Tunnel vision affects all of us. The biggest challenge with this condition is that the primary symptom is a complete lack of awareness that you have tunnel vision in the first place. I see it frequently in my line of work; as a business advisor, I often say I help people see that there is a forest when they are lost in the trees. When I first embarked on my journey, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything special when I helped my clients see the big picture. When I coaxed someone away from the details so they could get an aerial view of the challenge or opportunity they were facing, it didn’t feel like a huge “Aha!” moment to me. But over time, I realized that I was performing an invaluable service for my clients. Here’s the irony: when I stepped back and recognized that being a business advisor was wasn’t supposed to be about having an Aha moment myself, but rather about giving my clients their Aha moments, I said “Aha!” Case in point…being myopic is part of the human condition, so I am just as susceptible as anyone else even if I cure myopia for a living.

My entire thought process on this was sparked this morning, as I was getting ready to leave the house. As I picked up the power cord for my PC I remembered what had happened the night before…

Last night I couldn’t find my power cord anywhere. I looked in all the usual places: the desk, my bag, the bookshelf where my husband sticks it if I left it out and my son tries to play with it. I pored over our office, then expanded my search to the rest of our house, but it had simply disappeared. That’s when the frustration started to creep in. OK, maybe the frustation rushed in, but I had a lot of work to do!

First I was annoyed at myself. How could I have misplaced it? How would I finish my client work if my battery dies? Why can’t I keep track of my stuff? Then the blaming started. Matt must have stuck it somewhere. Why would he put it in an unusual place? He must have taken it to work with him by mistake! I looked all over the house in the places where the power cord had ended up before, but eventually, I gave up. When my husband came home an hour later, the first thing I said was, “Hi Honey. Have you seen my power cord?” and of course my tone was only slightly accusatory. He told me he hadn’t seen it.

About an hour later Matt said, “Hey. Weren’t the cleaners here yesterday? Maybe they moved it somewhere.” Good point. I went back into the office. Like a lot things you look at frequently, eventually you stop seeing them. But what Matt said had flipped a switch in my mind; this time when I looked in the office, it took me – literally – two seconds to see the power cord, which had been shoved into one of those wall pocket thingies where I put all of the important mail I don’t intend to open. At the time, I was so relieved to have found the power cord that I just grabbed it, plugged my PC into the wall, and told my husband he was a genius. Living with me is like an emotional roller coaster.

It wasn’t until I had a night to sleep on it that I realized how interesting that little experience had been. When I saw my power cord this morning, it hit me that I had been gifted a concrete, tangible experience to remind me of how easy it is to become myopic, get tunnel vision, get lost in the trees, or slip into a state of denial. And, maybe more importantly, I had the opportunity to experience how good it feels when someone helps you take a step back in a kind and gentle manner. This situation would have ended very differently if, in the throes of my frustration, my husband took my frustration personally and got angry at me for implying he put my power cord somewhere or got annoyed with me for losing something that is expensive to replace. Instead, he just pondered the problem, came up with an idea, and helped me shift my perspective. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks, Baby!)

I suppose the challenge for all of us is to teach ourselves how to take a breath and get distance from something when we feel “stuck.” In addition, it’s important to be receptive to help if we can’t manage to get ourselves unstuck. But to me, the most valuable awareness I received from this experience was to remember to be compassionate when I encounter anyone who is challenged by myopia. I know from my own experience that people who are afflicted with tunnel vision have no idea that they are lost in the trees, so I must be kind and gentle if I help them take a step back so they can see the forest.

All of this from a lost power cord.

Good job Jimbo Gallagher! You correctly explained the title of the previous blog post.

Last week, I posed this question on Facebook and Twitter: Is it a compliment or an insult when someone says you have “pageant hair”?

The responses varied from “Who cares, I like your hair,” to something along the lines of “Um, 1986 called and it wants its hairstyle back.”

The surprising amount of conversation invoked by my question caused me to ponder my hairstyle, as if there aren’t more important things I could be doing with my time. For those of you who don’t know what is meant by “pageant hair,” it’s the big, meticulously-styled bouffant that takes time and a variety of tools to create. If you really wanted to do it right, you could go the distance to “helmet hair,” which is the look one gets after applying layers of Aqua Net hairspray so your hairstyle can be preserved for posterity, like a butterfly in a glass paperweight. I am sure I don’t have helmet hair…at least, not anymore. Don’t blame me, blame 1986! By the way, it works best if you let the Aqua Net dry between applications.

Fine. I insist on poufing my hair, but I really don’t have any choice. I don’t have the kind of effortless mane that some bitches – I mean, friends of mine – have. I am referring to the type of hair that can be washed and air-dried, so its proud possessor can simply shower and waltz out the door looking great. If I wash my hair and then do nothing to it – no blow-drying, no teasing, no curling, nothing – within twenty minutes I look like a drowned rat. I have the type of hair that needs round brushes, hot rollers, and various other instruments of torture to prevent it from sitting flat on my head. That is in large part the reason I toil, blow-drying my hair upside down even when it’s 80 degrees outside and doing so makes me a sweaty mess.

But the fact that my hair doesn’t air-dry well is not the entire story. In fact, it’s not even the main reason why I want my hair to be big. Much like my reason for wearing black clothes (not because I am cool or fashionable, but because I tend to spill food on myself frequently), my reason for having big hair might surprise you. It is the same reason I don’t wear ponytails, the reason I leave my hair long and loose and full.

My head is too small for my body.

There. I said it. My head is too small for my body.  And the only way to deal with it is to make my hair bigger and hope that its sheer volume will make me look in proportion overall.

Right now you are thinking one of two things: either “This woman is completely vain and neurotic,” or, “Don’t be silly, honey, your head is the perfect size” (Thanks Mom!). Either way, my response is the same:  I have third-party verification that, yes, my head is oddly small for my body. This confirmation came in the form of Thomas, a hair stylist at the Macy’s Salon in Menlo Park Mall in New Jersey, with whom I had the following conversation in 1998:

Thomas:  So, how do you like to wear your hair? (AUTHOR’S NOTE FOR THE MEN: This is a routine opening question whenever you go to see a new stylist.)

Me:  Well, I usually blow it out and put Velcro rollers in to make it fuller.

Thomas:  Really? But right now the straight and sleek look is so IN. And your hair texture is perfect for that.

Me:  Ummm….I don’t really like to wear it too flat. I like it on the bigger side.

Thomas:  But maybe we should try it…

Me:  No! My head is too small for that.

Thomas (incredulous):  What?! What does that mean?

Me:  Look at my head in relation to my body. It’s too small.

At this point, Thomas actually stops what he is doing, which was touching and fluffing my hair. He stares at me intently with one hand on his chin and one folded across his chest. To his credit, he makes the effort of surveying my head from a couple of different angles by circling me as I sit in his chair. After two or three minutes of this, he announces his findings.

Thomas:  OK, I see what’s going on here. From here to here (he points from my right ear across my face to my left ear) your head and face are actually somewhat narrow. But, from here to here (he points from the tip of my forehead to the back of my crown) your head is actually quite long.

There is a pause in the conversation while I process his remarks.

Me:   So…I think what you are telling me is that I look like the creature from the movie Alien?

Thomas:  Is that the one with Sigourney Weaver? I love her!

So there it is. My head is too small relative to my body. At least, it is when you look at me from the front.

There is one other possible response you could have to my issue with my small head. I am sure that at least one of you is thinking, “Well, maybe it isn’t that your head is too small. Maybe it’s that your body is too big. Maybe if you worked out a little more, or went on a diet, or did something to make your body smaller, everything would balance out.”

You know what I say to that? Suck it. If making my hair bigger means I get to eat ice cream or cheese fries when I feel like it, then give me some hot rollers and Aqua Net and call me Peg Bundy.

Bragging rights go to the first person who guesses the relevance of this entry’s title. This contest is brought to you by Mike Ingrassia.

Oh Writing, I miss you so…it really stinks to have a day job.

Anyway, this doesn’t actually count as writing; I just wanted (needed?) to relay an observation. There is writing on the way though (she says, as if you have all been patiently waiting by your PC).

A while back I explained that there were some similarities between my son and my dog. It’s possible that by sharing such a recognition I seem like a bad mother, but nonetheless I need to add two more things to the list. I have no doubt that Max will bring these up to his therapist twenty five years from now.

Just like our dog, Max is obsessed with squirrels. When our dog sees a squirrel, she slowly and quietly slinks up to it to get close enough to pounce. When Max sees a squirrel, he bends forward slightly – to get on its level, I assume – and tip toes quietly up to it. Their techniques are similar enough that it makes me feel like I should have Max on a leash. I am hopeful that he is mostly interested to pet the squirrel instead of thrasing it about in his jaws, which is more or less what our dog has in mind.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Mom, I know what you are thinking. You can rest assured that I don’t let Max get close enough to any squirrels to get bitten and have to get six long needles poked into his stomach, like Grandma told me they do when you might have contracted rabies.]

The other possibly more disturbing comparison becomes apparent whenever I am eating. About a month ago, my son became very interested in my food. Even after I have attempted to fill the bottomless pit that is his stomach…even after he has given me the “enough” sign by waving his hands in the air…even after he has turned his attention to his toys or Sesame Street…the moment I try to eat something, anything, Max comes charging at me with his mouth wide open. I am not kidding. The second I try to feed myself, Max flies across the room with his mouth agape as an indication that I should drop some of my food into it. I don’t think I need to say more about how that reminds me of our dog.

And just to drive the point home, I took the liberty of snapping a couple of photos:

Phase I, The Approach…


Phase II, The Begging…

I think our dog actually gets points for being a bit more subtle.

What do you eat after you smash subatomic particles together? Apparently, you eat matzos, chips and pizza…

I have been on a bit of a documentary-watching kick lately. I guess it must just be my remarkable thirst for knowledge. Anyway, recently I watched an amazing documentary series called Miracle Planet. The first episode in the series is all about how, early in the Solar System’s history, meteorites and other stuff (technical term) that were floating around would hit the Earth. I guess for a while after the formation of our little spot in the universe things were pretty messy. Trust me when I tell you that you should be really grateful that we weren’t around back then, because here is what scientists think happened:

A gigantic meteor crashed into the Earth. The radiation from the explosion on impact turned Earth into a fireball and vaporized all of the water on the planet (no shit). The Earth’s surface burned for a while, but gravity kept all of the water in the atmosphere instead of allowing it to float off into space. Although now I am wondering if some of it didn’t escape and boogie on over to Mars, but that is my own theory and – for those of you who don’t know me personally – I have a lot of theories that aren’t substantiated by science which I cling to nonetheless. So there, that’s where the water on Mars came from. Tell your friends.

But I digress. The Earth burned for a while, then after about 1000 years, the planet cooled and the atmosphere released its water and it rained for 100 years and refilled the oceans (again, no shit). So this has caused scientists to question if life could have survived such an environment.

Up until now I was on board. I was totally engrossed in this story of “Earth, the Early Years.” Here’s where the rant starts.

A bunch of scientists are working to figure out how life could have survived Fireball Earth. The theory is that some of the life that was on Earth must have survived or else where would we have come from? Life must have started when the planet formed, right? I find it a bit amusing how hung up everyone gets on the idea that life could just appear at some point, because that might imply there is a God and that would just blow everyone’s minds.  

But the efforts to prove there is no God wasn’t the part that annoyed me.

So the researchers determined that while the surface of the Earth was burning like the fiery pits of hell, and the core of the Earth was all hot and liquidy because it is the fiery pits of hell, there was this space in the middle where it was friggin’ hot but not so hot that nothing could live. Something could live. The theory is that some single-celled organisms that thrive in hot environments were able to sneak down below the surface and wait out the fire; let’s call them Hot Amoebas. And we descended from them.

First of all, there is no way I descended from any life form that likes to live at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. I start sweating at 50 degrees, so I question the theory on those grounds alone. But more importantly – who gives a crap?! I’m all for scientific research and understanding life and all of that other learning stuff, but I am still not clear about how we benefit from figuring out that those Hot Amoebas are our great-great-great (add a million greats) grandmas. How about a little faith people? At some point, life started. There. Don’t know where, don’t know how. But what do you say that we forget – just for a little while – about pinpointing the moment life started so we can focus our resources and energy on cleaning up the shit-storm we have on our hands right now?! How about we divert the funding for that Hot Amoeba research into something important, like building a gigantic underground city so the next time a meteor turns the Earth into a fireball we can make sure that all of the rich and famous people will survive while the rest of us spontaneously combust?

But the money spent on useless research wasn’t the part that annoyed me.

The Hot Ameoba research is led by this South African scientist. She decides that the best way to access this middle ground between too hot and just sort of hot is through the diamond mines. Off they go, as the narrator comments on the methane gas that leaks into the shafts of the mines, adding that it is really unsafe to be there and it is amazing the research team is even willing to go on such a dangerous quest. He doesn’t say shit about the ten or so manual laborers they pass on the way, who are down there working every day just so all of us can have the bling we need to make our friends and neighbors jealous.  

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: It pained me to use the term “bling” but there was no way around it in this case. I needed to show my sarcasm more clearly and I am praying you picked up on it and don’t think I actually use the term “bling” in conversation. I promise you I don’t, in large part because I know that every time some suburban mom or dad says “bling”, there is a teenager in urban America laughing his ASS off. And rest assured, he is laughing at them, not with them.)

But the fact that people risk their lives for our jewelry wasn’t the part that annoyed me.

It’s really hot in those diamond mines. The temperature goes up 20 degrees or something every half mile down into the Earth. I sort of made that up from memory, but it’s directionally correct. Suffice it to say that it gets hotter as you go deeper. But Hot Amoebas don’t care. They love the heat. Bring it! The research team is combing the mining shafts for life forms, and suddenly, there it is! Slime on the rock wall! Green and red and white slime! There is life in the mining shafts!  That is, there is life in addition to the workers who go down there every day to work in appalling conditions so we can all wear diamond watches that make us feel more important than our friends.

Anyway…life! How exciting! Turns out, the sludge is actually a type of bacterium. And these bacteria can live in hot environments! And studying these subterranean bacteria will help us prove that life survived Fireball Earth! Hooray! Let’s BRING THE UNDERWORLD BACTERIA TO THE SURFACE AND STUDY THEM…

This is where I lost my mind. Does anyone else have a problem with this?! Just because you have a PhD and a bunch of published articles that less that1% of the world can understand does not mean you have common sense. LEAVE THE BACTERIA WHERE YOU FOUND THEM! All I could think about is how, 20 years from now, when half the planet has perished with Hot Amoeba Bacterial Infection, we’re all going to be like “Gee, maybe we should have left well enough alone.” It’s called the Law of Unintended Consequences. In all of the excitement to get some kind of Nobel Prize, even smart scientist-types can forget to consider the impact of a decision plus the impact of the impact plus the impact of that impact, and so on. So human nature dictates that a well-meaning person might not think twice about bringing KILLER BACTERIA to the surface of the Earth, where some hungover lab tech can accidentally knock over a test-tube of it so then it can eat us all, and nothing would be able to destroy it because it is super-strong because it survived a FIREBALL, for Christ’s sake! Speaking of him, I am sure Jesus would be like “The answers to the mysteries of life are within you. PUT THE BACTERIA DOWN!”

In fairness to the researchers, I am not sure what happened next because a short while later I fell asleep. Did I mention that I watch documentaries because the soothing narration is perfect for inducing naps? And, I have that thirst for knowledge I mentioned earlier. Anyway, I think the stress of knowing that our days are numbered – because there is no way that washing your hands with hot water and soap kills underworld bacteria – made me so emotionally drained, I actually passed out. Yeah, that was it.

Before my son was born, my husband and I became very interested in the idea of teaching him sign language. Proponents of sign language insist it’s necessary for minimizing a child’s frustration, since a person’s will develops before the ability to speak. But since motor skills develop early, a child can use sign language to ask for what he or she needs. As far as I am concerned, sign language is necessary for minimizing frustration for the parents, because when I am up at 3am listening to Max screaming his head off like I am torturing him or something, I just want him to tell me what in the hell he needs so I can just give it to him and go back to bed.

I never promised anyone a rose garden.

When Max was as young as two months old, I started introducing signs. One sign, actually, which was the sign for “milk.” While I nursed him I would make the sign, hoping that in the near future I would live in a utopia where Max would simply let me know when he was hungry because – no matter how many women told me I should be able to determine what he needed just by the sound of his cry – all of his cries sounded precisely the same to me.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: You can see the sign for “milk” here if you are interested, but basically it entails making a fist and then opening and closing it like you are milking a cow. Right. That makes me feel so good about myself. I could expand on this but it really would have to be its own post.)

I was pretty consistent about making the “milk” sign to Max every time he nursed so he could associate the sign and the activity. That is, I was consistent until Max was about four months old. What changed, you ask? The answer is very straightforward: I went back to work. And from that point on, trying to follow through on all of my commitments to Max and to my clients became an exercise in bending the space-time continuum. When I was nursing Max I considered it a win if I only focused on him, instead of writing business emails in my head.

(ANOTHER AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is where my husband hangs his head Charlie Brown-style and lets out a sigh, because at this point his needs were a distant third. Sorry, Baby!)

Needless to say, once I started work again I rarely remembered to make the “milk” sign. So imagine my surprise when, just a couple of weeks before his first birthday, Max crawls up to me and opens and closes his fist like he’s milking a cow. With an expectant and slightly frantic look in his eye, he clearly told me that he just realized he was pretty damn hungry. I thought to myself:

What an amazing thing the human brain is! How incredible that, even though I haven’t made this sign to Max in about seven or eight months, he still learned it! He is like a little sponge! I can’t believe he is so smart! Well, he’s at least as smart as Koko the gorilla. Although in fairness, Koko knows over 1000 signs, so I guess Max isn’t quite as smart as Koko yet, but he’s showing great potential! It’s amazing to me that he can actually replicate something he last saw when he was only four months …..

And then it hit me. In that moment, I understood how completely screwed I was. Because at the exact same time that I was making the “milk” sign to Max, I was sleep deprived and cursing up a storm. My typical level of swearing once caused a man who worked for me to request that I scale it back a notch, because it made him uncomfortable to work for a truck driver in a skirt suit. Yes, sad but unfortunately very true. To make matters worse, my sleep-deprived cursing was more severe and a bit more colorful. So when Max clearly raised his fist in a triumphant gesture for sustenance, I realized that it was only a matter of time before he walked up to me and casually said, “Mom, do you know where I put my goddamn Elmo?! I swear I would lose my fuckin’ head if it weren’t attached to my goddamn body!!”

Again, I never promised anyone a rose garden.

Max found Elmo...it's all good now.

I can’t believe that I forgot this significant oh-crap-I-am-older-than-I-think-I-am moment when I wrote my previous post, Old:

This morning when I was tweezing my eyebrows I found white hairs mixed in with the dark brown. Not gray hairs…WHITE. Not one or two hairs…FOUR. And this is not the first time…it’s been happening for a couple of years. OK, five years.

Incidentally, this was not the original reason I started – but has become the primary reason that I continue – to get Brazilian bikini waxes.

Sorry, Dad. I should have warned you to stop reading a couple of sentences ago.

On Thanksgiving in 2006, I was reminiscing with my Aunt Pat and Uncle Andy about our frequent outings to New York City when I was little. I was remembering walks in the park, movies in midtown, fancy restaurants. One time I asked for ketchup with my steak…Wasn’t that silly of me? I laughed. Good thing my taste has improved as I have gotten older. Ah, good times.

My aunt and uncle looked at me incredulously, and then my Aunt Pat said, “Jennifer, we only took you to the City twice.”

I was speechless.

Before you say to yourself – here is yet another example of how Jen has created an alternate reality in her head – I will beat you to it. Clearly, my memory of spending time with Pat and Andrew was a bit exaggerated, but with good reason. To a precocious girl of nine years, it was extremely meaningful that a sophisticated couple like Aunt Pat and Uncle Andrew took an interest in me.

I thought their life together was fascinating. They complimented each other perfectly. Pat was fun-loving and Andy had a wicked sense of humor. She laughed frequently and with abandon and he had plenty of material to fuel her outbursts of laughter. They enjoyed each other’s company and spent many afternoons or evenings sitting in their backyard or on their porch, Pat enjoying a cocktail while Andrew smoked his pipe. They enjoyed music, visited museums, read lots of books. They were an intellectual couple, eschewing TV-watching to such a degree that they only had a small black and white television set which was hidden in a closet. As a child, that fact was simultaneously maddening and admirable.

They were also fascinating to me as individuals. Pat made me want to be a working woman. Her life seemed glamorous as she ventured into New York City each day to work at a prestigious company like IBM. Pat’s career achievements were especially notable since she was one of few women in the technology field in the 1970s. I was amazed at her ability and willingness to be a pioneer. Pat showed me that it was worthwhile to strive and it paid off to make your own rules.

My Uncle Andrew was a writer, a career choice I found intriguing. I loved sneaking off to pore over Andrew’s stash of Cracked magazines, and I would spend an hour just skimming old issues for his writing and jokes. I thought it was remarkable that his observations on life were so sharp and witty that someone wanted to publish them in print.  My aunt and uncle were urbane, and I wanted to be like them.

Even in light of these outward achievements, Pat and Andy were extremely accessible people, and their approach to Thanksgiving was embodied how warm and inclusive they were. Each year when I arrived to their house there was someone new: a distant cousin of Pat’s from West Virginia who happened to be in town, a coworker from decades ago, a friend who couldn’t make it home to visit his family, a fellow cyclist who just wanted to join the fun. It never occurred to either Pat or Andrew that they shouldn’t invite more people over, that there might not be enough chairs or enough food. They just embraced everyone and let the rest work itself out. It always did.

As I grew into adulthood our relationship evolved into friendship. Aunt Pat and Uncle Andrew mentored me, encouraging me to follow my instincts, to take calculated risks with my career, and to make the most of the life I have to live. When I contemplated leaving public education for a career in the corporate world, they helped me put aside my doubts and take the leap. That decision was a defining one in my life, and their faith in me was crucial at a time when I was unsure of myself. After twelve years in the corporate world I yearned to start my own consulting firm, and again Pat and Andrew encouraged me to trust in my abilities and in myself. As a result a whole new world of opportunities has become available to me.

I continued to uncover new reasons to appreciate each of them. I noted the depth of my Uncle Andrew’s kindness and generosity toward others. Whether he was visiting my ailing grandparents multiple times per day or spending hours coaching aspiring cyclists who don’t know how to get started, he never expected anything in return. Andrew demonstrated to me how caring for other people makes one’s own life more significant.

As I learned more about my Aunt Pat, it was her bravery that struck me. Pat survived two World Trade Center bombings and helped others to safety both times. She and I spoke over the phone on September 14, 2001 when I was living in Texas, and I was surprised to realize she was comforting me because I was far from our family, even though she was the one who had just had a near-death experience, days before.

Andrew’s caring and Pat’s bravery was the crux of their relationship during their last years together on Earth. Pat was extremely brave during a battle with cancer that lasted over two years, and I know her strength was grounded in how Andy attended to her. Pat needed to be as fun-loving as her body would allow, and Andy facilitated that by enabling her to stay at home and have as close to a “normal” life as possible. Even the day before Pat died, she and I sat on her front porch with her daughter and her sister, telling stories while Pat nursed a martini. It was clear she was losing strength, but she wouldn’t let her spirit be subdued by her fading body. I am appreciative to Pat for being so brave and to Andy for creating an environment in which she could be that way. I am indebted to both of them for leaving me with such an indelible happy memory of her.

I am unbelievably thankful for having had someone like Aunt Pat in my life. I am extremely grateful to still have Uncle Andrew with me now. There is no doubt in my heart that I will be given the opportunity to see them together again, because Pat and Andrew are soulmates. I feel lucky to have witnessed their relationship.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Why isn’t the Greatest American Hero in syndicated reruns? Just asking.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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