Tuesday, March 26, 2013


When was the last time you declared to anyone who would listen, “I’M STRESSED OUT!!!” If you are anything like me, it was probably sometime in the last half hour. “Stress” is my middle name.  O.K., my middle name is Margaret, but you know what I mean.

Stress, as we all know, is a pretty common complaint. But it might surprise you to know that, technically speaking, “stress” is not an illness or a diagnosis in itself. That’s according to Dana Becker, author of “One Nation under Stress” whom I heard being interviewed on NPR recently (see below.) Becker says we should be concerned about the external stressors that are causing us….well, I was about to say, “stress,” but if I understand her theory correctly, “being stressed” is merely an idea that popular culture embraced along about 1976 or so. It has taken on a life of its own as a culturally-defined concept so that we now understand it as internal stress; as an experience or a condition. So we eat kale and take yoga classes to try to calm down. There’s nothing wrong with kale and yoga, and maybe they help, I wouldn’t know, I hate kale and the last time I did yoga I thought I had reached Nirvana but it was only a Neil Sedaka song that got stuck in my head. Blissful as that may be, it wasn’t Enlightenment and I was nervous to try yoga again for fear of hearing, “It was a time when strangers were welcome here…” over and over again on my mental iPod at three in the morning.

Instead,  I believe Becker is saying that we should think about how the pressures of everyday life affect us. This means we should change our language about stress to say something like, “Stressors are causing me nervousness or agitation or anxiety or worry or distress.” Becker went on to explain that we should find ways to dispel or manage these stressors in order to mitigate the stress they cause. And really the stresses of life can be so varied, can’t they? Everything from a hangnail to your grandmother going to prison for that bank heist she pulled last year. It all depends on how we deal with them.

Confused? I certainly was, but that’s what I got out of the seven minutes that I listened to this woman talking about her book. You can check it out on www.npr.org to get your own interpretation, or you can buy the book. I would have done that, but amazon.com was slow to load that day and I got stressed, or should I say “irritated?” Anyway, I was intrigued enough to try and think through some applications of her theory in my own life. For you, I offer myself as a test case.

Let’s take something like meditation. Everybody, including doctors, psychologists, magazine editors and gurus, to name a few, recommend meditation as a way to relieve stress. Right? For me, this works exactly the opposite. I find meditation extremely stressful. I cannot escape the certainty that I am not very good at it. As soon as I sit with my hands folded peacefully in my lap, I start to get sore all over. I fidget and pretty soon I'm ready to scream. As soon as a yoga instructor says, “Take a cleansing breath,” I think, “Cleansing. Cleaning. I should be cleaning the bathroom.” As soon as the soothing voice on the relaxation tape says, “Let your legs sink heavy into the chair,” I think, “Oh, yeah, heavy! I shouldn’t have eaten that last Brownie. Now look at those thighs!” As soon as a meditation leader says, “Just watch your thoughts as they come into your head and gently remind yourself to let them go,” I get more and more agitated about all the nonsense I can dream up to think about that pretty soon I’m yelling silently, “For the Love of Pete, will you STOP THINKING ALREADY!!!!” It’s really quite exhausting.

So, with this new theory in mind, it means that it would be in my best interest to remove the stressor, i.e., meditation, and, presumably it follows that the stress, or pardon me, the anxiety about the stress, will take care of itself. This means that I can quit meditating and never worry about meditating ever again! I can almost feel the stress melting away. My legs are feeling heavy in the chair. My mind is clearing.

Heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered” with Audie Cornish, on March 11, 2013: an interview with Dana Becker, author of “One Nation under Stress.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Socks on a Plane

She rose with quiet grace to join the queue when they called boarding for First Class passengers. She barely glanced up from the text she was writing. Her iPhone wore a Kate Spade cover. She adjusted her slouchy Stella McCartney carry-on bag over her shoulder and glided to the departure gate. She wore black, ankle-cropped, Donna Karan skinny-jeans with a light, natural linen jacket over a turquoise T-shirt and a long silk scarf that had large black polka dots on a white background. It was tied a few times around her neck with casual insouciance. Her feet were bare inside her black Prada ballet flats. She appeared relaxed, at ease in her own skin, as though flying to her was as ordinary as popping over to Whole Foods to pick up her kale, quinoa and soy milk. Just by looking at her you could tell that her magical tote bag carried everything she needed to mix and match for the weekend ahead: a simple, black sheath-dress, a pashmina wrap, one stunning piece of jewelry, a change of T-shirt and a bikini. Upon arrival at her destination, she could be ready at a moment's notice to dine in a candlelit bistro with a guy who drives a Porsche.

This is not a portrait of me.

Flying to me is a bit like hell on wings. I sleep restlessly the night before imagining all kinds of horrors, like will I forget to transfer my lipstick from my purse to my one quart zip-lok? I regard clearing security with the gravity befitting a border interrogation at Checkpoint Charlie. I sit in airport lounges nervously waiting for the arriving flight's passengers to disembark so I can time my last visit to the restroom before boarding. I check my purse a hundred times to locate my boarding pass. My carry-on is on wheels because it has to be big enough to hold the right amount of snacks if we are ever marooned on the tarmac for three days. Plus enough pharmaceuticals for any medical emergency barring a heart attack. Oh, no, wait, I have aspirin in there, so we have that one covered as well. I always get a seat on the aisle because I am so completely fidgety that I get up two or three times per hour. At the slightest bit of turbulence I race to the restroom for fear that the captain will put on the Fasten Seatbelts sign and I will be stuck in my seat wondering if the sign will ever go out again. When I get to my seat on the aircraft, I haul out all my diversionary activities and arrange them in the seat pocket in front of me so I am never without something to do instead of listening to the aircraft engines making unusual sounds: iPhone and earbuds, paperback, magazine, sandwich, a fistful of crosswords torn out of the newspaper. When we start our initial descent into the airport, I pack them all away again, even though everyone knows it takes a half hour to land. That's when I close my eyes and hope for the best.

As for packing the right clothes, it takes me weeks to decide on what to take and even with all that planning, I always take the wrong things. And too many of them. Although, I have to say that this last trip to Florida was one of my better efforts. I wore everything at least once and even mixed and matched a bit. I wore jeans on the plane. My jeans are from Chico's. In a sand-color. (Florida, right?) I topped them with a white shirt and an Eileen Fisher teal-colored cardigan sweater with floaty, swingy-out edges. I added a teal, cotton-knit infinity scarf from JJill, looped twice, and wore socks and my orhtotics with my new, bright turquoise Ecco sneakers. The girl at Starbucks said, "Don't you match really nice!" I said, "Thanks!" but I was thinking, "Great. I look like I bought an outfit to wear on the plane. How pathetic is that?"

I had bought an outfit for the plane, but had a crisis of indecision. It was a black knit cardigan with floaty, swingy-out edges (very flattering to us older gals these days) and matching pants. I held it up to show Ken.

"Do you think I should take this?" I asked.

"If you think you'll wear it, take it."

"It might be too warm."

"Well, it is going to be in the 80s."

"But I bought it especially for our trip."

"O.K. then, bring it."

"I don't know. It's a bit heavy."

"Then why did you buy it to wear to Florida?"

"I bought it in January when it was cold out."

As it turned out I could have used it. It was chilly in the evenings.

Anyway, this week I'm going to shop for a natural linen jacket and a turquoise T-shirt. Maybe some ballet flats. As for the woman in the Donna Karans, I hope her sockless ankles got cold on that drafty plane.

Ken and I in Florida last week where we stayed with some great friends and had a wonderful time. Note the teal sweater and infinity scarf looped only once.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

To Sleep, Perchance to ZZZZZZZZ!

I read a report on a medical study this week¹ that identifies lack of sleep as potentially hazardous to our genes. Our genes, for crying out loud! As in, destructive changes to our essential cells if we regularly get less than eight hours of shut-eye! Egad! I think I was 8 years old the last time I got eight hours! That’s a lot of years of genetic alteration! If this study is true, I figure I’m on target for serious mutation! What if I end up an alien life form… or a super model?!?

Honestly. Who actually gets eight hours of sleep every night? Hands up who among you is NOT a serial insomniac. If it’s not the first hour when you hit the sheets and flop around like a mackerel trying to turn off the playback of the day’s events or when you spend an hour endeavoring to flip your spouse over hoping for the finale to the musical score of “Whaddya Mean, I Snore?!?” then it’s the dreaded 4 am when your menopausal body reaches the temperature of a boiled lobster and you lie awake for the next two hours worrying about EVERYTHING! Now we can lose sleep worrying about our genes changing because we aren’t getting enough sleep. How ironic.

Although, it struck me this morning around 5:30 that the study didn’t say anything about the eight hours having to be all in a row. So, I got to wondering, since I was awake anyway, what if you take the hours spent in bed and add it to the time spent snoozing on the couch with the TV on? I bet your usual five to six hours would add up darn close to eight or even nine!

To be fair, I don’t think you can count the head-bobbing “SCHNUH” ² moments. The average SCHNUH really only lasts a few seconds.

(O.K., a SCHNUH is that sound you make when you drift off during Masterpiece Classic, your head does a whip snap and you make that snorting sound that startles you awake. You know, “SCHNUH!!!”)

But you should be able to count the accumulated time when your eyes clank shut involuntarily and you snooze away for an hour or so. You wake up half way through the next program having no idea what happened on the show you were watching before you lost consciousness. That’s some serious sleep.

On Saturdays, your afternoon nap could supplement your weekly total provided you don’t stay up half the night. Bonus points for your Sunday sleep-in. Extra bonus points for watching the Golf Channel. Before you know it, you could be up to 10 or 12 hours!

So, instead of resisting the urge to ZZZ out during House Hunters International, go ahead! Drop off for those extra forty winks. The next study to come out might just prove it’s good for you!
1. http://www.latimes.com/health/la-sci-sleep-genes-20130302,0,4264278.story

2. The SCHNUH, as told to our friend, Marty Bragg, was defined by Morris Panych and Ken MacDonald, well-known to the Vancouver and Toronto theatre community,