My sister Shelley went to the wake tonight of a former colleague’s husband, who died of lung cancer yesterday. The man was diagnosed with stage 4 of the horrific disease only a few months ago. When I emailed Shelley to inquire how her friend was holding up, she responded: “She said her husband is ‘now out of pain.’”
It actually gave me comfort to read that line and I emailed Shelley back, “No one should have to live with terrible pain that is going to kill them anyway. The mental anguish alone is bad enough. I am always grateful that daddy’s cancer wasn’t physically painful [our dad died of melanoma in 1988, when he was 69 years old]. Seeing him suffer like that would have been horrendous.
“If I’m ever in bad pain from cancer I will make sure to take so many pain killers all at once that I will die.”
One of the most difficult things about maturing (I hate the word aging), at least for me, is facing my mortality.
I don’t want to be morbid, but it’s hard to ignore the subject of death when more and more people I know are getting sick and, yes, dying. And many of them aren’t octogenarians or nonagenarians; they’re decades younger, some in their fabulous fifties.
When I hear about young people, like the 40-year-old actor, Paul Walker, who lost their lives after taking needless risks, I am bewildered by their motivations. Doesn’t life bring us enough excitement, and normal risks, without having to seek pointless, and perilous, thrills?
As we approach a new year, my FOFriends, I hope that you all will take good care of yourselves, physically and mentally, so that you can live the best lives possible.
I know a woman who constantly needs to tell everyone how great she is. Everything she does is fabulous, wonderful, brilliant and popular beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Her plans are always grand. Her posturing is insufferable. She also puts others down to make herself look good. She thinks she’s doing it subtly, but she couldn’t be more obvious. When she talks to me, I feel like I’m back at Francis Lewis High School, listening to a “popular” girl regale her hangers on about her dates.
I’m all for competition and I love winning. But I’m not the smartest, prettiest, nicest person in the room all the time and I’ve learned to watch out for those who announce they are. It often belies their insecurity, I’ve learned, or their narcissism. Really smart, pretty, nice people don’t need to broadcast their intelligence, looks and generosity. Their acts and their demeanor should speak louder than their words.
I put mothers who relentlessly brag about their children in the same bucket. Somehow, they feel that their offspring’s accomplishments demonstrate their matchless parenting skills. In fact, one often has little, if not nothing, to do with the other.
Sure, it’s nice to have a child who does great things, but why isn’t it enough to enjoy his or her success without shouting it from the rooftops (or the manicure chair?).
Sharing nice things that happen to us and to those we love is delightful, but beware when sharing turns into soliloquy about son Jack’s Harvard acceptance or daughter Jill’s impending marriage to a doctor.
I decided to Google “are narcissists really insecure?” to see if anyone backs up my theory, and came upon an article by Dr. Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist and author, who wrote that obvious narcissistic traits—besides pretentious plans and posturing—include “the apparent absence of even a shred of empathy and the rage at being called out on the slightest of imperfections or normal human missteps.” Yep, when my narcissistic acquaintance talked about her sister-in-law dying of cancer, it was with the same affect of someone talking about a change in the weather.
Dr. Malkin also says narcissists “say and do things, subtle or obvious, that make you feel less smart, less accomplished, less competent. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘I don’t want to feel this insecure and small; here, you take the feelings.’ The narcissist loves to knock out your lights to seem brighter by comparison.”
Do you suppose that narcissists know they’re narcissists? Of course they do, I say. Some studies suggest that narcissists care more about being perceived as superior on traits such as industriousness, assertiveness and dominance, compared to traits such as honesty and agreeableness.
Narcissists don’t seem to care whether they’re thought of as good people. Being admired is more important than being liked. What’s ironic is that they usually can’t get enough admiration. They’re constantly looking for more, which further fuels their narcissistic tendencies.
I got home from Francis Lewis High School, in Queens, around 1 PM that day. A Friday, like today. I was 16 and a senior. My younger sisters were still at school and my parents were undoubtedly tooling around, a favorite Friday activity since my dad took off that day and he was the driver of the household. I was glad to have the house to myself.
I grabbed a few cookies and turned on Channel 2. Walter Cronkite was uncharacteristically at his CBS desk. I heard his somber announcement moments after it happened. President Kennedy was shot in Dallas and rushed to the hospital. I sat on the edge of the brown vinyl sofa in our small den and hung onto every word. We had to rely on reports from the TV folks on the ground in Dallas to learn exactly what happened. It was pretty sketchy, but based on the bits and pieces I was hearing, I knew Kennedy was dead.
At around 2 PM, Cronkite announced that the president’s death was “official.” We’ve seen the now-famous news clip over and over throughout the last half century: The usual stalwart Walter Cronkite choking up, barely able to deliver the news.
I had to talk to someone, so I called my aunt at her job in Manhattan. “President Kennedy was killed in Texas,” I cried. Like many of my peers, we were in love with him, even if we didn’t exactly have a solid grasp of politics in those days. We lived through the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy was our hero. We loved Jackie, too. We thought she was so beautiful. We wanted to be her.
My family sat glued to the TV for the next few days and watched history being made. I witnessed Jack Ruby shooting Oswald on “live” TV. To this day, I can remember calling to my mother, who was in the kitchen adjacent to the den, “Oh my god, Oswald was just shot.”
I was a naïve teenager in 1963. Kennedy’s death profoundly affected me. During the weeks following, I couldn’t stand to watch people having fun. When my 13-year-old cousin had his Bat Mitzvah about a month later, I left the party.
To this day, I have a hard time grasping the death of young and relatively young men and women (famous or not) with so much yet to give: Steve Jobs, James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith, and so many more. I cannot believe 50 years have passed since that horrific day in Dallas. But I am lucky to still be alive and to be able to appreciate all that I have.
I developed a crush on William Shatner the moment he and I started chatting.
“William Shatner?” you’re thinking. “You’ve got to be kidding!” you shriek.
I kid you not. I’ve watched maybe 2.5 episodes of Star Trek my whole life, and although one of my sisters was once an executive at Priceline, I never had much interest in Mr. Shatner. Actually, I never had any interest in him.
But when I received a call from a woman named Vanessa, asking if I’d be willing to come to California to be interviewed by Bill for a book he was doing, called Hire Yourself (coming out Spring 2014), I was game. Vanessa had discovered faboverfifty.com and, after reading how I launched the site in my 60s, she thought my story would make good material for the project. Hire Yourself, she told me, would be an inspirational book for people over 55 who are out of work or want to leave their jobs to launch their own businesses. (Bill, himself, launched a second career when he was older than I.)
My California accommodations weren’t especially glamorous (Burbank is not Beverly Hills) and the studio where the interview was filmed (do people still use the word filmed?) was really basic and dingy, but the room immediately lit up when Bill walked in to introduce himself to me and to a coffee entrepreneur from Hawaii.
Bill appears taller than his 5’10”, maybe because he’s got such a big personality. He speaks beautifully (he was trained as a classical Shakespearian actor in Canada, from where he hails). He doesn’t have that “I’m-a-star” demeanor.
And he’s just plain smart and passionate, I discovered during our hour-long conversation, which covered subjects such as what makes entrepreneurs successful as well as my personal career path.
A sharp interviewer (I speak from experience, since I’ve been a journalist for 45 years and have interviewed hundreds of people), Bill came well prepared, since he knew a lot about me. He’s also seems pretty insightful about human nature, a trait I don’t usually attribute to celebrities. And he’s got a keen sense of humor. (“Did you have to do anything special with your boss to get ahead in the 80s?” he asked me.)
The hour flew by and I could have gone on far longer, but the video crew and editor were anxious to move on to the next interview. As we walked out of the room, I told Bill, “Too bad you’re married,” happily, apparently, to his 4th wife, “Otherwise, I would have asked you to marry me.”
“I’d have taken you up on that,” Bill joked.
I wasn’t kidding. Maybe I’ll see him again at the book launch.