Monday, August 8, 2016

The Project of a Lifetime

My project of a lifetime really began when I was nine years old and in the throes of confusion and embarrassment as I hit full puberty years before my classmates. I swiped one of my mother's nursing manuals -- which dealt with pediatrics and puberty in very technical terms -- to try to figure out what in the world was happening to my body.

I wrote down the highlights -- misinterpreted from the highly technical medical language -- and fashioned my version of the facts of life and puberty in a handwritten book I made for my younger brother Mike so he would never suffer through such confusion.

Mike, who grew up to become an M.D., was wide-eyed and bewildered as he read the book, memorizing parts of it, the better to torture me later on. "And you wonder why I've never married!" he would joke in years to come before finally marrying happily in midlife.

Some years later, after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, I moved sullenly back to L.A. instead of following my heart to New York. Living was cheaper in L.A. and I had student loans to pay off. I was mortified as I watched my Medill friends get jobs at The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, McCall's and The Wall Street Journal while my best prospect in L.A. for working in national media was 'TEEN Magazine.

And then something wonderful happened: I realized how fortunate I was. It wasn't just that working at 'TEEN for nine years allowed me to develop a writing specialty in health and psychology, or that my fellow 'TEEN staffers would be the best co-workers I would ever have, some becoming cherished, lifelong friends. The most wonderful thing was coming to realize that at 'TEEN I could truly be of help to young girls who were wondering, as I had once wondered, what was happening with their bodies and how to make healthy choices and if anyone would ever really love them.

                                  At 24, as Feature Editor of 'TEEN Magazine

I wrote several self-help articles a month in 'TEEN from the late sixties and through most of the seventies as well as doing 'TEEN's "Dear Jill" advice column and editing the "Dear Doctor" column with Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, a young adolescent medicine specialist. Chuck and I used to dream about how great it would be to answer urgent questions from teens without space limitations or having to worry about advertisers objecting to our information or opinions.

That dream came finally came true, with the help of a wonderful literary agent named Susan Ann Protter, when Chuck and I wrote a book together, combining questions from 'TEEN readers as well as his patients with frank, down-to-earth, warmly reassuring answers about so many areas of teen concerns.

THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK was first published in 1979 by Pocket Books/Simon&Schuster. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies, won the "Best Book for Young Adults" award from the American Library Association and morphed into a number of editions over the years with updates published in 1984, 1987, 1992, 1999 and 2008.

                                 Top left to lower right: 1979,1984,1987,1992,
                                 1999, 2008

Foreign Editions, l to r: German, British, Chinese

Over the years, this book has led to a variety of adventures. The 1987 edition landed us spots on Oprah and The Today Show. And that edition also sparked protests from religious groups and a brief media storm in Boston in 1990 because of its frank discussion of sexuality.  I was tapped to fly to Boston to defend our book on television and in a contentious town hall meeting. It was a great experience in giving and receiving empathy (as we all realized that we were united in wanting teens to be healthy and safe, only disagreeing on how to do this) and it influenced editions to come. Over the years, the book has changed, giving more attention to the full range of choices and beliefs that teens and their parents have in these increasingly diverse times.

Now we're happily awaiting the publication of the 7th edition of THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK on August 28 by HatherleighPress/Penguin Random House. This one will be for the first generation of teenagers born in the 21st century. It will also be the first edition to be available as both a print book and an e-book.

                                       The Teenage Body Book 2016





                                      A trailer for Teenage Body Book 2016

I can't help smiling as I look forward -- and back.

Who knew that the error-filled homemade guidebook to puberty that traumatized my wide-eyed little brother so many years ago was a sign of a career to come?

Who knew that the job that seemed so unpromising at the beginning was the best possible start in a professional direction that was simply meant to be?

Who knew that shared discontent over the limitations of a magazine column would lead to a 40 year partnership of three: between Chuck and me and Bob Stover, who did the illustrations for THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK, and whom I married in 1977 as we were working on that first edition?

Who knew that my experience of an awkward and alarming passage through early puberty would spark a lifelong mission to help and inform and reassure so many other young people?

What a delightful surprise and wonderful journey it has been.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dancing in the Rain

I saw it in a posting on Pinterest. I had read it elsewhere before, but today it resonated:

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain."

Why did it resonate today? It wasn't just about the gathering monsoon storm that is darkening the skies, making the air thick and the desert fragrant with the lingering scent of creosote. It's what I see and hear and feel around me: complicated lives with a mix of love and pain and tears and laughter.

There is the close and dear friend whose husband is about to go into hospice. Another beloved friend, having survived the pain of uncoupling after many years of marriage, is re-awakening to the joy he had nearly forgotten. There are friends experiencing serious health concerns and new physical limitations. Lives are forever changed by the storms we encounter as we age.

Even in the absence of major losses and challenges, many of us experience some life turbulence: office politics, misunderstandings with friends or family, struggles with troublesome personal traits and flaws. I'm still engaged in my lifelong struggle to find a healthy balance between the work I love, self-care and being present and supportive of loved ones.

While the challenges of my work-life balance issues pale next to some of the life storms my friends are experiencing, I'm increasingly aware of my longtime tendency to defer fun or leisure or time with beloved others until the work is done, the project finished. What is that? I'm in my seventies, for heaven's sake. If I can't embrace all the pleasure and love and moments of happiness now, when will I?

While not everyone has my scrambled life-work priority problem, many of us have a tendency to say "I'll be happy when...." and then name some distant event or goal. It may be that you imagine happiness when you lose that stubborn 30 pounds or when your daughter finally gets married or when, at long last, you take that exotic vacation or when you're able to retire.

But we can be happy now if we see happiness not as the ultimate goal but as something that happens as our lives happen -- in warm memories during times of grief, in joking with co-workers to ease the tension of a difficult team project, in pausing on a busy day to cuddle a sleeping baby or a delighted pet. Happiness happens in a glance, a touch, a moment of quiet intimacy on a perfectly ordinary day.

Especially when one is experiencing a major life crisis or transition, it's understandable when the shock or grief or fear overwhelms everything else in our lives at least for a time. But whether one is caught up in life-changing crises or simply trying to get through an ordinary day that is definitely a mixed bag of emotions, it's possible to know happiness if you can dance in the rain.

This may mean laughing between the waves of pain in the present. The ability to laugh between the pain, to dance in the rain, can make us stronger for the next wave of pain, the next storm, to come.

This may mean treasuring good times, shared love and warm memories even more, newly aware of how finite life can be.

This may mean finding ways to be happy or simply content in between the moments of grieving or of fear and frustration when facing a life-changing health problem. Or between times of setting and reaching a goal: there is joy in the journey as well as as well as the destination. For example, I've learned to celebrate all the numbers on the scale as I continue with my very long weight loss effort. It makes me smile when I think how slender and energetic I feel as the numbers go down -- and remember how fat and terrible I felt at the same weight when I was in the process of gaining those pounds.

This also may mean taming the habit of perpetual busyness -- re-ordering priorities to make room in our lives for fun and love and the beauty around us.

It can mean smelling the roses, cheering another person on, listening instead of planning a response, paying attention to what matters most to those we love.

My friend with the ailing husband cuddles beside him, reading him the mysteries and thrillers he has always loved. From time to time, there is a moment when they pause, smile at each other, and whisper "Love you" and "Love you more." And in their eyes is a heartfelt celebration of all they have shared over the years.

My friend beginning a new life alone after many years of marriage has been through so much pain-- but, as his new life evolves, there is so much to celebrate as well: a stomach no longer tied in knots, a place entirely his own for the first time in his life, a loving family supportive both of him and of his former wife, dramatically improved health, a sense of freedom and quiet contentment.

There are so many ways and so many reasons to dance in the rain.