03 November, 2010

Getting smart, finally

A few weeks ago, I flew out to Chicago for an overnight. I had been invited to watch a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah was doing a program on the 40th anniversary of the film "Love Story" and her guests were Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. I got to go because I answered a question on Oprah.com: "Do you remember the film 'Love Story'?" 

I didn't keep a copy of what I wrote but the basic idea was this: OF COURSE I remember the film "Love Story!" 

Truth be told, I said, I fell in love with everything about that film. The characters, the idea of love, the snotty Ivy League banter. Jennifer Cavelleri's blue peacoat and her black tights and her knitted woolen caps. That luscious Francis Lai score -- the hint of tragedy, the snow frolic in Harvard Yard, the beautiful but ultimately heartbreaking skate 'round Central Park before heading to the hospital for a dignified and tidy farewell.

More than anything else -- and I'm certain I wrote this in my impassioned and jet-lagged response to Oprah's producers' question -- I fell in love with all that I dreamed might be possible in my own life.

So, going to the reunion show in Chicago was meaningful. I loved listening to Ali MacGraw, in particular. She spoke openly of the lessons in her own life and of the pain and disappointments she has worked through. She talked about Bob Evans and Steve McQueen. Santa Fe. Yoga. Animal rights. Plastic surgery. Getting older. Finally getting smart.

Ali is smart. And mighty interesting. 

You know what she said that was REALLY smart and REALLY interesting? She said that she finally figured out that relationships only work if you show up as who you really are and NOT as you think the other person wants you to be. 

The role of Authenticity, caps mine. Being who you are. Knowing who you are. And being comfortable enough to say, Hey, this is who I am.

Now fast forward a few weeks to last weekend. After a 29-year hiatus, I had a reunion with my three roommates from my senior year in college. (Cornell, by the way. Not Harvard. Big Red, not Crimson. Harvard gave me the early rejection treatment, as I called it, since I applied for early decision and got the two thumbs down in December.) 

We met in North Adams, MA, in the Berkshires. Kind of a midway point of sorts for our various locations. We combined our reunion with a trip to nearby Williamstown, a visit to MassMOCA and lots of talking and reminiscing. 

There's a lot I could write about what it's like to revisit your college years from the vantage point of age fifty one. But it's too much. Too much for a blog, anyway. 

I'll just focus on one thing. I realized this past weekend that I never liked being at Cornell. I didn't hate it. But I didn't love it. I didn't find what I was looking for. 

I went to Cornell in 1977 thinking I was certain to meet my intended Ollie Barrett the Fourth. I didn't. I became infatuated with a drug dealer instead -- a guy with a lopsided grin, a lucky streak and a zipper that never closed. He did not fall in love with me. But he let me write a few of his papers and he stole my bicycle.

I also went to Cornell thinking I was on the path to success. I thought life was about garnering achievements and honors. That, as in "Love Story", you set out for Harvard (or, as Cavafy rightly said in my case, you set out for Ithaca...) and you keep going. Fellowships, awards, kudos. On and on and on. 

In recent years, I've felt that I have failed somehow. That I "just" do international marketing and it isn't very impressive. It isn't law or medicine or teaching at the university level. It isn't much of an achievement, I've thought to myself.

Well, I'm changing my mind these days.  I'm revising what it means to be smart. And to succeed. To be proud. To achieve.

The things I'm proudest of achieving have nothing to do with fellowships or grants or promotions or anything like that. 

I'm proudest of being a friend.

I'm proudest of being brave enough to be in therapy. 

I'm proudest of being generous and not needing to tell anyone about it. 

I'm proudest of being vulnerable.

And I'm proudest of being able to say that FOR ME being real includes coloring my hair, wearing make-up, dressing fashionably. Yes, all of that is part of me, just as loving the ballet and the theater is part of me, and singing is part of me, and reading is part of me, and a love of journalism is part of me, and loving language and word games and insisting that spelling and grammar are incredibly important are all part of me. Those are all parts of me. I don't want or need to change them for anyone.

As I drove away this past weekend, I thought about who I was back then and who I am now. Some people say that their college years were their happiest. OMG. Not me. I would never say that. What I would say, instead, is what I said in therapy this week: that I am happiest right now. That these are the halcyon days. That who I am now is the person I have been destined to be. Not perfect. Oh god no. Not the one with the most impressive credentials. Nope. Not that either. But the person who is comfortable -- happy, even -- in my own skin. 

That makes me feel smart. 

Smart enough, for example,  to know that "Love means never having to say you're sorry" is a ridiculous thing to say. And wrong. You know what I think? I think love means saying you're sorry when you are, and meaning it. And wearing red lipstick. And getting Botox. And treating yourself to Christian Dior boots 'cause you love 'em and they're too beautiful to live without. 

That is what is possible in my own life. Preppie.

1 comment:

  1. the funny thing is that "who we are" is just constantly changing -- at least that is true of me. The constant these days is that I genuinely like myself for me. That has been a hard fought battle -- and at times I fall backwards into self-doubt -- the questioning of a lifelong hyper-critical mind with a really well-developed perfectionism streak.

    I like this post -- very much. I am proud of you too -- just think about where you started at Hall High (nay, Margo would say King Philip) and how different this act of writing feels now. here's to turning that corner into our 50s and giving ourselves permission to be "me".