14/11/2012 § 10 Comments
As I mentioned last week, I still have yet to return home due to damages my apartment building suffered during Hurricane Sandy. I have been removed from my normal routine and neighborhood, but I recognize that compared to some, I have lost very little. I am very sorry to have been an absentee parent these past few days, and I wanted to let you know that your emails checking in on me have been a particularly bright spot for me in this stretch of time. Thank you! xo
That said, I have found these past few weeks difficult. Personally, when I feel like I have a sense of control over things, I feel the most secure. Having to leave my home has forced me to cede a certain amount of that control, and that has been disconcerting. But I believe that this also speaks to a larger concept that I have struggled with throughout my life: the concept of letting go – the process of detaching myself from an outcome, a routine, a person, or a relationship that I have invested my time, my money or my heart (or even all three) into.
In the early post-Sandy days, I realized that I was hanging on to a lot of frustration at being displaced and also at not being able to do anything about it. It bled over into other areas of my life, causing me to feel sullen and wanting to retreat – all because I felt like I had lost my sense of control over my living conditions. That’s it! I hadn’t really lost anything at all! Well, maybe aside from a few trips to my local — yet overpriced — bodega. And maybe my perspective.
So, this past week I have tried my best to keep in mind that this change is only temporary, to trust that I will be home soon, to embrace a new neighborhood and to be very thankful that I have the help of some truly lovely friends. It isn’t every day that I get the opportunity to step outside my usual box and since I haven’t lived on the Upper East Side since 2008, I’ve spent a lot of time simply walking around the neighborhood. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting a few of my old favorite places like the Ralph Lauren mansion, Sant Ambroeus and The Frick, discovering new (to me, at least) gems like the Lexington Bar and Books and Creel & Gow, and I actually forced myself to get out and run in Central Park over the beautiful fall weekend we had. Changing my perspective was hard work, but I’ve been feeling much, much better.
Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, there is something very, very easy – and very dangerous – in the refusal to let go of negativity. It’s what a good friend described to me as being “comfortably sad.” You get comfortable with being sad or frustrated, because you aren’t quite sure what it would feel like to try to let that go and move forward. If you’re at all like me, that can seem a bit like jumping out of a plane without being completely sure that you’ve got your parachute – and your two backup parachutes, too. But the thing is, if we hold on to anger or sadness or regret or pain, we prevent ourselves from moving forward. We prevent growth.
This can obviously apply to personal relationships as well, and I know I’ve definitely been guilty of this myself. Holding on to a relationship that isn’t really working or miring yourself in the pain of a relationship that has ended, can sometimes seem like the easier path – better the devil you know. True, it is a way to avoid dealing with any new feelings or facing the fear of the unknown, but you’re also completely foreclosing your opportunity to be truly happy. It isn’t easy, don’t get me wrong. It is a painful process, but it’s nothing compared to the pain of a life spent unfulfilled. I want you to know that you are worth that risk. I want you to try to let go.
The first step, is knowing when to say when. I oddly found inspiration in an old nautical term, illustrated in the picture above, from a 1940 issue of Life Magazine (which you can view here). The traditional sailor tattoo “hold fast” written across the knuckles, is a good luck charm – one of many such symbolic tattoos worn by seamen throughout the years – to ensure the bearer’s steady grip as he worked onboard. A “fast” refers to a line (or rope) that has been secured. However, “hold fast” – or rather, it’s Dutch origins hou’vast or houd vast – also gave rise to the nautical term “avast,” meaning to cease, or to stop. One term, two very different meanings.
What I chose to take away from this nautical history moment, is that the same hands that can hold fast to something – or someone – are just as capable of letting go. And while there definitely are things in life that are worth fighting for, not everything is. What I hope you’ll realize, is that there is just as much strength in the surrender.
Hold fast. Let go.
22/03/2012 § 2 Comments
Editor’s note: Even though February’s Charm School has come and gone, I still find myself coming across lovely gems like this story and set of pictures taken by George Skadding for Life Magazine. So if you might indulge me, I’ll share a few throughout the year as a bit of “Extra Credit.”
In 1947, Marshall Field & Co., Chicago’s biggest department store, decided that their elevator girls were in need of a bit of finishing, so they were enrolled in a local charm school where they received lessons on everything from makeup to elocution. The article noted that the “finished” ladies were happier and much more beautiful, even if there didn’t seem to be a correlating increase in sales, and that they all hoped to follow in the footsteps of actress Dorothy Lamour, who was scouted while working at the department store.
Aside from the amusing illustrations — who knew there was a correct way to bend over? — I’ve had a thing for elevator girls ever since seeing The Apartment (1960, and which happened to be the last black and white film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, until The Artist, this year), where Shirley MacLaine plays elevator operator Fran Kubelik, who catches the eye of Jack Lemmon’s hapless corporate drone C. C. Baxter. Written, produced and directed by Billy Wilder, it is an excellent film that you must see immediately.
All images via the Life Archives.