answer is that I wanted a job that wasn’t going to be too stressful and had flexible hours.

The more complicated answer is that I no longer have the drive to prove myself in the world. And I am not looking to add more responsibility and stress to my life. I don’t want a high profile job where, although I'd make more money, the job would come with a lot of expectations and responsibilities that I wouldn’t be able to leave at the office at the end of the day.

I guess the answer to why I wanted the job (an answer that would be impossible for the two young women who were interviewing me to understand), is that I am grown up. I feel secure in the things I’ve accomplished. I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve had the status and recognition that comes with success. I don’t need to spend more time trying to convince people of my value.

So, I go to work. I sit at a computer and listen to music while I do my job. And I have a woman who is twenty years my junior sign my timesheet at the end of the day. And twice a month a meager amount of money gets deposited into my bank account. And when I walk out of the door of my office, I don’t think about work again until I arrive the next day. 

I’m perfectly content.

Yes, I have the luxury of not having to worry about trying to survive on my small salary. For our family, my working is a bonus although, next year, when Malia goes to college, the added income will be extremely helpful. And certainly, if I needed to earn more money to support our family, I would absolutely do it.

But I would do it because I needed to do it financially. It wouldn’t be because I wanted to be higher up on the corporate food chain. It wouldn’t be because of ambition. It wouldn’t be because of a need for more prestige. 

There’s something so nice about the fact I have been able to let that go. 

Seeing my young co-workers fueled by that youthful constant worry of wondering what comes next has made me realize that I am no longer driven by that. I am able to do things without wondering if it’s building towards something better. I can do things without worrying if it’s going to get me the next step.

And I’m so grateful to feel fulfilled with the life I have already had. 

It’s not that there aren’t things I still want to do and accomplish. And I always strive to do things well and have people think the work I do is good.

But I no longer define my value by it. I no longer need validation of my place in the world based on how other people think of me or what job title I hold.

People often comment about wishing they were young again. But I am happy to be older. I am happy to know that my life story is where it is. And everything else that happens in my life is a bonus. 

Here's what I asked my mom about this:

Did your relationship to work change as you got older?

First I want to say that I loved your piece. You have this special ability to gain insight into yourself by reflecting on each new life experience. You've always been wise in that way, Mara.

My work history was kind of wacky because I didn't go to law school until I was in my 30s. Before that, I worked as a clerk/cashier at various places, from gift shops to health food stores. Then suddenly, I found myself on the faculty of a terrific law school. I was so uncomfortable. I thought all of my new colleagues were brilliant and I was just passing for smart. It took me years to relax into teaching.

When I did, I accepted that it was enough for me to do my best as opposed to being the best. And that's how my relationship to work changed.

(If readers are interested, I wrote about this experience in my book How to Wake Up and also covered it in a recent piece for Psychology Today titled "How to Overcome Your Perfectionist Tendencies.")

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sometimes the Obvious Answer is the Wrong Answer

Mara here:

First of all: an update from last week's blog—our WiFi is fixed and our cat's paw has healed. Hallelujah!! Small miracles.

What I didn't even bother to mention, which was happening simultaneously with all the other things last week, was that my daughter's tire pressure light came on. This is the second time this has happened in the last month.

My tire pressure light has also been regularly coming on. My daughter's car is new, so when her car's tires get low, it tells you exactly which tire and what the pressure level is. My car is not new, so all that happens is a red exclamation point lights up on the dashboard.

The first time it happened it scared me because being an older type person, the obvious reason that a red light comes on in the car is that something very bad is happening. And surely an exclamation point is important, right?


After a quick Google search, I learned that the light in my make of car can indicate a number of things, but it said that the most common is low tire pressure. Okay, I can handle that.

Kind of.

Putting air in car tires is one of the mundane things that is in theory easy to do, but is not as simple as it seems. It means wrangling an industrial air pressure hose from a self-retracting reel. And then you pay $1.50 in quarters for a short amount of time in which you are supposed to be able to squirt air into all the tires.

So, if you're not experienced at doing this, you don't realize that you need to unscrew all the caps off the tires and measure the tire pressure BEFORE you put the quarters in because otherwise you waste all the valuable time you could be using to put air into the tires and then your time is up and you have to scour your car for another six quarters.

You also have to be able to accurately measure the tire pressure. I'm sure for some people this isn't hard, but I generally get a different reading every time I do it. So it's not an exact science.

But it's fine. I figure putting some air into the tires is better than nothing. Again, it's the obvious thing to do. Right?

But when it happened twice in a month, I realized that both times the tire pressure light came on was when I drove to the airport. And not just any airport—only LAX (Los Angeles' major airport).


Surely my car doesn't know it's at LAX, right? Maybe it's that LAX is further from where I go on my normal driving routines? Or maybe it's because the weight of luggage and passengers suddenly departing from the car causes the air pressure trigger to go off?

I decided to see if the light would come on when we recently made a trip to San Diego. That's a long drive. We would have extra passengers and luggage in the car. I felt pretty sure I had solved the mystery.


The whole trip I waited for the tire pressure light to go on—but it never did.


Okay, maybe it was just a coincidence. This year, my daughter has been doing a lot of travelling. I went years without going to LAX, but this year I've had to go multiple times. So about a couple of weeks after the San Diego trip, I once again had to drop my daughter off at the airport.

Sure enough, as I was leaving the airport, the tire pressure light came on. Whaaaaaat?

I drove home, and the next time I got in my car the light had gone off.

When it came time to go and pick her up from the airport again, I put air in my tires before I went, thinking I would head off the problem ahead of time.

I pulled into LAX and the light popped on.

What is going on? I drive all over the city every week. How is it possible my car knows it's going to LAX. That can't be right, right?

This happens another three times.

Last weekend my husband and my daughter were both out of town, so I had extra cars available to drive. I took the opportunity to take my daughter's car into the repair shop to have her tires checked. They were fine. As I picked up her car, I thought, should I ask about my car? How do I explain that the problem is my car doesn't like LAX?

I decided I didn't care if I sounded crazy. I told the man who was printing out the paperwork to release my daughter's car that I wanted to have my tires checked as well. And I sheepishly said, "So, my tire pressure light comes on, but only when I go to LAX." Then I waited.

"Just the airport?" the repair man asked.

"Yes," I answer, waiting for him to start laughing.

"Do you have a Nissan?" he asked.

"Yes," I reply.

"Well, Nissans are known to have sensitive radio transmission sensors. When you get around a lot of other cars, it will pick up their signals and cause your sensors to go off."

Ohhhhhhhhhh. Relief.

Okay, so I wasn't totally crazy. It was related to going to the airport. It was not my car having an emotional reaction to the airport, which, of course, as a human with no mechanical knowledge is the only thing I could conceive of.

Problem solved.

And while having a car with an aversion to going to LAX would have been a fun anecdote to talk about at parties, it was a relief to know that my car wasn't having mechanical problems. And it was a good reminder that there are often logical explanations for things—even when we can't understand them.

Here's what I asked my mom about this:

Have you ever struggled to solve a problem because you couldn't get past the seemingly obvious answer?

So many times! Here's the latest one I can remember. A few years ago, your Dad came home and told me that seven (yes, seven) warning lights had lit up on the dashboard of our Honda van. I couldn't believe that he'd continued to drive the car. I would have pulled over immediately, afraid the thing would explode if I didn't turn the engine off immediately!

He did take it to our Honda mechanic. As he drove off, I thought, "This is going to be thousands of dollars worth of work." But when he came home, he said the guy told him that it was just a glitch on the computer board. They could fix it for a few thousand dollars, but he said there was no reason to spend the money. We could just live with the irritation.

So my obvious answer to what to do when all those lights came on ("Stop the car and exit it immediately!") was the wrong one. We don't have that car anymore but I always wondered whenever I drove it, "What if one of the things that the glowing warning light refers to is actually malfunctioning? How would I know?" The answer was (I guess) that I wouldn't know, but nobody—neither your Dad nor the mechanic—were concerned about it. We both drove that car for years with the dashboard lights "screaming" at us that everything appeared to be wrong with the car!