20 Beauty “Secrets”

Hiking In New Zealand 2010

Hiking In New Zealand 2010

I had to see a dermatologist this past month.

While I was there I asked about various cosmetic procedures for improving one’s middle aged face. She told me that I didn’t really need anything, that I was lucky at my age. No Botox, Thermage, or peels required, they wouldn’t make a noticeable difference. She sent me off with some retinol and instructions on how to use it to freshen up my complexion.

So, in the spirit of the holiday season, I am sharing everything I know about beauty with you. I learned all of this stuff the hard way, through experience. When I talk about getting fit, it’s because I was a fat, wheezing lump at 25. When I mention divorce, it’s because I’ve been there too. None of this is as glib as it may sound.

  1. Throw away department store skin care products and buy Cetaphil cleanser and moisturizer instead. The expensive crap sold by the major cosmetics companies is full of ingredients that irritate skin, cause allergic reactions, and generally won’t do anything that any gentle cleanser, water, and a moisturizer can’t. I learned this after spending hundreds of dollars on products from Clinique, Estee Lauder, and others. My dermatologist validated this. When I asked her about what kind of moisturizer to use with the retinol cream she said “Cetaphil” before I told her that I was already using it.
  2. Sleep 7-9 hours each night.
  3. Always use sunscreen and wear a hat outside.
  4. Drink lots of water. If your pee isn’t clear, you’re not trying hard enough.
  5. Eat real food. If the ingredients list has stuff you can’t pronounce and/or was developed in a lab instead of nature, don’t eat it.
  6. Never ever drink soda pop or sweetened crap such as Snapple.
  7. Avoid artificial sweeteners. If you must consume something with sugar, use the real thing or honey.
  8. Eat yogurt everyday — a good quality full-fat, unflavored & unsweetened plain yogurt with probiotic cultures. Gut health effects your whole body.
  9. Stop buying women’s fashion and beauty magazines. They just make you feel bad about yourself.
  10. Exercise every day. Find something you like and do it, preferably outdoors if your climate permits. This does not mean that you must train like an Olympic athlete. Just do something to keep your muscles, heart, and bones strong. A benefit from breaking a sweat is that you circulate oxygen to your skin too. It doesn’t have to take a long time either. Studies show that a hard 30 minute workout is more effective than a long, slow one.
  11. Build a supportive social network of people who won’t screw you, shame you, manipulate you, or bully you. E.G.  J. befriended me 20 years ago. After a few months of knowing her, she tried to get me to invest $10,000 in a pyramid scheme. I dropped her like the turd she was.
  12. Don’t shame, bully, or manipulate others. This may be hard sometimes, depending on what’s happening in your life. Be aware, take responsibility and make amends when you catch yourself engaging in these negative behaviors. Then forgive yourself. This will go a long way towards developing #11.
  13. Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect perfection.
  14. Don’t smoke.
  15. Consume alcohol responsibly. Nobody’s mug shot looks good.
  16. Love someone other than yourself.
  17. Don’t waste time trying to change other people. A pig in a tux is still a swine. This includes spouses. If you screwed up and picked the wrong fella, cut your losses. Nothing ages you faster than being in a bad relationship. Divorce is gut wrenching, but trust that you will come through it better off than if you’d stayed. You might not see how right now. That’s normal. Consider the opportunities that are closed to you if you don’t make a change.
  18. Invest in health insurance. Go to the dentist twice a year. In the end, your body is all you can count as your own for life. Money comes and goes, as do all material possessions, friends and lovers.
  19. If you find yourself suffering repetitive strain injuries from the exercise program you select, talk to a physiotherapist or other health professional about them. I discovered that I needed custom orthotics for my running shoes, and it has made all the difference.
  20. Have fun. Find work that you like, and if for some reason you are stuck in a job that isn’t sustaining your spirit as well as your rent, then cultivate a hobby or another outlet for enjoying your life. It isn’t always practical to “follow our bliss” when it comes to our jobs, but we can find other ways to nurture ourselves creatively, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. We must, otherwise we wilt away.

That’s it, everything I’ve learned about beauty and aging after 46 years on this planet.

Top 10 Wines – 2014

Martina Newhook:

I haven’t tried any of these, but now I have something to work towards over the holidays.

Originally posted on Whine And Cheers For Wine:

TOP 10 Wines Picked by You

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As 2014 comes to a speedy end it is time to let the Whine and Cheers readers decide what the TOP wines of the year were for them. With close to 40,000 hits it’s interesting to see which wines are being researched the most.

Even more compelling to me is where these searches are coming from. Listed below at the end of this post you’ll find the TOP 15 countries [out of 96!] where searches were initiated leading them to Whine and Cheers for Wine.  For those wonderingRepublic of Tanzania came in at number 16!

As the drum-roll begins I have to admit that one post in particular wins the gold star for most hits all year-long. No matter the day, the week or the month, wine drinkers are intrigued and their attention peaked. The honor belongs to Australia’s 19 CRIMES Red Blend…

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Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal

4/14/47

I must write down that I am to be an artist. Not in the sense of aesthetic frippery but in the sense of aesthetic craftsmanship; otherwise I will feel my loneliness continually—like this today. The word craftsmanship takes care of the work angle & the word aesthetic the truth angel. Angle. It will be a life struggle with no consummation. When something is finished, it cannot be possessed. Nothing can be possessed but the struggle. All our lives are consumed in possessing struggle but only when the struggle is cherished & directed to a final consummation outside of this life is it of any value. I want to be the best artist it is possible for me to be, under God.

I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding of God. Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You.

— Flannery O’Connor, age 21.
from A Prayer Journal published by FSG, 2013

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor

Why does O’Connor’s diary entry affect me so? Well, for starters, her maturity at age 21 is astonishing. She knew who she was and what she wanted to do with her life in a way that few of us do at such an early age. Her faith may have nurtured her trust in herself.

Questions of faith get under my skin; although, I do not share O’Connor’s devotion to Catholicism and God. And yet, great artists throughout history dedicated their work to God, arguably with greater success than those whose concerns remained exclusively secular. Mystery and manners; the very unlikeliness of our existence among the cosmos; the desire to make something both beautiful and transcendent — these haunt me as they do the devout. Perhaps believing in a higher power frees the artist. If the work — making a novel or a painting — rather than the product, is the thing that motivates the artist in the first place, then working frees her from the limitations of the material world that prevent artistry. When we let go of the product and focus instead on the experience of making, doubt about the veracity and the value of the work itself may slip away.

On Muses, Self-Respect, and Creativity

A woman sketches on the lawns of The Getty Center, Los Angeles. Photo: Martina Newhook

What is a muse?

The ancient Greeks thought of the Muses as gods, nine daughters of Zeus, who graced creative individuals with divine inspiration. This idea lets individuals off the hook for inventing the work on their own; the painting, play, poem, musical composition or solution to a scientific problem, results from the gods working through them.

Artists are like radio antennae, channeling the gods’ inspiration. All they have to do is show up, open the channel and get to work. Getting something down is much easier than making it up.

Later, muses evolved into living people, such as Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, whose likeness he abstracted during his cubist period. Author Dani Shapiro identifies her mother as her muse in Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, because most of her work addresses maternal relationships and estrangements.

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King describes his muse as an imaginary guy in the basement smoking a cigar. As long as King shows up to do the work, the guy in the basement supplies the magic. But make no mistake, King shows up every day. He knows that guy in the basement won’t write a damn thing.

For me, there remains an element of the divine in my concept of a personal muse.

At one time people used divining rods to seek out ground water and locate wells. They had faith that a higher power could send a message through a Y-shaped twig held by a person open to receiving it as he walked across an open field. The rod would vibrate and shake to alert him to the presence of water below.

My muse works like a diviner, pointing the way. When I am moving across the page towards something beyond cliché, something that is real and true, I feel phantom tingles on my shoulder. I imagine that it’s my muse, her ice cream cone dripping onto me. This sensation spurs me to keep at it, to trust what is coming forward and not judge it, at least not yet.

A ten-year-old girl, untainted by duty and shame, my muse is completely free to be herself. She spends most of her time doing what the Italians call dolce far niente, which is to say she pleasures in doing nothing. She understands that constant busyness brings death to any creative effort. It numbs the brain, creating the illusion that we are in control. It shields the mind against vulnerability, and the muse demands vulnerability, faith and trust.

Creativity benefits from idleness.

The work—our creative practice whether we are writers, musicians, dancers, painters or scientists—requires us to show up at our studios or laboratories between certain hours, but the filling of the creative well results from time spent being rather than doing. Most creative practitioners know that too much practice can become as detrimental as not enough. It’s called burnout, and it applies to most types of work.

My muse, let’s call her Tina, is usually eating ice cream when she shows up. She wears pink shorts, no shoes. Topping the shorts is a shirt that her brother brought back from Barbados. Its dominant color is red. She likes both red and pink. She likes having something exotic to wear and doesn’t care that the shirt doesn’t match the shorts. Tina doesn’t care if others like her attitude or not; she doesn’t yet know that the culture is against her.

Loss, confusion, and neglect have already touched her, yet she still believes in the value of hanging out on the lawn with an ice cream cone, and takes pleasure in this idleness. It feeds her spirit, mind, and body, giving her the strength to go forward and to supply my creative well.

I know that Tina is with me, not judging the work but channeling the energy to type the words, because I can feel that they are alive and true. Her presence takes me beyond thoughts of authorship, beyond cliché, beyond labor, to the joy of idling away the hours on the page.

When I’ve failed to refill my creative well and it runs dry, I fear that my muse has moved on. Grief sets in; words clunk from my pen like stones shifted from one rock pile to another. Being kind to myself, buying ice cream, lying on the grass, walking without aim, losing myself to an afternoon of idleness, these are the activities that refill the creative well and coax the muse back to my shoulder.

It’s no accident that my muse is a projection of myself as a child. Her presence represents a measure of self-respect regained over time, the kind of self-respect that requires an intrinsic sense of worthiness, an understanding that I am enough.

When I was a girl, I didn’t worry about what others thought of me. It was later, between puberty and early adulthood, that I developed a need to be all things to all people, and in doing so upended my self-respect for a while. During this period of my life I stopped writing stories. I lost my nerve. The well ran dry. I worked for a chemical company.

Later, when I reconciled the risks of being myself, understanding that self-respect had nothing to do with the approval of others, a funny thing happened. I dared to call myself a writer. I picked up a pen and began a story. The muse showed up in her pink shorts and baptized my shoulder with drips of ice cream. Butter pecan or possibly rum raisin, she indulges in both.

There’s gelato in the freezer. I think I’ll get some now and take it outside to the patio that faces the mountains.

Reflections on Collective Dementia – Novels About Wall Street

FlashBoysMy writer-hero of the moment is Michael Lewis, whose current Wall Street critique, Flash Boys, exposes just how rigged the system really is. I’m reading it now, and it amazes me how blind we are to the whole concept of conflicts of interest in this country. We appoint bankers and high-speed traders to the SEC and expect them to investigate themselves. The story from end to end could only be believed as nonfiction. If a fiction writer put this stuff into a novel, she’d be criticized for her over-active imagination, as well as her underestimation of our collective intelligence.

Yet, fiction writers do put Wall Street into their novels. Sometimes these fictional representations turn out to present greater truths about human nature than the true stories told by Lewis can achieve. For although Lewis presents the facts in an accessible and startling way through narrative focused on a few key characters, he cannot present what actual people experience inside themselves because a journalist cannot claim to know exactly what a person, other than himself, actually thinks and feels; at best, as a nonfiction writer you can only interpret others’ thoughts and feelings based on what is said and how it is said. That’s why Lewis’s own shock, outrage, and humour really bring his book to life.

In fiction, the writer can present her characters thoughts and feelings through the magic of indirect narration via the characters’ points of view. In fiction, we are allowed to read minds. This helps us to understand motivation and human nature in a way that reportage cannot. If you find the facts, details, and twists in Flash Boys mind blowing and at times even a little dry, consider reading novels about past financial crises. The two I’m recommending are Moral Hazard (2002) by Kate Jennings and Good Faith (2003) by Jane Smiley. I assure you, both remain relevant today.

MoralHazardBoth novels take their titles from contract law. The phrase “moral hazard” is an insurance industry term that refers to the possibility that the insured will have an incentive to take greater risks when they are no longer solely responsible for the consequences. The concept can be applied to any contract where one party has an incentive to behave in a way that is contrary to the interests of the other party. In other words, banks have little incentive to temper their risk-taking behavior knowing that the government will save them if their losses reach a certain magnitude.

The term “good faith” refers to the presumption that the parties to a contract will act fairly, without impeding the other party’s right to obtain the expected benefit from the contract. It can also be thought of in religious terms and applied to sacramental contracts, such as marriage. In either case, like “moral hazard,” the term has moral implications. If corporations are people, I wonder, do they have the capacity to act morally? Can they live up to the terms of a contract with us, the people, without violating good faith or invoking moral hazard?

GoodFaithMoral Hazard by Kate Jennings is a work of autobiographical fiction about a woman named Cath whose husband, Bailey, a man twenty-five years her senior, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In order to pay for his care, Cath takes a job as a speechwriter at a Wall Street investment bank during the financial services boom experienced throughout the 1990s. The novel, more a novella at approximately thirty-five thousand words, uses the metaphor of Alzheimer’s disease to chronicle Bailey’s decline in parallel with the institutional dementia Cath witnesses on Wall Street, where hubris and greed lead to a hedge fund failure on a massive scale.

Although not named in the novel, the hedge fund in question is Long Term Capital Management, whose $4.8 billion in assets plunged to $1.8 billion during the Russian currency crisis of 1998; unable to repay its debts, the fund was subsequently rescued by the Federal Reserve Bank (Greenspan 12). This incident foreshadowed the 2008 financial crisis, but, as Cath recognized, no one seemed to care enough to do anything about it.

Jennings herself took a job at JP Morgan as a speechwriter to support her real-life husband, who developed early on-set Alzheimer’s. She spent seven years working at the bank, enough time to get to know the culture and understand the tribal nature of Wall Street.

She writes beautifully, too. Here’s a taste of Cath’s voice as she writes that she was

… an unlikely candidate, too, to be working for a firm whose culture had been shaped by the kind of drive required to shave dimes off dollars without actually making something useful or entertaining, something that could be touched or enjoyed. A firm whose ethic was borrowed in equal parts from the Marines, the CIA, and Las Vegas. A firm where women were about as welcome as fleas in a sleeping bag. (11)

That pretty much sums up what we’ve learned about Wall Street post-GFC, and it was written five years before Lehmann Brothers and Bear Stearns melted down.

Jane Smiley’s Good Faith is the story of Joe Stafford, small town real estate agent. Set during the 1980s in the context of Reaganomics, financial deregulation, the savings and loan crisis, and the rise of consumer culture, it hinges on a real estate development scheme gone wrong. Joe Stafford is a regular everyman. He runs a business and helps out his friends in the building trades by sending work their way. Still mourning his divorce, he’s pleasantly surprised when Felicity, the married younger sister of his high school sweetheart and the daughter of one of his business partners, initiates an affair. Life’s pretty good. He’s making money, getting laid, and has good friends. Then he meets Marcus, a former IRS agent, who tells Joe, “I hate paying taxes” (150). He shows Joe how to live on borrowed money in order avoid paying taxes. Once he has Joe’s trust, he exploits Joe’s good nature. It’s human nature to be optimistic, and it’s typical for nice guys like Joe to prefer to trust the people in their social circle than to doubt them. It’s also human nature to not want to be left behind in an age of speculative exuberance.

Smiley’s novel shows how human nature causes financial bubbles for the simple reason that we are very good at rationalizing risk away. Yet despite our denials, bubbles always burst. Smiley is less interested in government policy than she is in monitoring what her neighbors are up to and placing their behavior in a wider social context. Good Faith is a novel about the conflict between the common good and unbridled selfishness rather than a polemic about neo-conservative policies.

Smiley writes masterfully in the character of Joe, drawing the reader into his heart and mind with sensuous details. Here’s a taste:

Those moments, when we were parking our cars and getting out and fumbling with keys and I was directing her to the door of my condo at one in the morning, were maybe the time in my life when I felt the most purely young. There was none of that grinding sense of getting through the various stages of an acquisition project that I often felt when I was flirting. No strategy, no trying to figure anything out. I didn’t even touch her or take her elbow—no first moves that would lead to a goal. Rather, the air was damp and fresh-smelling, the grass was growing a few feet away in the darkness, trees rustled their new leaves all around us. (19)

If you read fiction to not only immerse yourself into a make-believe world but to understand deeper truths about life, the people around you, and yourself, then pick up Moral Hazard and Good Faith. You won’t be disappointed.

***

Elizabeth Warren Wikipedia photo

Elizabeth Warren
Wikipedia photo

Elizabeth Warren’s autobiography, A Fighting Chance, will be released in three days time. Quoting from Jill Lepore’s review in this week’s The New Yorker, Warren makes the argument that “Big corporations hire armies of lobbyists to get billion-dollar loopholes into the tax system and persuade their friends in Congress to support laws that keep the playing field tilted in their favor. Meanwhile, hard working families are told that they’ll just have to live with smaller dreams for their children ” Lepore goes on to compare Warren’s position to that of Justice Brandeis who, long before serving on the supreme court, published Other People’s Money in 1914, where he argued that America was run by plutocrats, not the people.

Where Brandeis influenced both Wilson’s and FDR’s administrations to create financial industry regulations that built the American middle class, Warren points out that dismantling these regulations beginning in the 1980s destroyed the middle class and re-created the same wealth inequality that Brandeis reacted against in his criticism of the gilded age. According to Lepore, Warren’s central argument is that legislatures and courts “who have allowed the nation’s social and economic policies to be made by corporations and bankers,” abandoned the country’s children and mortgaged its future.

I look forward to reading the book myself. I like a good rabble-rouser, and Warren has done the peer-reviewed academic research that determined her positions, not the other way around. She didn’t begin with a position and then build a study to prove it, as most lobbyists and partisan think tanks do.

WORKS CITED

Greenspan, Alan. “Hedge Funds, Leverage, and the Lessons of Long-Term Capital Management: Report of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets.” Ed. Department of the Treasury. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congress, 1999. Print.

Jennings, Kate. Moral Hazard. New York: Fourth Estate, 2002. Print.

Lepore, Jill. “The Warren Brief: Reading Elizabeth Warren.” The New Yorker April 21 2014: 96-101. Print.

Smiley, Jane. Good Faith. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

 

 

Dead Female Writers Worth Remembering: Christina Stead & Hazel Rowley

I re-read Jonathan Franzen’s essay “The Greatest Family Storied: On Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Childrenthis morning. Don’t ask me why this particular piece on this particular day. Why I plucked Farther Away, his essay collection published in 2012, from my shelf instead of some other volume is a mystery to me—of course if you’re a student of C.G. Jung, you would say it was no accident. Something pulled my hand that way and not some other way, a synchronistic wind blowing a message from the collective unconscious to my hand, perhaps.

Whatever troubles Franzen may have had over the years with his female critics, one cannot deny the boost he has given to women writers both in and out of print whom he has championed, among them: Alice Munro, Paula Fox, and Christina Stead.

Christina Stead, a brilliant and prolific Australian writer born in 1902, was overlooked during her lifetime. One might say that Stead—a Marxist, though she did not join the Communist Party—was a victim of politics, circumstance and history, or that perhaps her being ignored was her own fault for daring to live beyond the limitations that being female and Australian placed upon the likelihood of her being admitted to the western canon during her lifetime.

Stead fled Australia—an isolated cultural wasteland at the time—at the age of twenty-six in 1928, moving first to London then to Paris, Spain, and Belgium, and later to New York.

The Man Who Loved Children (1940) was her 4th novel and arguably her best, though more than a dozen books followed. Based upon her own life, it is one of the truest books Franzen says he has ever read, worthy of inclusion on university syllabi, read next to Joyce and Faulkner. Her biographer, Hazel Rowley, would agree.

I’d never heard of Christina Stead, until I met Hazel Rowley in Adelaide, Australia, where she delivered a lecture and master class to postgraduate students in 2007. Stead was not and still is not read in her own country, nor did she win any national literary prizes during her lifetime. Rowley’s theory was that because she left Australia so young, the country no longer considered her one of its own. She dared to take on life as an ex-patriot writer, in a sense rejecting the country of her birth. Who did she think she was? Her books weren’t set in Australia, nor were they particularly “Australian,” whatever that might mean.

Yet, in England she was thought of as an Australian, as was also the case in America. Her U.S. publisher forced her to set The Man Who Loved Children in Baltimore rather than Sydney, believing that Americans did not care about Australians. This change in setting negatively impacted the book since Stead could not know Baltimore as intimately as she did the city of her birth. Indeed, reviewers complained that Stead did not have a handle on American life and American-ness.

By roaming the globe, Stead became a writer without a national identity, and it cost her. She did not win prizes in any country. She did not qualify for fellowships or other financial perks because she did not live in the country where she held citizenship.

When Rowley told me this, I almost cracked-up thinking, “Have I shot my literary career to hell by leaving Canada and going to Australia?” Such is the hubris of a beginning writer for whom a problem such as Stead’s would be a good one to have, since it would mean I had written something worth entering into prize competitions, which at the time I had not.

Hazel Rowley 1951-2011. photographed by Mathieu Bourgois

Hazel Rowley 1951-2011. photographed by Mathieu Bourgois

So, back to Franzen and Jung. I believe I was drawn to this essay as a reminder to keep on writing something true, to stay the course and develop artistry, even if no one else notices or cares. And also to remember Hazel Rowley, who passed away from a stroke on March 1, 2011. I met her twice and felt a kinship with her. She was a no bullshit kind of person who told you what she thought.

Like Stead, Rowley dared to leave Australia to pursue the kind of writer’s life she wanted, beyond the limits of the academy that employed her as a professor. She set out for New York and never looked back, writing several biographies to critical acclaim, including Tête à Tête about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre and Richard Wright: The Life and Times. Her final book, Franklin & Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, was released shortly before her death.

If I could be as brave, bold, and original in life and work as Stead and Rowley, then that will be enough.

Further Reading:

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/an-irrepressible-and-daring-storyteller-20110309-1bnwp.html

Jonathan Franzen, Re-reading The Man Who Loved Children