Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reality Bites

To my lovely readers:

It has been a while since Recessionista wrote you, but as the Recession has taught us all, sometimes Life interrupts our plans. Thankfully, this Recessionista has been blessed professionally to continue to work in a stable industry, but personal challenges have reminded me again of the importance of perspective during trying times.

My grandmother, a woman who worked every day until she was 76 years old and finally retired, quite possibly might be the most inspiring person I know...and she is dying. She has lived a long and proper life, married for 62 years and counting, hosting Bridge club for many friends in the small town she has lived her entire life and fretting about what to get her grandchildren for their birthdays. Every weekend, she was up around 5 a.m., in the basement of her house grading her students' papers and sipping coffee, and back when I was quite excited to wake up at 5 a.m. and staying at her house, I would join her and chat (because, of course, at 7 years old, you think adults want to spend every waking moment with you, as you are clearly the most interesting person in the world.) She would send my sisters and I with my grandfather to the grocery store in the morning, making sure to instruct us that we should select any donut we liked for breakfast (ahh, remember the time of life where we could eat donuts without adding an extra half hour to our treadmill time? Sigh.) She was insistent on taking my sisters and I on trips during the summer, trips turned into memories that I will always treasure.

Elizabeth Brieman, Betty to those who knew her well (but always "Elizabeth" to my grandpa), wanted to be a lawyer, but had to give up her dream when World War II hit. She became a teacher instead, but her love of learning and helping others by teaching birthed a natural support for the ambitions of her daughters and granddaughters. Unlike the grandparents or parents of my friends, she would pull me aside at Christmas and tell me how proud she was of any accomplishment, big or small, professionally and wouldn't dream of asking me when I was going to get married or have babies. She always smelled of Dove soap, and loved me even when I had a mullet which my mother thought would look great with the addition of a home perm.

She is a remarkable woman and my own personal idol. Her suffering and all the pain that accompanies this sort of thing reminds me how important gratitude and appreciation is in my life. All of us, even moments of tragedy, have blessings in our life that should be recognized and leaned up during our most painful moments. My Economist friends (they are really smart, let me tell you, being Ivy League Profs and all) tell me the Recession is coming to a close. Economic growth may be slow, and the real estate market will lag behind in bounce back, but the pendulum may soon swing in the direction that we all adore. Change, good and bad, has come upon us.

I will, in optimistic anticipation for the final days of the Recession, have started a new blog:

www.actionjunkieslullaby.blogspot.com

Come find me there, my friends, and be grateful for today.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wishing

When I was a little girl, I remember negotiating with the universe for rainbows. I loved rainbows - a sign of hope, a beautiful display of colors, an unexpected gift after tumultuous storms. I bargained with the gods (Jesus/Allah/Yahweh/Ganesha/Anthony Bourdain, etc.) that if he/she/they gave me a rainbow, I would sacrifice the ultimate and clean my room. As was the case with negotiations with my parents, sometimes I got my way, sometimes not so much.

Wishing is a powerful tool for us, even beyond youth. In some ways, it is the bouncer standing at the door of our most exclusive dreams. Candidly, I'm a huge fan. Wishing brought Dorothy to Oz, and then brought her back, and who would not want that flexibility in travels.


Yet, it is surprising what we bargain for. Regardless of your religion or lackthereof, everyone invariably encounters moments in life where they find themselves negotiating with God, logic, the Universe (you can select more than one response in this blogger's world.) What are we asking for? What do we get? Questions and answers range from as shallow as a one night stand in college to as deep as a 60 year long love affair (Hi, Grandma and Grandpa!)



Many years, many science classes later, I must admit that rainbows are not the first things I would ask for divine or universal intervention on, at the end of the day. Their replacement, ironically, is not so far away from the general concept of a rainbow. Peace. I wish for peace in my life, peace in the the lives of loved ones, peace in the world. Putting your priorities in order should be your number one priority. Once you do that, well, feel free to make a wish.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Losing Your Way on the Ride to a Fabulous Life

Recently, a friend called to tell me he had made a mistake in choosing his current job role. In the same week, a female friend of many years shared a multiple-martini conversation about how she felt unhappy and unsure of her relationship of many years, despite being on the cusp of signing a mortgage with her partner. Another friend discussed frustration with her current job situation but feels trapped due to economic conditions. The brown spots on the banana of life continue to reveal themselves to us, ironically without a knife handy to slice them off.

Yogis repeat a common mantra from Sanskrit: "Satnam." It translates (generally) to "Truth is My Identity." What that means for each individual of practice is different, as truth is, well, a matter of perspective. Basically, what you feel, what you do, what you believe - these are the important factors that define you, which you might find, at some point, find to be in direct opposition to your current career path, lover of choice, or lifestyle. Satnam is a respite, a way for a person to vacation from the perfectionist tendencies, 3-5 year plans, or pressured obligations from those we love. It is, in essence, a "Get Real" moment of Yogic practice that can be incorporated into even the most Capitalist, Ambitionist, Western sort of lifestyle.

Sometimes, I have found myself reading novels, quickly anticipating the ending, or how I would expect the novel and its characters to reveal themselves. When they fail to follow the course I have charted, I have found myself less impressed, but more disappointed. Why, oh why, would the author have deviated down a path I never saw. I am educated, a critical reader, and emotionally intelligent. It seems counter intuitive - should not I, as a Westerner, so immersed in that which follows the formulaic course, revel in the art of surprise or deviation from the norm?



The truth is more basist than I'd like to admit. We like to control. Actually, we thrive on control, on the art of feeling like we are gods of our own lives, masters of our own universes. Rather than delight in a large surprise or unexpected turn of events, it makes us uncomfortable, irritable, dismissive of new pathways. We feel that our internal GPS has led us astray.



Yet, the truth of our lives is defined solely by us. A literary hero of mine, Salman Rushdie, recently spoke of memory and its importance to our lives. To grossly paraphrase, we recall things, not as they were, but as we choose to recall them, making history a scrapbook fuzzy photos and clever annotations, but not ever really a scientific book of truth. Yet, and yet, that is as it should be. Everyone, especially during difficult times (economic or otherwise), will eventually airbrush the experience to a Sophia Patrillo, "Picture this, Sicily, 1925..." type of story.



Regardless of the degree that you feel you have veered off-course, reconnecting with yourself can be the best way to re-navigate the path of life. Take a breath, take a moment, take all the time you need, in fact, because we have only one life, and, as it happens, it is an open road.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Art of Negotiation

The economy continues to struggle, and the cost of items of need continues to feel overwhelming and more than you can afford (forget the items of desire, which feel about as attainable as the Powerball winning ticket numbers these days.) The good news is that the economy continues to be friendly to the spirit of negotiating, finding a way to access products and services of need (well, and sometimes those of desire), even if you are a neophyte at the art of negotiation. Remember a simple acronym, and you will find yourself as compelling as an attorney for AIG in the art of negotiation, saving yourself much more than A BUCK.

1. Always Ask: Deals are not always published to the masses, and often times you can save the most money just speaking with someone one on one. Recently, on a shopping trip, I left a store with 8 deluxe samples of cosmetics, having made zero purchases, just by chatting with the sales associate, engaging in a knowledge-seeking conversation, and developing a vendor-client relationship that will continue to pay off for both the associate and I. Though this example is small, the same principle applies to your auto insurance provider, your credit card or bank of choice, and so forth.

2. Be Decent. For many years, I worked in a customer-service capacity. When I served as a Pharmacy Technician, and people were less than civil to me because of the cost of their drugs (not that they did not have a right to be infuriated regarding the cost of prescription meds, but that is a theme for a different entry), I closed down and was less inclined to go above and beyond to help them. As egalitarian as we all like to think we are, occasionally our human sides take over. If you are on the consumer front, recognize that there is an actual person on the other side of the negotiating table, and both parties are better served by decency in dealings.

3. Understand the Party You are Negotiating With. As an extension of #2, empathy is an imperative component in the art of negotiation. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are bargaining with. What do they really want from you? What is the best case scenario, from their perspective? What is the worst? Most importantly, what agreement could be reached that they would view as symbiotic, where perhaps you would feel you had the upper hand or walked away with more than you expected.

4. Culpa in Contrahendo. Latin for "obligations in negotiations," this expression implies a need for care in negotiations. You do not want to be a swindler. You do not want to be a person who isn't fair, or the person who play Bernie Madoff to the person on the other side of the negotiating table. Put aside the morality of this position, my House-ian friends. Logic and rational thinking should guide you to the same path. The world is small, your reputation matters...if you have learned nothing from this season's Gossip Girl*, you should have learned that.

5. Know thy Ally (if you are bargaining with enemies, you haven't been paying attention or you nominated yourself the new Secretary of State). If you lack skill in the art of empathy, as, not to mention names, some of us do (ahem, like a couple of superficial exes of my...friends), you may find this skill will develop further if you spend more time in conversation with the party you are negotiating with. A few weekends ago, a telemarketer called me, and before we both knew it, we were discussing our dating histories and she was offering me a smartphone cell package 50% lower than she was allowed (I know this to be true because I checked online...four times.) Spend time getting to know the people you are negotiating with, pay attention to their names, ask how their day has been going and MEAN IT! You think they like spending Saturday afternoon haggling with strangers?

*Note: The author of this blog entry does NOT profess to watch Gossip Girl, but has watched several episodes...enough to deduce the analogy holds true. However, if loyal fans rebel, the author will gladly substitute Sex and the City, Dallas, or Sesame Street (hello?! what if people referred to your surname as "the Grouch.")

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ten Wines Under Ten Dollars

Recently, I shared a bottle of champagne with a generous friend...generous, because the bottle cost about $350, and while it was delicious, I would probably have been just as content with a glass of my favorite Prosecco. Before you take out a small loan in order to buy your next bottle of vino, try out a few of my favorite wines around $10 a piece. Oh, and of course, drink responsibly.


Reds


1. Santa Christina, Sangiovese, Tuscany.

2. Alamo, Malbec, Argentina.

3. Menage a Trois, Red, California.

4. 14 Hands, Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington

5. Harrow Road, Cabernet Sauvignon, California.


Whites

6. Little Penguin, Chardonnay, New Zealand.

7. Fat Bastard, Chardonnay, France.

8. Firestone Sauvignon Blanc, California.

9. Smoking Loon, Chardonnay, California.


Sparkling

10. Riondo Prosecco, Italy.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

10 (Free or Cheap) Paths to Zen

Life can be tough. Finding that proverbial work-life balance seems less likely for you than the US Government finding Osama Bin Laden. Plus, dealing with "Empty-Pocket Syndrome" only makes it worse. For your consideration, Recessionista, here are 10 ways to find a little peace in your life without spending the money to hire on a personal guru. Enjoy!

1. Write an Open, Honest, Seething Letter to Your Ex. Go ahead, say all of the horrible things you wanted to say face to face but never did. Use as many four letter words as you like. Bring up issues you had "forgiven" him or her for. Bring up the issues you never made into issues. You even can have carte blanche to go below the belt and tell him/her that you have never smelled feet so stinky. Once you sign off the letter with "Have a nice life," count to ten, and tear the letter to shreds. Exorcism complete. Repeat as desired.

2. Call in to the Local Radio and Request A Song Dedicated to You. Because you deserve it - you are fabulous! Who needs to wait for a romantic gesture to come from someone else, you owe it to you to romance yourself a bit! Caveat: You might want to stay away from requesting tunes such as "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, the musical equivalent of a self-help book.

3. Turn Off Everything. Power-off your iPhones and Blackberries. Shutdown you laptops. Turn off the television, the DVD player, and the stereo. Turn off your lights (light a candle before you do this, of course.) Now, sit. Ignore the immediate wave of panic that comes with device separation. Think and breathe. Notice and be aware of where your mind travels to. Okay, your time out is over...you can now turn House, M.D.back on.

4. Create Your Own Cocktail and Name it After Yourself. I have had the good fortune to have a Master Mixologist in New York City, Mark Noonan., create a cocktail and name it in my honor (and, personal bias aside, it is AMAZING!) If you have neither the geographical nor financial means to find yourself in similar good fortune, fear not! Put your amateur mixologist hat on and stir away. Bonus: No judgement if the "Amy X" cocktail consists of Vitamin Water and Vodka; it's your signature, after all.

5. Take 48 hrs. to Detox from the News. No CNN, no NY Times, no Drudge Report. Give yourself a break from taking the weight of the world on your shoulders and spend the time catching up with news of equal importance - the news of your friends, family, and acquaintances.

6. Listen to the Dustiest CD in your Collection. Hey, you bought it for a reason. While the thought of listening to Don Henley's Greatest Hits might evoke an initial wave of nausea, one round of "The Boys of Summer" will bring you back to brighter times.

7. Take a Picture. Regardless of your location, the camera forces you to see the world (literally and figuratively) through a different lens. Take an afternoon, pretend you are Annie Leibovitz, and start shooting. You might be surprised at what you start to see around you.

8. Schedule One Hour of "Me Time" per Day. Whether you devote the time to knitting, skateboarding, or playing on your Wii, it is important to spend time with and for yourself. (Note: this should also involve powering down the iPhones and Blackberries. You don't want to be a rude date to yourself.)

9. Start a Gratitude Diary. I have recommended this before, but it is worth reinforcing because often times we forget how lucky we truly are. Pick three things daily to document, and you will soon discover how blessed you really are.

10. Find a Mantra. It does not need to be something from Sanskrit, but rather choose a phrase, quote, or expression to repeat to yourself when stress finds you. One of my favorites is "I can always move back in with my parents." I'm sure you will find yours. Namaste.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Importance of Being on Facebook...

Once upon a time, in an Internet-free world known as the early 1990's, a first love was born. A boy meets a girl, they flirt over double cocktails of Vodka made with a mere splash of cranberry juice. Boy makes girl laugh, and she takes him up on his offer to walk her home.

They kiss. They hug. They promise to call. They make plans to have dinner next weekend. Maybe, they reconsider their plans for spring break (Him: Cancun, Her: Las Vegas) to include one another in a makeshift frat/sorority encounter. He looks in her eyes, and says, "I have never met anyone like you." She blinks her eyelashes twice, and perfectly times her answer, "It is nice to meet someone totally real, you know?" He looks at her in the eyes, pausing a contrived moment, then kisses her on the cheek, hugs her, and leaves. She sighs as she opens the door to her apartment, beginning to plan for their imaginary wedding.

Fast forward a decade, and enter Facebook.

Years after inception, Facebook continues to grow in importance in terms of its relevance to society, particular in the generation of young people who use the social networking site not only to network, but to size up the person they met at the bar ("OMG - he wore a toga during Greek Week!"), to validating the truth of what they understood to be true about a person ("she told me she is single, so why does her relationship status say "It's Complicated?), or to go on a truth-seeking mission to vet friends, family, coworkers, and, of course, their significant others. Facebook offers a powerful tool in terms of finding answers, providing a clearer picture (or multiple pictures) of an individual, as well as communicating, via passive aggressive ("de-friending" someone) or subtly flirtatious actions ("poking" someone). In essence, it is a sort of parallel universe of our day to day existence, a cyber-reality.



In this reality, as in real-life, truth can be a person's best friend or worst enemy. In a recession, it behooves all to consider the latter. Facebook recently noted a 276% growth in the 35-54 year old sector, doubling ever month. This social networking site is quickly moving from collegiate ownership to a phenomenon of the masses, and those masses include employers, coworkers, and prospective clients. Expect to see more and more merging of the social and professional networks. Expect to have prospective employers search you on the Internet, including your profile on social networking sites. Expect that prospective clients will want to vet you in any way that Bing or Google allows.

Time for action. Review your profile on your social networking sites (those ridiculous pictures from your birthday three years ago are really NOT that funny anymore.) Remove anything that might be embarrassing, should it be published in the NY Times. Remove flagrant or off-color remarks, wall-postings, or photos, and limit security of those "friends" who contribute to the undoing of your career. No joke, photo, or one-liner is worth losing a professional opportunity. Finally, resist the urge to publish the state of your current Romancia (or lack thereof.) Though I personally follow the daily news feed updates of you two ("single", no, "it's complicated", no "in a relationship", wait no, "single"), professionally you might as well admit that the latest Danielle Steele novel is based on your life.

The Internet blurs past, present, and future, but the good news is that we all still own control over what cyber-scrapbooks we choose to share with the masses. If it was 1990, and our imaginary couple went through an immediate discussion on politics, religion, and exes that continue to flirt with them, a second date would be unlikely. Treat social-networking sites as such, and, remember, manners and discretion go a long way.