Friday, April 9, 2010

Better Than Prozac--A Foolproof Way To Vanquish Any 'Down' Mood--EXERCISE

Ever wake up feeling anxious, worried, down, or depressed?  Hello!

Approximately 20 million Americans are taking anti-depressants--and that number doesn't include anti-anxiety medications and sleeping pills.

As for the cause of our collective angst, just about anything can trigger it--financial worries, stress about work, health problems, an accident of fate, phantoms from the past, relationship "issues,"or even rainy weather. And very often, there's no reason at all, for moods are unpredictable, fluctuating for reasons even a forensic psychiatrist may never explain.

But like the weather, our emotional storm clouds do come--and then go. But rather than being a slave to our moods, and reactive to them, there is, I've discovered, a reliable and FAST way to turn a dark mood into a bright one. It's a remedy that's better than Prozac, and something I do every day that lifts me up when I'm down.

I learned this technique from my great friend TONY ROBBINS--the master of peak performance who teaches how anyone can create a resourceful, powerful energy state that can propel you forward toward your greatest potential rather than remaining fixated on problems, worries, and limitations.

 I can't tell you how many mornings I've awakened with a down mood or a sense of unexplainable dread or worry--and Tony's three-part solution to negative moods ALWAYS works, so I thought I'd share it with you today.

It's really simple: Change THREE things--physiology, focus, and language--AND CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

For me, first and foremost, the secret to lifting me up is changing my body state, i.e. physiology. So the first thing I do every morning is: stretching, sit-ups, push-ups, twenty minutes on the treadmill, then twenty laps in the pool and a few minutes in the 103-degree whirlpool. I often follow this with biking outside on the Esplanade at home here in Battery Park City. Trust me--after I've been running, biking, and swimming, and felt the breeze of the day against me when I'm outside--those negative moods are swept away. And it's a lot faster than Prozac! This ALWAYS works. Hydrating is also key, as most of us don't drink enough water. Then after the physical exercise, I always have a smoothie--apples, pineapple, raspberries, and blueberries, with a white-egg omelette or whole grain cereal. I mention all this because each of these things I'm doing is dramatically changing my body state, my physiology. And inevitably, I always feel energized and ready to tackle the day.

On another day, I'll explain in more detail about focus and language, but in a nutshell, what we focus on is what we feel. Your focus equals your reality. Two people can experience the exact same challenge. One feels amused, one is enraged. The only difference between the two people is what they focus on, what they imagined in their heads. And both experience immediate feelings of strength or weakness in their bodies.

If I focus on all my problems, I'M a problem! So I try to focus my attention on the positive actions I can take to turn my life in the direction I want it to go. When I'm outside, I focus on the beauty of the environment here--the Hudson River, the parade of dogs and interesting people, the sailboats, the trees and flowers, the Statue of Liberty, you name it. Once I'm focused on something positive outside the space of my own head, I feel MUCH better, and again, this you can't get in a pill.

Finally, the language we use inside our heads--how we talk to ourselves--has everything to do with how we feel. It's been said that we all have about 65,000 thoughts each day--but the problem is that we tend to have the SAME 65,000 thoughts today as we had yesterday. Like a tape that loops endlessly over and over again, we need to change our thoughts, direct them, and use words that will help us create new futures, rather than self-defeating statements that keep us focused on the past. As the great WAYNE DYER has often told me: "The most important thing a person can do to erase fear and access power is repeating these five key words: I WANT TO FEEL GOOD! This is the same thing as saying: I want to feel spirit, I want to be in harmony with the source of well-being."

So just for today, that's where I leave you....I want to feel good, and I hope you do too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Birthday Dinner On The Hudson With A Perspicacious Friend

Last night was a magically-breezy evening in Battery Park City, (pictured below at sunset), the perfect temperature for dinner outside on the Hudson, the occasion being a 31st birthday party for my great friend Jason VanOra, a psychology professor at Kingsborough Community College. Over guacamole and chips,  chicken quesadillas, and a chocolate brownie sundae, Jason, who looks about 22, made me feel a bit old, as I have a belt older than him! But I was very happy to celebrate, together with our close friends Peg and Beth.

Occasionally in life, you come upon someone who not only has great intelligence and charm, but also a warmly empathetic nature too. There's an instant "click." And that person, with whom you have great chemistry, gradually joins the category of "best friend."

Well, that's Jason! My perspicacious, always sunny-and-buoyant  friend is a once-in-a life-time find. I met him five years ago at a get together in Greenwich Village and ever since, we've been having dinner almost every Friday night.

I can't tell you how many evenings we've spent strolling around the Village talking about anything and everything, laughing hilariously, people-watching, and musing on life's ups and downs. And like any best friend, Jason lifts my spirits, expressing his caring unconditionally, with no judgement. This is rare--and to be greatly valued.

In fact, last night's party for Jason got me thinking about friendship in general. After all, the entire theme of my book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, is about creating the journey from friendship to family, our core group being my astutely-intelligent dog, Katie, my octogenarian friend Pearl, her husband Arthur, a little boy named Ryan, who had no Mom, his Dad, John, and me. And as I say in the book trailer: "That's the amazing thing about family. It's anything you want it to be."
I can't tell you how therapeutic it was for me to be part of such a fantastic group, one made even closer as we all lived along the same 120-foot hallway. Apartment doors were swinging open all day long--with my dog racing up and down the hall, chasing tennis balls and Ryan, running circles around Pearl, all of us sharing dinner together and long walks along the Hudson. It was the best of times. And to have close friends surround you, in a family circle, gives you the support and sustenance you need, getting you through every twist and turn of life. As Wayne Dyer recently told me, "God can appear in many disguises--even as a dog!" and I might add, even as a friend as well!

And beyond emotional support, I remember reading a great article last year in the New York Times about the health benefits of having friends--which include reducing heart disease, obesity, stress, lowering blood pressure, and creating all-important feel-good endorphins. People with friends feel more relaxed and at peace, so that the ultimate health benefit of friendship is living a longer, healthier life.

I can tell you that Jason makes my life more fun and interesting, and easier to handle. At the end of a long week, spending time with a close friend like him is as good as any therapy session. (Our next adventure is driving upstate in a few weeks with my book editor, Harry Helm, to pick up my new puppy). In fact, surprisingly, even spending time with an intimate partner doesn't always provide the same health benefits as friendship, for good friends offer a different kind of support than lovers, siblings, parents, or children. 

P.S. As all you dog lovers know, man's BEST friend, of course, is his D O G! It's been proven that dog owners live longer, easily stave off loneliness and isolation, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, a brightened mood, and, of course, reap the benefits of lots of exercise with all those walks. 

I once figured out that I walked my curiously-energetic dog, Katie, more than 20,000 times over the course of nearly 15 years. How many miles is that? And who needs the gym?!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marrrrrrrrrrrrrio On-The-Go-Buatta, Great Designer, Great Friend

     I recently spent two incredible evenings with the legendary interior designer MARIO BUATTA, a longtime friend and frequent interview subject who appears in my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down The Hall. Mario stars in an especially fun chapter titled "Prancing With The Stars," all about my dog's tete-a-tetes with a host of celebrities, one of her favorite being Mario, the nation's "Prince of Chintz,"  the acknowledged master of the English Country style, his work often featured on the cover of  Architectural Digest.
Mario is also a passionate lover of theater, comedy, cabaret, and any good performance in town. One recent night, he kindly ushered me backstage to greet Joan Rivers after one her hilarious performances at the West Bank Cafe, the proceeds of which go to her two favorite charities, Guide Dogs For The Blind and God's Love We Deliver.
And then a few weeks later, Mario invited me to a great cocktail reception at Michael's, a benefit for Literacy Partners, hosted by two of its champions, Liz Smith and Barbara Taylor Bradford. This was followed by a quick dinner at Orso, then a fantastic Monday night showcase at Birdland Jazz Club, where we saw the indomitable Marilyn Maye, still an energetic wonder in her 80's, her voice untouched by time.
Through it all, Mario has the best sense of humor in town. Irreverent--despite such illustrious past clients as Barbara Walters, the Forbeses, Barbara Bush, Blair House (the President's guest house), and Mariah Carey, Buatta is a notorious prankster. He once showed up at a Peggy Lee concert with a monkey on his lap, strolled through Central Park in an all-blue chintz suit, and arrived at a masked ball wearing a lampshade on his head.
The first time I met Mario for a cover story interview for the Daily News, he was rather tame in a blue suit, but just as funny as expected. "My Mom  once told me, 'maybe you'd like to be a psychiatrist or an actor or a lawyer,' but I combined all three and became an interior decorator!"
 Indeed. Months later, after we had become friends, Mario came over to my apartment one evening, bringing along as a present one of his signature dog pillows with a painted spaniel curled up on it. This was a gift for me, though my cocker spaniel Katie started ripping away the tissue paper as I took it from Mario's hand.
"This isn't for you!" Mario lectured Katie, who scrammed away, as she was never comfortable around tall people. (Mario is over six feet tall). But this didn't stop Katie from requisitioning that pillow. When I wasn't looking, she knocked if off the couch and I found her napping on the carpet with it under her head!
That night, I discovered my dog was doing a little re-decorating of her own. She had pushed the pillow into her kennel and arranged it carefully with her paws. She napped on it nearly every afternoon thereafter. As Mario later remarked to her: "Now you're English!"
You'll soon be able to read more of "Prancing With The Stars," a chapter which includes Katie's adventures with other stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Peter Jennings, Bette Midler, Ivana Trump, Leona Helmsley, and Farrah Fawcett.
And speaking of stars, you'll see many more of them at the KATIE book launch party in September, an event to be co-hosted by the inimitable Mario and by Joan Rivers, the evening to benefit Guide Dogs For The Blind.
And on that evening, what might the irrepressible Mario and Joan do to liven up the festivities? We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, April 5, 2010


     This past Saturday night I had a real treat, sitting second row center at the Lyceum Theater, seeing the great VALERIE HARPER in her Broadway tour de force as Tallulah Bankhead in LOOPED, a riveting one-woman (and two man) production with Harper "nailing every last laugh with a professionalism that the real Bankhead would surely admire," wrote the New York Times.

Sitting with my best friend (and lawyer), Michael Gordon, I was amazed by Valerie's virtuoso performance, gut-wrenching and compelling from start to finish. Although backstage afterward with Michael and me, she confided that she was fighting a cold and that an onstage coughing spell was not in the script, you'd never know anything was wrong, as she marshaled her forces with hilarious "dahlings" sprinkled over countless jokes. Supporting her in every possible way is her fantastic manager-producer-husband Tony Cacciotti, who hospitably welcomed us backstage after the performance. Valerie was dressed down in slacks and a baseball hat as she greeted her fans outside the theater.

Onstage, Valerie was magnificent, capturing fully the hilarity of the outrageous Bankhead, while mining her deep pathos and addiction to sex, drugs, alcohol, and nicotine, all of it creating chaos and pain toward the end of the actress's life.

The emotional bullet of this show isn't just Bankhead's hilarity and built-in tragedy, but the friendship  that develops, especially in the second act of the play, between Bankhead and the recording sound editor, Danny, played brilliantly by Brian Hutchison. These two lonely and tortured souls trade life stories and become true friends, Bankhead telling him that life is too short to stand back and let it pass by.
The end of the play is touching when these two hearts unite.

All this reminded me of a magazine interview Valerie and I did a few years ago for Family Circle, the subject being the vital importance of friendship in our lives. On and off stage, Valerie has always been a great friend,  an all-American classic, first introduced to American TV audiences as the hilarious Rhoda Morgenstern on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show," then graduating to her own situation comedy as the inimitable "Rhoda." A true-blue friend as a TV heroine, she is also a devoted friend in real life, as I found out during our interview.

She depends heavily on what she terms her "quartet"of four best friends for support. As she told me: "I think there's always been a profoundly natural bond between women, a sisterhood from the cave days when we picked berries together, to the quilting bees of today. My four best friends and I have been through decades of boyfriends, engagements, marriages, divorces, babies, cramps and hot flashes!-- you name it. They are my family of choice."
   And that's exactly the point and theme of my upcoming book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL. It's all about how a group of strangers transform from neighbors to friends to family, the five of us becoming just as close as any biological family could be. While we shared some tough times, the thing that kept us together, more than anything, was the playfulness of our relationships--and our ability to see the humor and irony in everything.
    Like our own little family, Valerie agrees that laughter is key: "What first drew me to all of them was the fact that we could laugh together. I mean peals of hysterical, shrieking laughter. We can also be serious. But when you've known a friend 40-plus years, you can talk in shorthand. As for getting and looking older, we all grumble and laugh about it. The fact is that our bodies are going south, but our spirit doesn't fade--it only expands." So true, for the heroine of my book, Pearl, nicknamed Granny, even at 90, was still expanding, and laughing. In the book, as you'll see, she models a Disneyland Donald Duck hat at age 91, and does it laughingly with style.
     Valerie's sage advice: "For people who want friends, look at how you can contribute to people. I don't mean money. I mean your attention, your listening, your laughter. When you see a quality in a person that delights you, tell them about it. All of this swirls around and creates friendships."
       Is sure did for me.
       "It's a real wind in your sail to have best friends," she smiles.


     Last night, with balmy spring temperatures soaring to nearly 80 degrees, I had to take advantage of the sunset on the Hudson, pictured below, by having dinner outdoors.
      And I happily took in the water views (and grilled salmon) with my close friend and confidante, PEG WALLIS, the brilliant life coach who travels around the country giving workshops to large corporate audiences, skillfully teaching how we can become better team players, think "bigger" and out of the box, and push beyond perceived limitations to the boundless possibilities within.
     As for me, I'm just lucky to have Peg as a friend. And like many of the best things in life, my friendship with her was sheerly accidental. For years, I'd only heard about the exuberant Peg, who is my sister Debby's closest friend, both of whom lived in Albany. (They're pictured below at a New Year's Eve dinner).
        But who would have guessed that Peg would eventually take on more than one sibling in the family?
    About five years ago, tired of Albany and ready for a change, Peg moved to New York and only wound up in my building because I recommended it, telling her, as I tell everyone, that living in Battery Park City is the most scenic place in New York--and the quietest.
      Peg took my advice and moved right in. Just five floors above me, she became my new buddy and I became her New York guide, introducing her to the ins and outs of neighborhood--and to all my friends. She quickly turned out to be one of my closest friends, which only proves that proximity is the messenger of fate, a concept I wrote about a few blogs ago.
      How many of your closest friends were also fortuitous accidents, products of not just chemistry and rapport--but geographic proximity as well?
      As you'll read in my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, accidental friendships are the driving force behind the entire book. I just accidentally met the octogenarian heroine of the book, Pearl, through a friend in the building. That first knock on the door led to a sixteen year relationship that utterly changed my life. I later just accidentally ran into a little boy named Ryan (who had no Mom), and his Dad, John,  at a Community Center in New York. And we all just accidentally wound up fatefully living on the same floor of our Manhattan high-rise. Together with Pearl and her husband, Arthur, something miraculous happened. Living in such close proximity, with my dog leading the way, we all transformed from unrelated strangers to neighbors to close friends, to family.
      And sure enough, "Pegsy," as I sometime call her, has accidentally become a key part of my current day family. She is a uniquely kind person, a superb listener (as every therapist and coach should be), who typically puts the focus on giving rather than getting, offering her perspective and wisdom gently, but always getting her point across.  As I say in the final chapter of the book, "with her soothing voice and buoyant spirit, Peg has that rare ability to put everything into perspective no matter what the day has thrown at me."
     I must say that during the many ups and down of the last five years--when I was elated and optimistic or anxious and worried--Peg was always there no matter what, a great lunch and dinner partner, helping me strategize the best solutions to a variety of challenges. And as I never seem to have a pen or paper handy, she always comes armed with her trusty mini-pad in a steel case with matching pen. I can't tell you how many paper place mats or table cloths we've also written on, figuring things out, making lists, sharing our professional goals, you name it.
    And not least important to me, with the absence of the heroine of my book, Pearl, Peg has, in a way, filled in the void I've felt, the loneliness of losing a friend eased by the joy of finding another. And on a very fun note, Peg has also taken over as my prime event and party planner!
      We've orchestrated some daunting events here, including a sit-down dinner for 30 for local politicians, birthday parties for many a  friend, and most recently, a book launch party for Suzan Colon, the author of Cherries in Winter. Through it all, Peg arrives glamorously attired, her easy smile relaxing everyone, a great hostess. And as I'm hopeless at making coffee, and since she's a coffee fanatic, she brings along her sublimely rousing brews.
     All in all, she's just a great gal, a magnificent friend, and I consider myself fortunate to know her.
     Who's your favorite friend and why?