Guaranteed Or Your Money Back


For many years, I have sought clarity, sanity, and peace of mind. I have desired efficiency of thought, and I’ve worked to cultivate the ability to appreciate my emotions without capitulating to them.

And on this quest, one thing I’ve noticed is how much my mental state is about context. Like, when I am looking out a window with a hot cup of tea in my hand and a cat in my lap, it’s simple to assume this stance, to stay quiet inside and look at myself with equanimity.

But when I’m in Sephora with a $50 eyeshadow palette in my hand and I’m starting to feel sweaty and fidgety and I just want to buy the damn thing to make it stop, even though I have like a bajillion eyeshadows at home and student loans debts still to pay and I am forty for Chrissake …

Or when I’m on the phone with someone who is telling me that I can’t have this very reasonable thing I’m politely asking for because of some arbitrary rule that doesn’t apply to my situation anyway and I’m one breath away from blowing a gasket …

Or when I wake up the morning after drinking five beers and eating a vat of chocolate caramel popcorn and feel like the grossest fattest fuck in the world and I never want anyone to look at me ever again …

Well, in those moments, it’s a little trickier. Which means a girl needs tricks. A system, if you will, a routine to run through in that last split second before the Crazytown coaster goes over the first hill and gains too much momentum to be stopped.

Luckily, I have developed such a system, and it actually, honestly, works. It’s based on Science, and even has a silly acronym to help you remember it. I’m so proud of this system that I named it after myself! I call it NERD. Notice, Exhale, Reason, Distract.

Here’s how it works. When you start to feel all hot and bothered in Sephora, and you’re rationalizing how this palette is different from all the others you already own, because it has a red purple instead of a blue purple, and you’re only forty points away from the next VIB reward anyway …

Well, the first thing you’ve got to do is notice that you’re about to do something a little crazy. You’re getting that hopped-up don’t-give-a-crap feeling, and you’ve gotten it before, right? You know what it means and what it feels like. Pay attention to what’s happening.

Then exhale. Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett had to wait, but you don’t. You can just force all the air out of your lungs in one big satisfying whoosh, whenever you want. This will cause fresh new air to rush in, bringing you into the moment and helping you step back from what’s brewing in your brain. Miraculous.

Next, reason with yourself. Picture the drawer full of eyeshadows you have at home. Think about your student loans. Imagine yourself with that red purple color on your eyes. Does it make you look pretty, or … consumptive? Is this the best use of your fifty bucks, or are you just being manipulated by a shiny colorful atmosphere that was, in fact, designed to manipulate you? It’s important to approach this step from the right perspective. You’re not arguing with your craziness, or getting angry at it — you’re just raising a skeptical eyebrow. And that’s all you need to do: pull the energy out of the hot and crazy part of your brain and put it in the cool Spock-like sector.

Finally, distraction. Do something else. Ask the friend you’re shopping with what she thinks of red violet eyeshadow. Go outside and watch some kids skateboarding. Indulge in a $6 ice cream, or in a rant about how ice cream now costs $6. Whatever. You just need to find something else to put your attention on. And reflect on the fact that we are all exactly like little children in that this totally works.

Wait — now what were you freaking out about again? Do you even remember? High five yourself because you just skipped a potentially costly trip to Crazytown, simply by remembering one goofy acronym.

Seriously, though. Honestly. This works. Sometimes it works so well that the first two steps are enough and you don’t even need to try to be reasonable — it will just happen automatically after you notice what you’re doing and start breathing.

So I hope you’ll use it — in traffic, at work, with family or friends who are driving you bananas. Anytime part of you wants to do something that another part of you recognizes as a bad idea, just notice what’s happening inside you and exhale. Breathe. Apply reason and distraction as needed. And — bam! Equanimity maintained, collateral damage averted, mental state/bank account/life improved.

Do you play any little games to pop yourself out of a stressful moment and just be cool? Are you willing to try the NERD thing, or is it just a little bit too dumb to follow acronym-based, internet-delivered advice? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

What’s Going On


Life has once again done that thing where it changes everything on you all at once, and I find myself in the strange peace that descends after a storm. My grandma passed away about a month ago, while I was thousands of miles away on business, and I haven’t quite known how to write about it.

Ever since I was little, I was crazy about my grandma. “My Ma, nobody else’s!” I used to say when I was little, and hug her hard around the neck. Then I’d run off to play in her amazing closet, piling on the jewelry and dresses and furs. We had an easy and lovely relationship my whole life, until she got old and needed me, and it got a lot more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong — the rational part of my brain and the loving part were both so happy that I could be there for her these last ten years, and especially the last two, since she got really sick. But there was another part of me, too, that resented the encroachment on my freedom. And this conflict meant that I generally was trying to manage about ten different emotions, from fear to empathy to exasperation, all at the same time.

I’m not a person who’s drawn to caretaking, or who particularly enjoys it even. But there my sweet grandma was, older and more helpless with each passing day. She really did need someone to take responsibility for her, so I made the choice that I would. I’d help as best I could. I would not leave her to face the end of her life alone.

Of course, she was alone at the very end … but she always hated being fussed after. So, maybe some part of her wanted to slip out while we weren’t looking. There’s no way of knowing, but either way, I have no regrets. My grandma knew I loved the heck out of her, even with all my teeth-gnashing and eye-rolling, just as I knew she loved the heck out of me even when she was cranky and short-tempered.

None of us are perfect … But we try our best to do what’s right, to do what we said we’d do. And somehow that ends up being enough, I think.

When I think things like I’ll never wake up on my birthday morning and hear Ma sing to me ever again, I feel sad. But I’m also feeling … how to say it … complete? Like I had a job to do, and I did it decently well, and now it’s done.

What I don’t feel is despondent or depressed, because Ma had an excellent life, and living until age 90 and having a family that adores you is no tragedy.

And she was ready to go. She talked about death all the time, anticipating it, even getting annoyed that it was taking so long to arrive. The last few years were brutal for her. She was stuck in bed, in constant pain, and pissed off about it, as any of us would be. She didn’t see the point to it. She wanted some rest. I get that.

And then there’s the fact that I’ve already been grieving her, for a long time — every little loss of mobility, of memory, of independence. I was with her for every bump down the mountain, and if you add up the hours I’ve spent crying, it must be weeks by now. Honestly? I’m all cried out. There may be more yet to come, but right now, I feel peaceful and calm. Ready for what’s next.

It’s going to take some time to sink in, I think, that our family’s slow-motion emergency of the last two years is over. And it’s funny how it had sort of driven out a lot of my other memories about my grandma, from before she got so frail.

But as I was going through her apartment, I found the blue dress with gold medallions that she wore to my First Communion … the glow-in-the-dark rosary that she used to let me pray on when I came to visit … her enormous collection of trashy books with prayer cards and recipes stuck in the covers.

And with every artifact, memories flooded back. Like how she loved to cook for us, barbecue brisket and chicken cacciatore and buttery Yorkshire puddings that puffed up like magic … and how she loved going to the race track and drinking a couple beers and yelling for her favorites … and how she watched Oprah every single day and always called her “Ofrah.”

She was a real dame, my grandma — tall and classy and down-to-earth and glamorous and hilarious and unbelievably warm. I can’t imagine I’ll ever meet anyone as sincerely sweet, and I’ll always miss her. But most of all, I’m glad she’s now at peace.