I am not my thoughts

If you want to read about the election that is less than two weeks away, close your browser right now. Indeed, I was asked this week why my blog matters right now (i.e. between now and November 3rd) unless I write about my political views, my feelings about the current pandemic, or the importance of wearing a facial covering (just do it). Indeed, my brain, like the news and my social media feed, is full of all of that. But I don’t want to write about that. Indeed, I would love a break from thinking about that. 

And on Monday, I was reminded of very good news: I am not my thoughts. (Despite René Descartes’ famous declaration cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am”…).

I listened to a webinar featuring Seth Mattison (whom I have had the privilege of hearing speak in person https://adamantaboutbeauty.com/2019/01/30/seasons-of-the-land-and-of-business/ ), who spoke to a group of Aveda salons about showing up whole during challenging times.  

“The battleground starts in our mind,” and “the path to peace starts with mindfulness,” he reminded his captivated audience.   

90% of our thoughts are habitual.  

80% of thoughts are negative.  

Yet I exist beyond those thoughts. I am the CEO of my own mind. I cannot control my thoughts, but I can control which thoughts I give energy to. 

I cannot control my thoughts, but I can decide what are I am going to focus on and what I am going to give energy to. And these two decisions should be based on the following simple yet not easy questions: 

  • Is this thought useful? 
  • Is this thought about something I can control? 

I was so intrigued by this idea that I fell in a black Google hole of “I am not my thoughts” and thus came upon the work of Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and best-selling author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (yes, I am adding them to my reading list)

Tolle believes that “rather than being our thoughts and emotions,” we are (or at least our best selves should be) “the awareness behind them.” He also believes that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” He continues: “Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”

And so, I say to myself as I wake up, “Thoughts, let’s behave today. Today we are going to think constructively, productively, positively, and with empathy.” Today is going to be a good day… Today is going to be a long day… 

Recommitting to Reading

This is week 42 of year 2020, yet I am only on my 23rd book… While I usually read an average of one book every week or ten days, I have had a harder time reading over the last couple of months. This may have to do with the fact that I fell into the black hole of Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series (the original version, in Swedish, based on the amazing crime novels by Henning Mankell). Or it may have to do with the fact that my brain is so tired from dealing with our current reality that it has no bandwidth for reading.  

Regardless of why, I am recommitting to reading. And I have lots of books I am really excited to get in to. 

This week, I am reading Bluff by Jane Stanton Hitchcock. I met Jane a few years ago, when she attended book club in Georgetown for her book Mortal Friends (still one of my favorites from book club), and she fascinates me – for many reasons including the fact that she is a professional poker player (and yes, Bluff features a female poker player…). 

Then, I will read the following (in which order I don’t yet know). 

Richard Branson: Losing my Virginity. This book has been traveling with me between DC, Hammond, Geneva, and Tinos for the last six months. It may be the best travelled book I own… 

Kelly DiNardo: Living the Sutras. Kelly gifted me this book over a year ago after she invited me to her studio Past Tense to attend a yoga class. And boy do I need more yoga and more calm in my life… 

Victoria Hislop: three more books because I love her writing that much and need to travel in my head… preferably back to Greece. The Last Dance (a collection of ten short stories set in Athens and various Greek villages), The Thread (set in Thessaloniki in northern Greece), and The Sunrise (set in Cyprus… I am really venturing out of my comfort zone with this one!).

Brenda Janowitz: The Grace Kelly Dress. Because I need a “summer read” even though we are technically in fall. (Note: this is not in the photo because it is on its way to me from Amazon even though I promised myself not to buy any new books until I had read all others…). 

Casper ter Kuile: The Power of Ritual. This was recommended by Seth Mattison on a webinar I listened to a few weeks ago, and is about crafting rituals that promote connection and wellbeing. 

Bill Murphy Jr.: The Intelligent Entrepreneur. This tells the stories of ten Harvard Business School grads who started their own businesses, and how they became super successful. One of them is Marla Malcolm Beck of Bluemercury

What are you reading right now?

Finding the small in the big…

This morning, I did something I have never done before. I got up at 4 am (that’s not it), and instead of immediately getting on email and checking my social media, I read. I read for almost three hours on a workday morning to finish Tiny Hot Dogs by Mary Giuliani in time for Book Club tonight. 

This morning was one of the most peaceful, positive, productive mornings I have had this year. And not because I worked, but because I spent quiet time with a wonderful memoir that made me think. 

I loved this memoir for many reasons, including the recipes mentioned, the story about Lady Lobsters and women’s friendships, and the author’s love of New Orleans. But the part I learned from, the idea that made me stop and think, is on page 72. Giuliani speaks of meeting Bob (aka Robert de Niro) a number of times, as she was dreaming of becoming an actress. Each time, he remembers her and greets her by name: “Mary, nice to see you!” And that’s it. That’s the story. 

This is the paragraph that I underlined and reread four times, the “lesson” she learned from that story (quoted from page 72): 

“We expect that all big stories have a big finale and that the result of meeting someone of this magnitude no doubt will be a life changer. … And this is the biggest lesson my career has taught me. Not everything has to be big. Not everything has to be skywriting. Finding the big in the small works for me and allows me to be happy with what I’ve got. If we all want more from something, aren’t we always going to be disappointed? ‘Making it,’ I’ve come to realize, is all relative.” 

As an ambitious, hardworking, entrepreneur, I always want more, I always want big, I always want bigger. More clients. Big results. Bigger growth. What a calming effect reading these words had on me, as I ponder the wisdom that indeed, not everything has to be big, and that one can find the big in the small if one looks for it. 

As we entered Q4 last week, my mind has of course started to look forward to 2021. What are my big goals for the New Year? What are the big milestones I want to achieve? Tomorrow morning, I will get up equally early, and I will ponder these questions with this newfound idea in mind. And I may just redefine what “making it” looks like to me.

New York, New York

I have always had a love/hate relationship with New York City. It is magical and mean. Exhilarating and exhausting. Gorgeous and gritty. 

Right now, however, after four days here, I have a love/love relationship with New York City. I expected a ghost town. I imagined a city as it would be after a hard-fought yet lost battle. I envisioned New York City as a shadow of its former self. I was wrong. 

What I have discovered is “New York 2.0.” It feels somewhat like the city in August, when many are taking refuge in fancy Hamptons houses. Yes there are fewer people, but the people who have remained seem softer, kinder. Restaurants and retailers are open, although in a limited fashion. 

The waterfront sidewalks are filled with runners enjoying the fall temperatures, all fully masked. The city takes COVID precautions more seriously than even D.C.

All of the outdoor dining and sidewalk patios in Tribeca and SoHo give this concrete jungle an incredibly European feel. People are beautiful, dressed in fancy clothes and stilettos, wearing makeup despite their masks. They are eating, drinking, laughing, even more on display than during “normal” times as this is all happening outdoors. 

Midtown feels different. The office buildings are closed, and the streets are empty of the harried, hurried, high-powered executives always rushing. The tourists have also mostly stayed away. What is left are the essential workers, the street cleaners, the delivery men and women, the construction workers, and the marginalized. It certainly feels different, but it does not feel dead. 

Uptown… well, I am just heading to the Upper East side for meetings… I imagine I will discover yet another version of New York City in that neighborhood. Indeed, the feelings seem different from one neighborhood to another.

New York City today is not like it was on March 2nd, when I was last here. Because the world is not like it was on March 2nd. But New York is not dead. Maybe it felt like the Apocalypse two months ago, but New York today feels alive. As Mark Twain would say, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” New York may never be the same as “before,” but New York will always be New York.

Sharing Perama: A Project of Hope

When your Mom is mentioned in Greek Vogue, you blog about it. Actually, I should have written this blog post a while ago, to share this beautiful project called Sharing Perama, that my mother Barbara Polla ideated and then made a reality on February 20, 2020 (02/20/2020 – an auspicious date). This Vogue article is just an excuse and the timing is perfect. 

I owe my love of Greece to my maternal grandparents who moved their family of five to Tinos in the mid 1960s and spent two years discovering the country, absorbing Greek culture and philosophy. During this time, my mother, then a teenager, met Papa Georgios (Father George), a clergyman based in Perama, a working-class suburb of Athens in the district of Pireaus.  Papa Georgios took care of the refugees and the poor of his parish. Inspired by him, she volunteered and assisted in his efforts, until his imprisonment and then execution by fascists in 1967. More than 50 years later, she wanted to honor him and his core values of kindness and hope. Thus the project Sharing Perama was born.  

Who better to work on this than the British artist Robert Montgomery, whose poetry and conceptual art, often perceived as political, is permeated with hope. “Specifically, he writes poems which he depicts in paintings and installations, with light, flames, wood, watercolors. He believes that art has a place in the streets mainly and not in museums.” (quote from Vogue article). 

On February 20, 2020, the Municipality of Perama and Sharing Perama, with the kind support of ΟΛΠ (Pireaus Port Authority S.A.), welcomed and lit the first public sculpture by Robert Montgomery, which is placed permanently at Terma Peramatos where the boats leave for and from Salamis (the busiest ferry terminal of Europe). 

The exhibition is running now through 2022. For more information, please click here.

To contribute, please click here.

The below is extracted and translated from the interview with Robert Montgomery in the current issue of Vogue Greece, an issue dedicated to hope. This is not the entire interview and the order of the questions has been rearranged. 

Tell me now about your new project in Greece.

It is called “We share Perama” (www.sharingperama.com), it started last February and will be active for the next two years With the support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and with the cooperation of the mayor of Perama we create visual, poetic, theatrical works based and inspiration the area. In December, the director Dimitris Babilis will stage at the Municipal Theater of Perama the first play by Dimitris Dimitriadis entitled The Price of Revolt in the Black Market, which I consider important. I am also collaborating with the artist Mario Fournaris – a native of Perama – on an art exhibition on ecology, which will be presented at the Museum of Perama, which is revived through the project. Also, filmmakers Christos Panagos and Charalambos Margaritis are preparing a film entitled Dreaming Perama. Finally, to say that it is a great honor for me that the award-winning Greek poet Krystalli Glyniadaki translates my poems into Greek, as part of the project. In general, there are remarkable Greek artists with whom I collaborate on this project and I am very happy about it.

How did you get involved in this?

The project was inspired by the very important Swiss curator Barbara Polla. The idea was to honor the clergyman George Demitriadis. Father George, from his post in the parish of Perama, took care of the refugees and the poor in the ’60s. He was executed by the fascists in 1967. He is a hero who has not been heard of or glorified. Barbara Polla in her adolescence was a volunteer in his work. Growing up and acquiring an artistic voice, she wanted to honor him, but also with her eyes fixed on the future, she also wanted to make a comment about kindness and hope. He invited me to visit the place and I responded immediately, as I grew up in Glasgow, which is a shipbuilding city, so Perama reminded me of my childhood, I felt a connection. Of course, Perama is more beautiful than Glasgow, because you have the blue sea and this light. It is also built amphitheatrically on the coastline of Attica. It inspired me from the first moment.

The first installation of the project, last February, was a phrase at the port gate: “The Beginning of Hope”. This issue of Vogue Greece is dedicated to hope and I would like to ask you what hope is for you. What thoughts and feelings do you have?

I would say that Perama is a good example of what hope is. It is a friendly neighborhood full of pride, created by a group of refugees. People who worked hard and proudly and built their lives from scratch. For me Perama is a truly beautiful place. Those first refugees who settled there give through their lives the very definition of hope, which has in it strength and momentum for new beginnings.

What are the main issues you are dealing with?

Nature, utopia, society, ecology, love, the pain caused by love, memories, light, color.

How would you describe the language you use?

I think it is romantic. It involves pain and hope.

How would you characterize the aesthetics of your works?

Poetry is captured through light and painting.

You have justified your art form by claiming that people would rather see poems on the streets than soft drink ads. I wonder if you feel alien to the modern world and if you really want to change it in your own way.

Now I feel happy in the world. I have a wonderful wife, my children, I feel blessed. To change or save the world? I do not think artists can do that. If we are to save the world from ecological disaster, for example, we can only do it all together. Recently people all over the world united to fight against the pandemic. Which showed us how we can deal with a crisis when we are all together and that money is not the most important good. We need to show the same unity to protect our planet.

You have said that you love words because they are imbued with a slowness. How is slowness a virtue?

I believe that poetry has a magical ability to slow down the rhythms of the mind and entice you to meditate.

Another phrase that impressed me was this: “The meaning of art is to touch the hearts of strangers, without getting into the trouble of meeting them.” Really, is it a hassle to know a person?

Yes. I’m pretty shy. Many shy people become artists or writers.

You have developed the theory that the people we love become ghosts within us and so we keep them alive. Tell me a little about it.

It is a view I expressed through a work dedicated to the death of artist Sean Watson. He was my best friend from university and is always in my heart.

What role does melancholy play in your work? Is it an important “ingredient”?

I believe that melancholy is a process of the heart. It is the creation of beauty through sadness.

Five Things I Can’t Live Without

Last week my friend Judith wrote about the five things that she can’t live without – specifically, the five things she can’t live without as informed by COVID-19, things which the past six months have either revealed or confirmed (not counting family, friends, pets, or facial coverings).

This inspired me to do the same. Here are my five things I can’t live without right now. 

  • Scented candles. I live by Aveda’s Shampure candles and love the ritual of lighting them first thing in the morning, and lighting them again in the evening. I have them on between 5 am and 8 am, and after 7 pm. Somehow, they have become signs of “this is not work hours” when working from home. 
  • Non-alcoholic beer. I committed early this year to not drink alcohol three days per week. And global pandemic or not, I am sticking to this! It’s hard, perhaps harder because of the current state of the world, so I trick my brain into thinking that my delicious Heineken 0 (my favorite of all of the brands I have tried) is just as magical as a glass of chardonnay. 
  • Fiction. I usually read 75% non-fiction, but have been reading mostly fiction for the past six months. I am still trying to finish the last non-fiction book I started two months ago… I think my brain needs to escape more than usual, and non-fiction is not an escape. I am particularly addicted to anything written by Victoria Hislop, whose historical novels set in Greece take me to my happy place. 
  • My 9-grids. I have planned and replanned 2020 about seven times, and we are only in early September. This planning and brainstorming tool which I love and have been using for years has been particularly useful during these times of constant change, and help me feel in control.
  • Webinars and virtual conferences from leading industry sources. I miss learning about my industry, I miss hearing from other brand founders and beauty subject matter experts. I have particularly enjoyed the events from CEW, Beauty Independent, and Glossy+ – from weekly webinars to day-long conferences (and the beauty of these events is the presenters are on camera, but I am not!).

What are the five things you have (re-)discovered that you can’t live without these days?