My Best Friend’s Wedding

Three years ago I got off a tiny plane in Aspen to go to a wedding of my friend M and some guy I didn’t really know. Our mutual friend Megaspeed, who had offered me her couch, picked me up and we drove through the snow wonderland of Aspen, quite a change from warm and sunny Las Vegas. We spent the next day doing crazy pre-wedding things, like riding the lift to the top of a ski run and taking photos of the bride in a white dress and black furry Uggs and drinking not sure what and doing nails in the middle of the night.Masha i Ljosha wedding

The wedding was supposed to be an intimate gathering of friends in a condo overlooking the slopes. As we were curling hair in the bathroom two hours before, I got a text message from M, who said, “Shef, (which is my nickname from high school), do you think you think you can officiate?”

Do I think I can officiate? As in pronounce them husband and wife? Wasn’t there supposed to be a specially trained person for that purposed? Not someone how’s just got through ironing their shirt?

“In Colorado, as long as you got the marriage license, anyone can officiate,” said Megaspeed.

That was no relief. With less than two hours to go, we had to come up with a speech or some kind of scenario of what people usually say at weddings. There had to be a template, right? Or was I supposed to come up with my own, a more personal version? But I’d only met the groom once, and all I knew about him that he had a well-groomed beard?

My curls were going flat as I got on the internet to try to come up with the right words so that I didn’t ruin my friends’ married life forever. Together with Megaspeed, who now had the mirror all to herself and was doing a great job with her eyelashes we came up with a paragraph that we practiced on each other until it was time to leave.

At the condo, everything was about joyful anticipation. My hands were going damp as I pictured the guests’ profound disappointment with my performance. My only hope was the shots that they were welcomed with at the door and most didn’t refuse.

I don’t remember how the speech went and don’t remember what I said. It’s OK – my dad doesn’t remember their entire wedding. But at some point I got to the most important part and …. couldn’t remember what it was.

“And now we pronounce you husband and wife,” Megaspeed exclaimed. And the newlyweds kissed and the Champaign went off and I could exhale.

The next morning, or rather early afternoon, Megaspeed and I sat down for coffee in her apartment.

“You know how you went home last night and we went sledding down the ski slope?” she asked.

“Yes, the one that ended with a heated concrete pavement and a bunch of street lights?” I asked.

“It was lots of fun,” she said and demonstrated her blue knee and two fingers what now bent backwards.

Happy Anniversary guys!



What to Do If You Don’t Feel Like Working


So you sat down to work but it’s just not going to happen? Here’s a rundown of ideas on how to occupy your time and maybe even coax, persuade or gently push your brain into productivity.

1.Squeeze pimples. First of all, you’ve got to do that at some point anyway. Why not now? You’re guaranteed instant gratification when the white stuff comes out. Alternative: pluck extra hairs with tweezers.

2. Bake a cake. That accomplished three goals simultaneously. First, it gives you a timeframe on torture. If it takes half an hour to bake, that’s how long you need to work for. And that you can manage. Second, it’s sugar and your brain needs that to function. Third, you can always tell someone you’ve baked it special for them and then share. Win win.

3. Take your car in for a brake inspection. Admit it, you’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, and by now the brake light is permanently on. A car inspection buys you at least an hour of time you can legitimately write off as doing something productive while hanging out on Facebook.

4. Call parents. Not because you want something but just because you want to hear their voice.

5. Ruff up your pet. Especially if it’s a cat (see how much she likes you after that). Rub them in all the right places and make them hyper and toss ball with them if that’s what they like and flip them over and blow on their stomach. Make them run around like crazy and wear them out.

6. Tell someone you love that you love them. And mean it.

Why We Love Self-Sabotage and How to Stop It

french friesFor most of my writing career I’ve struggled spelling names. I had no problem writing Bryan instead of Brian, transposing letters, and even managed to call Chris – Christ.

Sometimes I’d get lucky and get it right. But compared to other words, names have had more than their fair percentage of mistakes. By something like a 1,000 percent…

Knowing that spell check wouldn’t catch the mistakes in names like it did in the rest of my words, I would even go over the text twice, three times, and still not see the mistakes.

Afraid that I did screw up after all, I’d dread for my stories to come out and important people finding a new version of their last name in print. I’d feel horrible, my editor would hit me with a paperweight (no, but close), and then the cycle would start all over again.

Finding creative ways to sabotage yourself is rewarding and exciting. If it’s a midnight run to the fridge for ice cream, it’s screaming at your spouse that you hate their shirt and expecting them to like going out with you. If it’s not painting your toenails before putting the socks on, it’s checking Facebook when you should be working. It’s drinking beer after wine. Now that’s just plain stupid.

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.  says that self-sabotage is a form of passive aggression towards self. “In self-sabotage you “act out” internal conflicts by first moving toward a goal–then retreating from it.  “I can do it” is offset by “I can’t do it.” “I want it” is overridden by “No, I don’t want it.” “I deserve it” countermanded by “I don’t deserve it.”

If self-sabotage is your game, you’ll:

–          castigate yourself for shortcomings

–          experience guilt and shame for sins never committed

–          routinely snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

–          let others what you, unconsciously, feel unworthy to accept yourself

It’s the conflict between the child and the adult part of you, where the child brings all the shortcomings of your childhood and programs instilled in your subconscious. Dr. Seltzer recommends to identify what in your past is calling for resolution and to comfort the inner child.

I got to thinking about this and realized that for years, the teacher who taught us how to write also repeated at just about every class that both collectively and individually we were destined for “selling beer at larjok (a free-standing beer stand serving the perpetually drunk).” In other words, we’d never be able to do anything productive.

The most common mark I got was 4/2, where 4 (B) was for contents and 2 (F) for spelling.  So not all was lost on the thought front, but my chances for learning how to mix washing powder into beer to make it more sudsy were still pretty strong.

The good news that the class was every day.  For four years. That was a lot of writing.

So what I experienced as an adult and what became the root of my self-sabotage was probably related to the Imposter Syndrome – a belief that at some point everyone would know that all you’re good for is selling beer.  Compounded with natural sloppiness and a struggle with details, it was magic.

The Imposter Syndrome is when you feel like you’ve really been faking it all along and whatever success you had is due to good connections, blue eyes, plain luck or anything other than your work.

At some point, your true lack of expertise will be exposed, and the more successful you are, the more people will know. That’s a scary thought.  Much easier to sabotage yourself so that you’d never have to go through such stress.

Researchers suggest that the following can help:

–          Redefine competence. You don’t have to know everything but you’re smart enough to find who to ask.

–          If you got a seat at the table, you deserve it.

–          Stop seeing everything as a test. Remember what you bring and enjoy the ride.

–          Talk to your inner child. What is that it is afraid of? Give them comfort and love.

–          Find a way to celebrate your successes without being obnoxious and be sincerely excited for the successes of others.

I still can’t spell names. Maybe it has nothing to do with anything, and I’m just sloppy or dyslexic, or it’s a combo of multiple factors. At some point I just started to cut and paste them from reliable sources, and things got better.

But then I switched to peanut M&M’s and fries, and gained four pounds. Still working on that.

How to feel happy right now

Bee on Bottle Brush Flower“Today I feel absolutely great,” I told my friend M. the other day, excited about conquering the fall blues.

M. said, “Is your period over?”


M. went on, “Why do I feel like I’ve just told you that there’s no Santa?”

So my wonderful state of well-being was just a chemical reaction.

That same day I came across a story about seven hormones that regulate our happiness. I quickly found familiar symptoms of their deficiencies that I had experiences in the past and written it off as laziness, grumpiness and b*tchiness, among other things. It turns out that as with any addition, it’s all about getting your fix.  (Here we can talk about how it’s all about the balance, but I like the fix idea better. Besides, it’s more realistic.)

I am not a scientist, just a translator, and I understand that hormones have numerous functions and are part of a complex system. So this is just a primer in case you need to feel better right now.

Serotonin – the main character in the happiness drama. Its levels rise when you feel euphoric and fall when you feel depressed. It also determines our resistance to stress. How to get some: sunlight, physical activity, especially outdoors, eating cheese, beans, bananas, tomatoes, oats and prunes. Tea and coffee also contain chemicals that raise serotonin. Quick fix: something sweet, but not too much.

Acetylcholine – the hormone of creativity. It’s responsible for our ability to concentrate and come up with solutions. It’s released when we’re dealing with a challenging task. Once we solve it, we often feel joy and satisfaction. Puzzles and yoga are alternative methods of getting some.

Vasopressin – the hormone of attractiveness. It regulates water retention, among other functions. When we have enough of it we feel good about the way we look, about our hair, skin, weight. The easiest way to boost it is to do things that make you feel attractive – get a haircut, pedicure, massage, etc. And to tell yourself that you are gorgeous.

Dopamine – the hormone of lightness of being. It promotes clear thinking and reduces pain. When we don’t have enough of it we feel sluggish and uninterested in life. There may be heaviness in the feet and overall difficulty to move. To boost it up try aerobic and stretching exercises, dancing, playing musical instruments, and tackling a new challenge.

Norepinephrine – the hormone of a narrow escape, works in tandem with adrenaline. It’s responsible for the feeling of joy and ease when a scary situation is over and the pulse and blood pressure come down to normal. Without a fight-and-flight situation, it’s possible to get it when doing relaxing activities, such as listening to the sound of forest or the waves.

Oxytocin – the hormone of joyful encounters. When we lack it, we become irritable, rude and antisocial. Easiest way to get it spending time with people we like.  It also is responsible for couples bonding, creating trust and reducing stress, and can be boosted by kissing, touching and having sex.

Endorphins – the legal way to get high. It is generated by the pituitary gland during excitement, love, orgasm and similarly to the opiates, produces the feeling of well-being and reduces pain of stress or injury. Need a quick fix? Jump with a bungee cord or walk through a haunted house. A more sustainable way would be to develop a workout routine and start getting runner’s high. Too much work? Favorite foods and sweets also produce a similar effect.

Moral: When in doubt, go with sweets, sweat, sun, and sex.

Games People Play

Somewhere in the basement there is a game called Shoots and Ladders, said B. on the way to Grandma’s house. That was one thing he wanted to find – games that they played as kids. Then the idea morphed into cleaning them up and letting people take home what they want and share them with their kids. Infect them with your enthusiasm and feel the joy togetherness. Giving memories a new life.

How else to reconnect with a kid in you if not through your favorite games? Even the ones you thought were stupid but played anyway because your cousin loved it, or everyone else loved it and was really good at it and it was the only way to spend time together? Dressing cardboard dolls and making up stories about them. Casting your secret spell and giving the dice a vicious roll. Winning with your brilliant strategy.  It’s like a time machine that makes you feel eight again, and loving it.

games 4

Shoots and Ladders Game

shoots and ladders game

My favorite game when I was a child was called “A Big Cosmic Adventure.” Now that I think about it, I just liked the concept of a big cosmic adventure. Or maybe it was because the playing field looked like this crazy quilt with intergalactic creatures and space stations and flying sneakers and rocket sharks.  There was a tram “Neptune – Moscow.” And the first person to meet the comet – won.

Great cosmic adventure game

What was your favorite game?

My Favorite Monsters: Caring and Loving Fear

This Halloween-style monster with glowing eyes shows up with a giant vacuum cleaner ready for an energy-sucking feast. Its favorite digs is the black hole on the outskirts of the universe, which it keeps powered by out the energy of millions of living organisms around the world. What it does with all the power supplies it collects is still for the astrophysicists to discover. Most likely bottles it into jars, like orange marmalade.

Where did you first meet?

In a waiting room of a hospital.

What do you feel like?

Like your brain has turned into a concrete block and you can’t think.

What do you look like?
Like this brown monster Djudjuka from an old soviet cartoon where animals wanted to find water in the desert but she kept making it difficult for them.


What is your favorite meal?

Anxiety over things you have no power to control and half the time can’t even see.

Favorite place?

A dark room.

What useful purpose do you serve?

To make sure that you’re prepared when things go horribly wrong and no one is there to save you.

But really, does that happen a lot?
You created me, you tell me. My job is to make sure that you’re prepared. So when I hurt you it’s to make sure you’ve build enough muscle power for later.

But you don’t really know if they would be needed, right?

If you keep challenging all your energy into what you’re so afraid of you probably will. You’ll create that thing just as well as you created me.

So if it doesn’t happen?

I just grow to be fat and well-taken care of, like a cat. I’ll purr every now and then when you feed me.

So if you’re there to guard my best interests and protect me from harm in a loving and caring one, what’s the best way to calm you?

Say hello. Rub my stomach. And refuse to feed me. At some point I’ll just look for other placed to get energy.

For one thing, you don’t have to hide from me or ignore me. You certainly don’t have to love me. When at some point you realize that you’ve grown out of the house where we lived together because you’ve found ways to shine some light in that dark space, you can just leave me in the old house when you move. Because I’m like a cat. I don’t like to move. And maybe I could help the next tenant learn something about their lives.

PS. In the cartoon, Djudjuka turns into a very good looking mushroom. 

For a detailed guide for dealing with fear check out Havi’s incredible blog The Fluent Self.

Name Karma

Over the past week, I made three mistakes in names. Not a good thing for someone who writes for a living. I managed to transpose letters, add extra letters and assign people new names as if I were their long forgotten parent.

I even managed to misspell the name of a company on their invoice…. The good news was that they called two hours later and nicely suggested that it was probably something with my spellcheck program and not with my brain and assigned more work…

But then at 5 pm I get an email from the owner of my yoga studio, who says that the May newsletter I put together for her is great, and then adds, “I have made a couple changes…like my name  :).”

I was standing in traffic and just broke down. Not her too! How could I mess this up? Why couldn’t I just spell correctly? What kind of name karma moment was this?

Obviously, all those sugary treats I’ve been eating lately telling myself that they help brain function only contributed to my growing love handles.

Still waiting for green light, I typed her an apologetic email on my phone, and then decided just to call her.  Our conversation went something like this.

Me: “I am so so incredibly sorry. I can’t spell. I am a horrible writer. I know I need to double-check names and I do but I obviously need a new brain.”

Her: “Oh, it was no problem at all. Just a quick change.”

Me: “But I should have caught it….”

Her: “There was no way you could. I got married on Saturday.”