Saturday, November 4, 2017

Oh ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road...

...and I'll be in Scotland 'afore ye. (Now I have that song going through my head...)

Well the low road may work better for getting oneself to Scotland but it doesn't work so well in real life situations.

Although sometimes I sure wish it did.

Yesterday I got an email from a person I worked with, off and on, many years ago.  I had created something and he needed a copy of it right away.  I mean, right away, like it was an emergency of sorts.  Under normal circumstances my response would have been "Sure, no problem, let me get right on that to help you out."

This time however,  I paused before saying that and getting right on it.

Why?

Because this man is mean.  M.E.A.N. And his wife, whom I'd also had the displeasure of working with, is also a nasty, petty, rude, and all-around disrespectful person, who had degraded and insulted me to my face, in front of others, many many times.  They both sabotaged my work and even now as I think about them, the visceral reaction inside my stomach is nausea and revulsion.

And here the guy was, desperately asking for my help.  And I had a choice. I could take the high road and help him out, or I could take the low road and give him a taste of his own medicine.

Between you and me, I sure wanted to take that low road.  And let me just say here that I would have been completely justified to take said so-low-it's-underground road.  I had no obligation or responsibility to help this person, who by the way, had actually made me cry on several occasions.  I could have ignored the email claiming to myself and the universe that it's my old email that I only check a few times week anyway (which is true, I just happened to have checked it a few hours after he contacted me). I could have ignored the email simply because of the horrible way he and his wife treated me repeatedly. If I really wanted to take the lowest road possible I could have answered the email by telling him that I couldn't help him out and he was up a creek, while laughing sinisterly to myself saying, "See? What goes around comes around jerk! I now have the power to make you miserable! Ha ha ha ha!"  I could have run this scenario by anyone who knows these people and our backstory and I believe that every single one of them would have said, "Why would you even consider helping this guy? He was so mean to you, his wife was so mean to you, let them feel what bad karma feels like for once." There was a certain degree of satisfaction that I felt in that moment, knowing that the tables were turned, and that I had the power to make this guy suffer...or at least be inconvenienced while he floundered around, figuring out a last minute Plan B.

So what did I do? (drum roll please....)

Sigh.

I took the high road.

I can't tell you how much I didn't want to! But the truth is, as soon as I read his email I didn't hesitate. I found what he needed right away, it took about 3 minutes of my time, and I sent it to him with a nice, cheery, "Glad to help, don't hesitate to get in touch if you need anything else" message.

Why the heck did I do this when I had every justification to not to?

Because I had the opportunity to create a world where people don't hold grudges.  Because I had the chance in that moment to craft a microcosm where people help each other in spite of past hurts and transgressions.  Because the only person I can control is myself and I want to hold myself to the standard of treating others the way I want to be treated regardless of how they may have treated me. And very simply, I helped this guy out because it was the right thing to do.  Period.

How often do we let our emotions and bad feelings get in the way of us doing what's right? How many times have we allowed the pleasure of the "dark side" to overtake the difficulty of staying in the light?  It is usually so much easier to, in the words of Darth Vader, be seduced by the overwhelming power of taking the low road or the path of least resistance; especially in times like these, when everyone around us seems to be very happily skipping down that low road with no apparent negative consequences.

But ultimately what is more important? Getting to have our moment of nefarious retribution, gleefully rubbing our hands together and twirling our villainous mustaches? Or helping out another human being in his or her time of need, and choosing grace that we would appreciate being extended to our own selves regardless of our past mistakes?

(As an aside here, I'm not saying all of this to show off what a great person I am.  Believe you me, throughout the entire time I was looking for the thing the guy needed, and for a good ten minutes afterward, I went off on a rant that would have made Dennis Miller proud.  My heart may have been in the right place but I was letting everyone around me know chapter and verse what these people did to me and how I had every right to take that all-too-enviable low road in this situation.)

The truth is, at the end of every day, I have to be able to lie my head down on my pillow and know that I did the best I could.  I have to be able to say to myself that I lived that day to the best of my ability, and made personal decisions that honored my own values and standards.  That's all we all can do. Had I not helped this person it definitely would have felt "good," but not the kind of good that you feel deep down in your bones when you know that you've done the right thing.  Especially when it was so much more difficult than doing the wrong thing.

So unless you're going to Scotland, my advice to you is to always, always, always take the high road. In the words of Wayne Dyer, "How others treat you is their karma. How you react is yours."






Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dance It Out

Man was I upset today. And yesterday. And the day before.  I'm in a situation where I am being continually frustrated and disappointed by people that I am depending on to help me and for a variety of reasons things aren't going as expected.  This is on the heels of a situation a few days ago where there were other difficult and discouraging things going on.  My mind and spirit have been taking a beating and today was what felt like the last straw.

So there I was, crying, balling my hands into fists, and seriously considering banging my head against the nearest wall, when it was time for one of the funny segments I listen to on the radio in the mornings. I put it on, listened to the segment with half an ear, and then when it ended I was ready to find the wall on which to bang my head.  At that moment, one of my all-time favorite songs came on.  "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon.  At the same moment, the words of Shonda Rhimes and Grey's Anatomy came to me.  Dance it out.

I turned up the radio, moved away from the open windows, and had a three minute dance party with myself.

I flailed my arms, I shook my hips, I spun around, and my rhythmic jumping would have put any Jazzercise class to shame.  I danced and danced for all I was worth and when the song was over I caught my breath and noticed how I was feeling.

Light and sparkly from head to toe.

My problems were still there, I still had a difficult email to send, the fact that my trust was broken multiple times still existed, but I felt better about it all.  I was calmer, and therefore able to deal with the situation more rationally, I had some adrenaline flowing, which gave me a more positive outlook on things overall, and the feeling of my heart pumping and my limbs and body moving made me feel powerful and alive and like I could handle any difficulty that came my way...at least for the next half hour or so.

I learned something super important from this little exercise. Actually a few things:

1. When you're facing a difficult situation, allow yourself to take a break from it and gain some perspective.  Watch a show that makes you laugh (my current personal favorite is Impractical Jokers), listen to music that you like, bake a loaf of bread, clean out a closet, do SOMETHING that will take you out of the situation and that will keep you from sinking down deeper into the hole you're halfway down already.  Removing yourself from it, and focusing on something else, even for a few minutes, will help you to get a different outlook and hopefully even help you get your brain in the right mode to find a solution.

2. Do something physical! Be active!  When James Taylor talked about overcoming his drug addiction he said that what he found to be most effective was to "sweat it out." Find an activity you enjoy doing and sweat out the anxiety and the stress and the feeling like you don't have control over the situation. This isn't "go work out so you can at least improve your looks." It's do something that will remind you that you have a body that works, that you're a strong, capable person, and it ultimately will give you an energy boost to conquer the problem that's facing you at the moment.

3. Dancing in particular can be very therapeutic. The act of moving your body to music invigorates the senses and allows a very specific instance of "letting go" to occur.  You can also let go in this way  through meditation or yoga or a spin class, but dancing - when you are allowing your body to move freely, the way it wants to, with no prescribed routine - is very freeing for the mind, body, and soul.  There's something about moving one's corporal self through space and time that connects us to the Earth and the atmosphere around us, and it can be very spiritual experience that allows for an opening of our hearts to the possibilities previously unseen.

No matter how hard we try to control the world around us, bad things are going to happen. Things aren't going to go according to plan, people will disappoint us, and even through we try not to, we will sometimes take things personally and be hurt by them. What we CAN control however, is how we choose to deal with it when these inevitable things occur.  We can lie down and take them and bemoan the state of our lives, or we can dance it out and figure out the next step to take to solve the problem at hand.  Sometimes we forget we have that choice, but we always do.

"I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions." - Stephen Covey

Today I am deciding to dance it out!  Care to join me?


Monday, October 2, 2017

What to do when the world is falling apart...

I'm tired today.  Tired of the tragedies that seem to be occurring daily.  I woke up to the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  This on the heels of the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, just after the horrible aftermaths of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.  Meanwhile America is still fighting amongst themselves about the NFL national anthem protests, the healthcare bill, and the continued inanity of our current president's tweets and press conference statements. 

This all comes less than two months after the unfathomable horror of white supremacist neo-Nazi rallies spewing hate and vitriol in otherwise peaceful towns and streets in the United States of America in 2017.  Four months after a suicide bombing at a concert (whose attendees were largely children) in Manchester, UK.  And the recent bomb scares across the country.  So many of us are still dealing with the tragedies of the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the Columbine school massacre and the many other senseless and heinous acts of terror that have plagued our nation in recent years.  

It's so sad to think that we are becoming inured to these atrocities. It seems like since 9/11 we all say things like, "Here's another one," or "Pray for the victims of ______" as we go along our day like nothing happened.  It can be very defeating and depressing to think that human beings are getting used to the idea of mass executions and the random slaughter of our fellow men and women.  

I guess what we have to remember is, evil is not new.  Evil has been a part of modern society, and I'm assuming primitive society as well.  How many millions of innocent lives were targeted and lost over the 10,000 years or so that we know of human existence?  Millions upon millions of non-military people - men, women and children have perished by command of tyrannical dictators like Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, the list goes on.  We know that evil exists and but it certainly hits home when the deliberate annihilation of fellow Americans who were just out to have a good time at a concert, or spend a morning at school, or go to a movie is the top news story of the day. 

So what do we do with our heavy thoughts and burdened thoughts? Well, first we should allow ourselves to have them.  Resist the cynicism that so many people adopt in these times. It's hard not to just believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I know.  But we need to keep our hearts open and malleable and believing that good will ultimately win out in the end somehow.  

Secondly, I think we need to focus on the good. Count our blessings.  Hug our loved ones.  Acknowledge the things we have to be grateful for and resolve to fill our thoughts with gratitude more and more each day.  

Then, we need to make the choice to spread light into the darkness.  So many people are pointing fingers, calling out blame, filling social media feeds with acidic words and blatant hatred.  Don't be one of those people!  People who do their best to keep the world divided into "us" and "them."  People who relish cutting others down in order to build themselves up.  People who criticize and belittle and judge and discriminate against others because that's how they try to make their own miserable lives bearable.  Make the choice to speak kindly, act courteously, show compassion and tolerance toward other human beings regardless of the color of their skin, the religion they practice, their customs, core beliefs, hairstyles and wardrobes.  Make the choice every day to find the good in others, to seekthe similarities between us, and to remember the fact that that not one of us will make it out of this world alive.  

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr.

What to do when the world is falling apart? Love one another.  To the best of your ability, in as many ways that you can.   Love is the answer, and it does indeed conquer all. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

When the world throws you a curve ball...

...swing for the fences.

I just had my "the way things work in the world" sensibilities questioned in an odd way, but it made me realize just how off my sensibilities actually are, and have been for, as it turns out, my whole life.

The world just found out that Julia Louis-Dreyfus has breast cancer.  Do you know what my first thought was?  She can't have breast cancer, she eats cleanly and works out, she's super thin and healthy, she can't possibly have breast cancer!  As if those reasons give anyone a bona fide pass against rapacious diseases like cancer, Alzheimers, ALS, etc.

Immediately I realized the inanity of my thinking, which also made me realize, as embarrassing as it is for me to admit, that up until that point I completely subscribed to and wholly believed the adage, "You can never be too rich or too thin."  Now if you asked me to my face I would absolutely deny that I am so shallow as to endorse such a ridiculous and superficially-focused motto.  And when I look into my heart I honestly don't.

But...

But as much as I cringe to say it, there is some part of me somewhere that does believe that.

Why?

Because that is what has been drilled into me since birth.  That was what I grew up with in my "Whose house is bigger? Who drives the most expensive car? Who has really let herself go? Who has had plastic surgery? Who went on the most luxurious vacation? Who is wearing the good designer jeans? Thinness=Beauty=Worthiness, and everything-that's-important-comes-from-the-external" town.  Those criteria of worth have been reinforced multiple times daily for almost five decades since then through magazines, television, movies, and most recently social media.  The successful ones, the powerful ones, the untouchable ones are thin and rich, and unless we live up to those standards we don't have any hope.

Except that they're not untouchable.  That's what rocked my world.  I somehow thought that the rich and thin, and therefore ultimately lucky and successful people couldn't have anything bad happen to them because they had achieved those two "ideals" in life.  Yes, I realize how phenomenally absurd this thinking is and I'm honestly surprised that these feelings came up in me recently.  But I also realized that this examination of old habits and feelings is what needs to happen if we want to grow and evolve as strong, empowered, healthy, and enlightened people.  The only way to get rid of the old stuff that doesn't serve us as we are now is to look at it to make sure we don't need it anymore.

So I'm looking at it.  It turns out that the rich and thin people are just as infallible as the rest of us.  Let's take a few examples:

Audrey Hepburn - very rich, extremely thin, died of appendiceal cancer at age 63.

Jane Fonda - very rich, extremely thin, and spent most of her life extolling fitness and a healthy lifestyle - diagnosed with breast cancer at age 72 (survived).

Joan Lunden - very rich, quite thin after creating a lifestyle brand promoting diet and exercise for weight loss - diagnosed with breast cancer at age 64 (survived).

Angelina Jolie - super rich, super thin, married to Brad Pitt, had a preventative double mastectomy and partial hysterectomy because she had such a high genetic probability of breast and ovarian cancers.  And she and Brad got divorced.

Olivia Newton-John - so rich, so thin, diagnosed with breast cancer at 43. Survived, but after 25 years the cancer has returned.

It's not just cancer either.

Grace Kelly - described as the most beautiful woman in the world.  Royalty-level rich, very thin, died in a car crash at the age of 52.

Princess Diana - described as the most beloved woman in the world.  Also royalty-level rich, thin (thanks to her bulimia), died in a car crash at 36 years old.

Natalie Wood - rich, thin, held in high esteem by so many people around the world, died in a mysterious drowning at the age of 43.

Let's not forget about the men:

Steve Jobs - very few men were richer than the thin Steve Jobs when he was 56 and died from pancreatic cancer.

Michael Jackson - okay, he was richer than Steve Jobs, also super thin, and we all know that he died of a drug overdose at 50.

Prince - also richer than Steve Jobs, also extremely thin, also died of a drug overdose, him at 57.

The list of rich, thin people whose lives ended, or nearly ended, either from disease or from a sudden tragedy goes on and on and on.  So does the list of rich and thin people who are lonely, unfulfilled, have terminally ill children, suffer in abusive marriages, battle mental illness, lose homes to fire or weather, and would often gladly trade their riches for something more meaningful in their lives. Being rich and thin protects you from absolutely nothing, despite what the world would have you believe.  Those two qualifiers do not make a person any better, any stronger, any more powerful, any more successful, or any more protected than anyone else on the Earth.

So what can we learn from this?

A lot of things.  Here are a few that come to mind:

1. Stop waiting until you are earning a certain amount of money or hit a certain goal weight to start living your life!!  I know people who are desperate to find someone with whom to share their lives but won't go on dating websites or try meeting anyone until they have lost a certain amount of weight.  That is so foolish!  The time to live is NOW, not to mention the fact that if the partner you want puts a higher premium on looks than on substance I think it's time to rethink your standards.

2. Stop waiting until you earn a certain amount of money or hit a certain goal weight to consider yourself successful, or beautiful, or strong, or empowered, or worthy of all of the good things that life has to offer! Cancer and tragedies don't care what your bank account looks like or what the number is on the scale, so neither should you.

3. When your time is up, it's up, no matter how much money you have or what the label on your jeans says.  So stop spending so much time, effort, worry, and headspace over those things.  They don't matter!  If you want to have money because that will improve your quality of life, then by all means make money and save money and spend it as you see fit.  But don't attach a monetary number to your own worth as a human being.  If you want to lose weight to have more energy, to keep your organs and muscles healthy, and to be able to move about in your life the way you want to, then by all means, adopt healthy eating and exercise habits.  But don't attach a weight number to your value as a person who exists, and is therefore meant to be here.

Rich and thin people have insecurities and vulnerabilities, and are just as susceptible to the curve balls that life throws them as everyone else.  There is absolutely no reason to revere them or worship them or honor them any more than any other person on the planet.  The person you need to respect and applaud every minute of every day is yourself, regardless of the value of your stock portfolio or your dress size.

Life is short. None of us is invulnerable.  So I believe we should spend our time focusing on what makes us happy, what brings us joy and fulfillment, and stop focusing on other people's definitions of success and perfection.  And, when the occasion arises for some long held beliefs to be questioned, question them.  Always.  You never know what you might learn for when the next curve ball comes your way.





Friday, September 15, 2017

The Blame Game

"When you blame others, you give up your power to change." -Robert Anthony

I recently had a former friend get in touch with me.  She's going through her second divorce and wanted some support.  Actually, what she wanted was massive amounts of sympathy, infinite reassurances and pats on the back, gifts of self-help books and inspirational posters, and as many "Let's-go-to-lunch-and-by-all-means-I'll-treat-you-while-I-listen-to-you-complain-again-about-how-horrible-your-life-is-and-what-a-victim-you-are" sessions as possible.

Did I mention that I categorize this person as a former friend?  There's a reason for that.

While I believe it is vitally important for us to be there for each other in our times of need, when she told me that she was getting divorced for a second time, AND that she was losing the house, AND that her kids were hoping to live with the dad, AND that she couldn't believe this was happening to her AGAIN...I mentally looked at what I knew of her life and this is what came to my mind:

"Are you sure it's always everybody else's fault?"

Many years ago a trusted person said to me "The failure of a relationship is always 50/50." While I didn't believe it at the time, now that I think about it, that's a pretty spot on assessment.  Not in the sense that a person didn't pull enough weight to try to make things work out, but maybe his or her 50% was getting into the relationship in the first place.  Or maybe the 50% was not speaking up for what he or she needed but remaining meek and complacent and resentful instead.  A person who perpetually plays the victim always makes everything 100% the other person's fault, but maybe it's time for that person to examine the possibility that he or she might have contributed to the situation.  And how.

(Now of course I'm not talking about abuse here - that falls into a different category in my opinion.)

Let's take this person: No matter what happens to her, she never takes any blame or responsibility for consequences as a result of her behavior.  Current facts: A pattern of problems holding down a lasting marital relationship, children who would rather live with their father, siblings who don't speak to her, and plenty of friends on Facebook but none that come to visit her or invite her for those lunch dates she so desperately craves.   Previous facts: Years of serious credit card debt, an inability to hold down a permanent job for longer than about 6 months, a tendency toward hoarding followed by intense de-cluttering and cleaning, and then there was the airport incident.  She once flew into a rage at the airport gate when she wasn't allowed onto the plane after the doors had been closed. Why did this happen? Because she left for the airport 45 minutes before her flight was supposed to take off despite repeated warnings otherwise and couldn't understand why everyone else wouldn't wait for her. To her it was clearly the airline's fault, not hers.

Looking back even further, we can see how this repeated blame assigning is not new. She is a former model, who had had some success with print ads early in her career more than two decades ago. (How do we know this? Because she will tell you within moments of meeting her and regularly posts twenty-plus year old pictures of herself in her heyday.) So what happened?  To hear her tell it, the modeling career went south because of her agent and her first husband.  She couldn't hold down any other kind of job because she did not have any marketable or administrative/office skills.  This lacking was the fault of her parents and her high school guidance counselor, who didn't encourage her to pursue anything else career-wise besides capitalizing on her looks. Not to mention that after all that she's sacrificed for her kids she can't understand why they hate her, and she is furious with the makeup company who was clearly out to ruin her life when they discontinued her favorite lipstick color. Somewhere along the line she came to believe that the world owed her everything she wanted and is continually perplexed when people and circumstances don't constantly bend to her every will and whim.

So what can we learn from this person's experience and the choices she's made throughout her life thus far?  Well, lesson number one is for me to stay as far away from this person as possible! And I advise you to do the same if you have any similar people in your life.

But lesson number two is far more important.  If you are dissatisfied with an important aspect of your life - a relationship, a job, a living situation - I would encourage you to take a good hard look at your contribution toward how things have gotten to where they are.  Often times things happen for which we can take no responsibility; bad things happen in life and we have no control over those.  But if you're unhappy, and this is incredibly hard to do; ask yourself honestly:

What part did I play in me ending up where I am today?

Did I keep my mouth shut and go along with a move to a new state without making my voice and opinion clearly known?

Did I settle for partnering with someone who wasn't the best choice for me because in my mind "it was time?"

Am I suffering daily in a job because I think I need to keep the big house and designer clothes so that society will hold me in high esteem, which is the most important factor to me in my life?

Am I unable to maintain a relationship or hold down a fulfilling job because I always do something at some point to sabotage it? Because deep down I believe I don't deserve good things for myself?

Am I carrying around extra weight as a protective layer to keep people from getting inside to get to know the real me?

Do I feel like I'm always right and everyone else just doesn't understand me?

If friends stop calling, if birthday cards stop coming, if I find myself alone on major holidays, is it because everyone else is mean and doesn't care about me or is it because I did something to offend them?

Do I make every choice in my life based on what I believe other people will think of me?

The truth is, each of us is responsible for the choices we make in our lives, regardless of how someone treated us or the advice we have been given.  So many of us are stuck in blaming other people for how our lives turned out when the reality is that every single day we make thousands of choices that will affect how the next moment, day, week, month, or year will turn out.  The only person who is accountable for those choices is me or you, period.  And yes, we were treated unfairly, and yes, people were uncaring toward us, and yes, people didn't listen to what we had to say nor validated our feelings.  But as much as we might want things to have been different in the past and no matter how much things SHOULD have been different and COULD have been different, they are, quite simply, not.  Things are what they are, things happened as they did, and the sooner we take an honest look at how we were actually instrumental in the circumstances of our lives, the better we can deal with the consequences.  Then ultimately, hopefully, this practice will help us to make better choices for ourselves in the future.

"We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers - but never blame yourself. It's never your fault. But it's always your fault, because if you wanted to change you're the one who has got to change. - Katharine Hepburn

Whenever you're looking for someone to blame, check the mirror first.




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Keep a smile on your face...

...it's the best accessory you can wear. - Unknown.

Why is it that when I'm dressed nicely, my hair is done, and I have makeup on, I never run into anybody I know? And why is it that last night, as I was running out to pick up dinner for my daughter and me, and it was late, I hadn't showered, and my couture could best be described as "Early Cleaning Out The Garage" I bump into people I haven't seen in 2 years?!

Always.

I was seriously running into this little Mexican place when I hear my name being shouted from across the street.  I instinctively turned around and here was this family, whom I really enjoy when we get to see them (once every 2 or 3 years) but I couldn't help thinking "Seriously? NOW? Just yesterday I was at least a bit put together."

As we came toward each other Tim Gunn's famous words ran through my head: "You should always present yourself the way you want to be viewed by the world." By this I think he means it's not that what you look like or what you wear means that's who you are, but if you want to be respected, dress in a way that people will respect you.  There's also a quote from Coco Chanel that goes "I don't understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little, if only out of politeness."

Well I guess I wasn't feeling overly polite or concerned with how the world would see me when I ran out the door to pick up our tacos.  Which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing. I know a woman who is so concerned with her looks that she does her 2 hour hair and makeup routine just to go to spin class, then afterwards has to shower and do the whole 2 hours again.  That's not how I choose to spend my time.

Anyway, back to the street.  We met, we hugged, we exchanged, "Hi! It's SO good to see you! It's been so long"s, and then the dad of the family said, "You're looking good."

I seriously stopped in my tracks. I looked at him like he was absolutely insane, then ran my hand through my hair, ducked my head a little and replied, "Wow, that's very nice of you to say, I haven't even showered today."  To which he responded:

"But you're wearing that smile. That smile is what we love to see."

For second I couldn't move, couldn't breathe.  It was like all of the years of me feeling badly about my looks and my weight and my clothing style came barreling in and collided with the reinforced steel door of what he said.  The door held.

What a concept.  Could it be possible? That maybe it actually doesn't matter that I'm only 5'5.75" tall when I always wanted to be 5'8" so my weight would have been distributed more evenly. Maybe it actually doesn't matter that I wear a size large t-shirt when America and the rest of the world deems it only acceptable that I wear a small.  Maybe it actually doesn't matter what I choose to cover my body with because it's just the outer shell of the soul that is encased within it, and maybe it's my soul that is important to protect and honor and cherish; AND most importantly, share with others.  Maybe someone receiving a smile in their day which lifts their spirits is more important than the designer scarf tied on the neck just beneath it.

Remember that song from the musical Annie:

Hey Hobo Man, hey Dapper Dan, you've both got your style
But brother you're never fully dressed without a smile.
Who cares what you're wearing from Main Street to Saville Row
It's what you wear from ear to ear, and not from head to toe that matters.

I'm thinking that if we want to make the world a better place as individuals, we need to focus less on what we're buying from the mall and more about what we give off onto others.  I happen to agree with Tim Gunn about presenting yourself to the world respectfully and wearing what makes you feel beautiful and confident.  But as you check the mirror before you head out into the world I would ask that you check for one important thing:

Are you wearing your smile?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Giving Your All

I had an honest-to-goodness life changing experience this morning. So much so that I'm actually grateful to the dog for waking me up at 4:30 a.m.  (I wasn't at the time...)

Because I had a few hours before the rest of the family was going to be up it was the perfect time to watch a movie that I had saved for just me.  No one else wanted to watch it so I settled in as the sun was peeking over the horizon and started Michael Jackson's This Is It.

Like every other person in the world who was a teenager in the 80s, Michael Jackson was an integral part of my overall coming-of-age experience.  I remember seeing him first do the moonwalk on the Motown 25 special and the gatherings of friends for weeks afterwards figuring out how it was done and practicing on the kitchen linoleum.  I remember my brother and I being overjoyed that we were asked to babysit on the night that the Thriller video premiered on MTv because that family had cable.  I remember sitting on the bed in my friends room as we took turns re-enacting the dances from the Beat It, Billie Jean, and trying to discern what MJ was saying during the Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' breakdown part. We all loved him and felt like he was a part of us somehow.

Anyway, I started watching this movie, which chronicles the rehearsals for what was to be Michael Jackson's 2009 London concert titled "This Is It." He died 18 days before the first concert date and most of the footage in the film is the rehearsals.  It's a fascinating look at all of the many parts that have to come together flawlessly to put on such a spectacular and extravagant performance and I was left feeling the weight of the tragedy that a show of this magic and magnitude would never actually be seen.

But that's not what struck me the most deeply.  What caught my attention throughout the entire movie was that every single person involved in the production - the dancers, the singers, the musicians, the lighting crew, the stage crew, the sound guys, the special effects team - EVERYONE was performing his or her task at 100%.  There was an electricity in the air that was almost palpable through the television screen.  Everyone was working at their highest level, fulfilling their true potential, and it seemed as though each cog in the wheel was feeding off of every other person's exhilaration and enthusiasm.

Of course every single member of the show crew was thrilled and honored to be working with Michael Jackson and Kenny Ortega (director of the concert as well as the ultimate film) but even so, I was amazed at how everyone was completely immersed in their tasks, fueled by the common goal of making a phenomenal, unique, transcendent form of art through music and dance.

I was especially awed by the dancers.  Not only were they highly skilled (and chosen specifically by Michael himself) but during each rehearsal that I saw, they were always performing at heightened show level.  Often times while practicing people will do the steps without facial expressions or emotions.  Or musicians will play the songs as written but save their improvisations and energy for the performance, or dress rehearsal.  But all of the performers were working HARD, holding nothing back, sweating and fighting for breath at times, as if the audience was filled with thousands of screaming fans, instead of a few crew members scattered around on the stadium floor.  I've never seen anything like it.

Now, it was made very clear in the film that MJ always gave his 100% and more in everything he did and he even made a speech about asking everyone to continue giving him their ALL as the rehearsals led up to the show.  This was the expectation and everyone rose up to what he demanded.  But this got me thinking a few things...

I thought about why I have often felt exhilarated after seeing a live performance, especially of something musical.  I remembered being taken (reluctantly) to see The Lion King on stage and when it was over I literally had the feeling in me that I wanted to be a better person.  The show truly touched me to my core and made me want to excel more in my life.  I have had similar feelings after seeing other Broadway shows as well as live musical performances.  I believe that this is the true purpose of art - to awaken something inside of ourselves that stirs up creativity and the desire to make something more of ourselves.  I know people can get this from experiencing visual art and reading exceptional writing as well.  This is the magic of live performance, when everyone is focused on the same goal of uplifting and transporting an audience while they are passively sitting in the dark.

It also makes clear why there have been times when I have NOT had those transformative emotions kindled within me.  A few of these come to mind: I saw an opera singer perform a live one-woman show (not an opera with a libretto - her show was a collection of songs she chose) once and while her voice was lovely, there was no emotion behind the performance. She simply sang song after song, with excellent  diction, good intonation, well choreographed hand motions...but the whole thing left me feeling kind of empty inside.  It didn't inspire anything - it was almost like witnessing something happening two-dimensionally.  It was technically fine, but there was nothing energizing or galvanizing about it.

I also remember seeing a fantastic Broadway show with the original cast. It was toward the end of most of the leading players' run, it was a matinee, and everyone just seemed tired and lackluster.  I don't blame them - it is incredibly difficult to sing, dance, act, change costumes, remember lines, remember blocking, keep in synch, and do your best performance at absolutely full capacity 8 times a week. Believe me, I get how hard that is.  And although I enjoyed the show, I noticed that I did not feel the same euphoria and spark within me when it was over.  The performers were "calling it in." Which honestly is probably fine for most of the show attendees.  But it wasn't for me.

The same goes for when you see professional athletes not performing up to their full potential in a game. It's also why when these competitors DO give it their utmost all, the stadium comes alive and people cheer their hearts out for the full-on, leave-it-all-on-the field atmosphere that I believe we strive for at events like that.

I myself am a performer and in the early part of my career I was always worried about something. Number one was usually was how I looked (which was always not good enough). I was also concerned with how I sounded, if the audience was going to like it, if the sound was going to work, if the show was going on too long, and even things beyond my control like he temperature of the venue, the well-being of my musicians, and whether or not we were going to be asked to perform our encore.  I was consumed by all of these what-ifs and those never really allowed me to be fully present and enjoy the splendor of what was being created spontaneously in those moments of time and space.  I was never fully comfortable, never truly giving it my all, and I'm sure it showed in my performances. I doubt the audience ever had any inkling, especially because they all seemed to be having a rollicking good time, but my incredibly perceptive and loving husband would tell me afterwards, "I could tell when you let go and started enjoying yourself." I would always be like, "Really?" And he would answer, "Yeah, it was at this point (and he would tell me where, which was usually about halfway through the third to last song) when I you finally relaxed and became part of the music."

Amazing.

I saw this "becoming part of the art you are creating" while watching the dancers and musicians backing up Michael Jackson in this movie.  There was no worrying about if the steps were right or if they were playing the right notes.  It was all about being in the exact moment, feeling the here and now and being a full part of it, even in rehearsal.  No one was phoning anything in, all of their energy was focused on the present and the contribution they were making to build something far greater than the sum of its parts.  

I wonder if we can live our lives this way.  Not just while we're performing, but in everything.  When we're talking with our kids, can we be fully present with them, listening and paying attention at full capacity, rather than have our minds focused on the laundry we still have to do and the bills that need to be paid.  While we're working on a document for work, can we devote our energies to that task only, pouring all of our efforts into it instead of stopping every few minutes to check email or answer texts.  When we're doing anything that requires our attention - mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, cleaning the garage, cooking dinner, watching a movie, talking with friends, planning a family get-together, etc. etc. - what would happen if we did those things 100%, full-bore, and holding nothing back? Would we feel more satisfied? More fulfilled? More successful?

I think so. And what if we approached our creative endeavors with the same concentrated energy and devotion? What incredible and innovative masterpieces could we create? What new goals could we accomplish? What new heights could we attain?

I know that for me the times of being self-conscious and suppressed are over.  Those dancers and performers showed me the beauty and magnificence of what can happen when a mind, body, and spirit can all come together to fully experience and inhabit limitless intentional energy and connection.  They showed me that when you give 100% the mistakes don't matter. The wardrobe doesn't matter, the sound doesn't matter, and the end result doesn't even really matter. What matters is the doing and the accomplishing and the feeling that you couldn't have possibly given any more.

"I would ask you to give me your all.  This is the moment. This is it. God bless you." - Michael Jackson