Gratitudes for 2020

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2020, I am grateful. 

I am grateful for my husband, my family, my team members, my friends. I am grateful for my health, for the roof over my head, for the food on my plate. I am grateful to still have a brand to nurture, to still have a job. 

I am also grateful for some very “2020 specific” people and things, which have made this “unprecedented” (may I never hear this word again) year not only a teaching year, but an interesting, and sometimes yes, even enjoyable, year. Here is my “special 2020 gratitude list.” 

  1. Thank you Black Lives Matter activists. For teaching me about systematic racism, white privilege, white supremacy, and what I can do differently. 
  2. Thank you Garrett Graff. For the books you have written (The Only Plane in the Sky remains my top book of 2020), but even more for the various articles you have written on the state of our country in 2020 which have helped me understand. Two stand out: this one from March in The Atlantic and the one from earlier this month in Wired Magazine that helped me better understand my adopted country.
  3. Thank you to my friends who have different political opinions than mine. While I do not agree with you, you expand my thinking and contribute to my understanding of what is important to people. 
  4. Thank you Hitha Palepu. I am grateful for your content, ranging from 5 Smart Reads to your book recommendations. I am grateful for the playlists you share. I am grateful that you love my skin care brand. 
  5. Thank you Victoria Hislop. I have consumed your books anytime I have needed to go back to Greece in my head (which has been quite often lately…). 
  6. Thank you The Weeknd. You are my 2020 soundtrack. Thanks to you, I got out of bed when I didn’t want to, I ran faster when I wanted to quit, and I danced when I needed to. 
  7. Thank you to my three passports. I have sometimes taken you for granted, even forgotten I had you. But not this year. Not this year. 
  8. Thank you Universe. You sent me two adorable sister kittens in mid-April. They have been my favorite pandemic-coping strategy. You knew what I needed even before I did. 

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Months ago, my husband and I made plans to travel to Morro Bay for Thanksgiving, to spend it with my mother-in-law, and brother-in-law and his family. We had planned a big Easter gathering there, and well, that was obviously cancelled. So we would make up for Easter by spending Thanksgiving together, six people, socially-distanced, eating in the garden. 

Yesterday, we cancelled that plan. Indeed, it seems Thanksgiving as we know it is altogether cancelled this year. And as James Hamblin says in The Atlantic it should be: 

“This year is an opportunity to bond over the moral certainty of the moment. At its core, Thanksgiving is a nebulous day of atoning for the sins of colonialism by eating food and saying thank you. Now families and friends and communities can work together to achieve something meaningful and good: ending the pandemic. All you’re asked to do is eat food at home.”

Yes, I know this is the right decision. And yes, I wallowed in sadness for a moment yesterday. Why? Because I have to spend Thanksgiving in DC (a place I love), with “just” my husband (a man I love). Woe is me. 

Today, on my morning run, I made the decision to shift my perspective and think of this as a magical opportunity to do Thanksgiving a completely different way. So here’s what I am planning for the holiday weekend. 

Spending time helping others. Food and Friends, an organization I so admire, has amazing volunteering opportunities year-round, including meal delivery service on Thanksgiving Day. If anything can help me remember how lucky I am in my life and how much I have to be grateful for, this will do it. 

Sharing a romantic Thanksgiving meal “en tete a tete.” I will make the house sparkle and will set a beautiful table. I will dress up and wear heels and lipstick. I will light candles. And we will enjoy a takeout Thanksgiving dinner. A first, yes, but it’s not any takeout… 

Spending time outdoors. I have always wanted to hike Old Rag, and have officially run out of excuses to further delay this. Maybe we’ll even pack a picnic. 

And I’ll still do many of the things I love to do during Thanksgiving weekend. Put out holiday decorations. Address holiday cards. Wrap gifts. Watch Christmas movies. And most importantly, I will remember how lucky I am, I will say my gratitudes, and I will call my mother-in-law. 

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), 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.