Monday, September 20, 2010

Making Lists

Imagine this.

You work your way through a an Ivy League college. You go to a top tier law school where you work hard. Excel. You land a job at a prestigious New York law firm. You spend your twenties working, sometimes living in the hotel across the street from your office. You never get to really see the city you moved thousands of miles to experience. You move to California to try and get a life. You get laid off. You get a job. You get laid off again. You haven't dated because you've been working your ass off for a decade.

At 30, you are diagnosed with incurable, inoperable cancer. 

The woman I've described is real, a few details tweaked, let's call her Alice. An old friend -- who has known Alice for many years and loves her very much -- is planning ways to spend time with her. I haven't seen my friend in almost 10 years, but tonight we stood on a Manhattan street corner for an hour, talking about life. She's had a lot on her mind. Trying to be a good friend. Struggling to deal with hearing her friend talk about last times.

I have had those conversations, and when you know you're having them -- as opposed to the last conversations you don't know are your last -- you let go of some of the bullshit we put between ourselves and each other to make things hurt less. This is going to hurt like hell. But I'd rather have no regrets -- and tell you how much you were loved -- than protect myself. I have lost a friend like this.

What do you do with the time you have left? When you realize things really are as fleeting, as precarious, as we all pretend they are not... Who are you?

Riding home on the subway, I thought about D., my baby niece. I babysat her today. We went on the swings and the slide in the park. (The slide is very competitive. We didn't fare well.) I made a video of her eating pudding. When she hurt her hand, not only did her mom have to kiss it better, I did too.

I thought about Alice. She wants to do things with her nieces, whether they'll really remember her or not. They are babies.

I would want D. to remember me. To know that I held and and hugged her and kissed her boo boos. That I rocked her to sleep in my arms after some man broke my heart, and promised I'd try to keep her from ever knowing what that felt like. That I let her sleep snuggled against my shoulder, and though it was the cutest thing ever when I woke up to find her looking at me and say "hi." I would want her to know what my voice sounds like. What I like. What I look like. How very much I love her.

Sometimes it's hard to let people in. I've talked about this before. Sometimes just when we decide to open our doors to someone, they slam theirs shut. Or we never even work up the nerve to really show ourselves. Most of our little secrets aren't that sexy, and falling in love involves a lot of illusion, up until it doesn't.

I wrote a list once for an old lover of things he never learned about me that I wish he had.

I'll share some of it here. Little things that show my flaws, my strengths and my quirky nerd side. My softness. My secret regrets and should-haves... My wishes, favorites and near misses. To remember me by.

I don't really like eating fruit very much, but love raspberry sorbet.
Sometimes I drink too much and fall asleep on my couch.
I am afraid of having to raise kids on my own.
I love Greek yogurt with cherries and primate photography.
If I had to do it again, I would have double majored in biology and economics, but I'd still be a writer.
I feel like I wasted a lot of my twenties sometimes.
I sometimes wish Lucy were Harold. I miss him even more than I miss you sometimes.
I used to steal books from the bookstore I worked in.
I subscribe to the newspaper but never read it. I just want to make sure it still exists.
I wish I liked fish and mushrooms.
People think I read a lot more than I do.
I spent months reading trashy online fan fiction when I worked the night shift; I was that unhappy.
I loved things about you that you probably didn't notice about yourself.
A friend once talked to me about wanting to wake up next to his lover every morning and be grateful that he got to be there with her that day, and many others. I thought that about you.
I wish I had a window in my bedroom.
I love cloth-bound books and paperbacks of unusual size.
Sometimes I wish I had become a doctor.
I like my toes but not my fingers.
I love the smell of salt marshes, musk and jasmine.
I felt a little bit smug when the vampires in Twilight wanted to go to Dartmouth.
I have never been able to fall asleep very easily. I'm torn between wanting today to be longer and being afraid of tomorrow sometimes. 
I never trust my intuition, but it's usually right. 
I love Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" song. 
I don't always think $1,000 is too much to spend on the right handbag.
I am afraid of riding in cars in the passenger seat, but not so much in the back. Driving isn't scary.
I like being able to do push ups now.
I let myself believe the Magic 8 ball speaks the truth when it says what I want to hear.
I will spend all day watching the Lord of the Rings if it's on TV, but never put on the DVDs I own. 
I want children but am afraid of being pregnant.
I think Twitter is silly most of the time, but do it anyway.
The first time I tried Scotch I was an exchange student in Scotland. I thought it was terrible.
I totally judge people by the contents of their book shelves.
I love best that time of day when you first wake up and are half-asleep and your body is perfectly rested. 
I touched the South China Sea and the Arabian Sea before I set foot in California.
I don't really care if I get to all 50 states someday. Some of them don't seem that awesome.

It's a start.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Potential? I gots it.

Those of you who know me have likely heard me mention Trainer.

Trainer is tall and has arms big enough to crush your average mortal. He's the kind of man who people stop on the street and stare at because he's both strikingly attractive and in ridiculously good shape. He is also my personal trainer. We hang out almost every day. And when you see someone every day, and you're on some sort of cardio machine sweating buckets and he's standing there... or you're lifting weights and he's counting... you have a lot of time to talk.

From the sound of things, a lot of his clients are talkers. While huffing and puffing on the treadmill, I listen, silently cursing him for making me do sprints at 8 m.p.h., which makes me think I am going to die (maybe someday I'll look back at this and think Aw. I thought 8 m.p.h. was fast! How precious!)

I know more about him than I do about some men I've dated. I know about his cousin. I know about his mother. I know what his philosophy is on exercise and life and that he wants to have his own show. I know that he thinks people need to slow down in relationships and get to know one another before sex makes you lose your head. I know that he wants a Bentley. He wants to be famous. He's ambitious. One time he told me God had brought us together so that he could help me be the best I could be. (And show that guy who broke my heart how hot I was, but I digress.)

That's what we talked about today -- while I was doing pushups and then while he was stretching my legs and then later when we were just standing there (before he put me on a treadmill for my post-workout workout...) -- we talked about being the best you can be. About realizing your potential.

He had recently met a life coach and motivational speaker who had talked to him about his life and his potential, and he had some very interesting things to say...

Trainer is a few years younger than me, but has been a trainer for 14 years, but the coach asked him what he had to show for it. What do you know how to do? What can you do? You train people. We know that. What else can you do? What do you want to do? How have you shaped your life to get you there?

Have you lived up to your potential? Are you holding yourself back?

He talked about how one 20 minute conversation with this coach had made him re-think how he wanted to focus his time in the next 15 months, what he could do differently that would get him where he imagined he should be. Now, trainer has an ego. He wants to be part rock star, part fitness coach and part Dr. Phil. When you listen to him talk, perhaps he'll be able to do it. "Not perhaps, Jennifer. You've gotta talk about things like they're already done. Like you've already succeeded."

How do you realize your potential? What do you want? How will you get there?

First, you have to know what you want to be. Who you want to be. You have to think about who in your life is helping you get there. Who is realizing their potential -- or working toward it. And who is holding you back -- intentionally or not. (Are the people in your life striving to be better or are they complaining about how they don't like what they have but don't make any changes? You know you know someone like that... Probably several someones...)

It made me wonder what I was letting things slide. Where I was falling down on the job, so to speak, of making my life what I want it to be.

Working out with him has changed my body, my mind and my attitude about what I'm capable of doing. I carry myself differently. I expect more of myself. I don't sit around in my apartment wallowing in woe-is-me self pity. But how good can it get? I want to be able to run a 10K. I'm not there yet, but I bet I can do it. I'm stronger. I can do pushups. A few months ago, I couldn't do a pushup. Singular.

But there are so many places I can see I let myself down, when I sit down and really think about it. When I look at what I know I'm capable of and then what I do. How I live. The choices I have made. If I want what I say I want out of life, what have I done to make that happen?

Nobody wins the U.S. Open without practicing their serve. Day in and day out. For years.

I talk about writing a book. I talk about wanting to create something. I talk about a lot of things. But what do I do? I'm never going to afford that Brooklyn brownstone of my dreams on a journalist's salary. I'll have to settle for affording it because I'm a best-selling author.

If you're going to imagine potential for yourself, you might as well dream big. Now, to actually do it...