Sunday, July 9, 2017

Keep a smile on your face...'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?!


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."


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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Consciously Seeking Hope

I just heard an interviewer (okay, it was Oprah) ask a bunch of different people to answer this question:

"I feel the presence of God when..."

Now I know that some people get freaked out by the word "God," so if that word doesn't resonate with then I would encourage you to substitute the words "the Universe" or "Higher Power," or "a Force At Work That's Bigger Than Myself," instead.

OR, how about if we substitute the word "Hope."

"I feel the presence of Hope when..."

Here's my answer:

1. At the ocean.  Every time I stand at the water's edge and I see and hear the waves crashing against the sand I'm rejuvenated. I'm reminded that the ocean has been in existence for far far longer than I have been, and it will still be around for far far longer after I'm gone.  That's not to make me feel insignificant, but more as a reminder that no matter what terrible things are going on in the world, the ocean is a constant. It has always been there, it will always be there, and we cannot control for one instant the rhythm of its motion.  And no matter how many millions and millions of waves have come, there will always always be more.  Better times lie ahead.  Hope.

2. On a mountaintop.  While I haven't been on many actual mountaintops, I have climbed up to a few, and the view of the vast land that lies beneath is miraculous and always instills me with inspiration.  Like in Dead Poets Society, when he encourages the students to stand on the desks to get a different perspective on the world, there's something about being high up in nature that allows us to see things with a new frame of reference.  I'll never forget the view from the top of a mountain on Kauai where we could actually see the curvature of the Earth as the horizon.  Seeing that made me feel small, but also filled me with the hope that anything was possible.

3. Holding an infant or seeing very young children play.  Whenever I have the opportunity to hold a baby I take it eagerly.  Getting to see and hear and feel and smell this brand new life always reminds me that there is hope. I feel like if there wasn't any hope, new people wouldn't continually be being brought into the world.  Also, when I see toddlers play I can see the beauty and simplicity of their innocence combined with their wonder in the world around them.  My son did a service project with a group of young children a few years ago and while watching them run around gleefully the thought came into my mind, "The world is going to be all right."  Little kids being free and comfortable interacting with the space around them stirs hope inside of me.

4. Collective joy/purpose.  The best way I can explain this is when everyone at football game or baseball game in a huge stadium stands, removes their hats, and sings the national anthem together.  The people around you might have different political views, religious views, ways of thinking, etc.  But for those two or three minutes we are all proud Americans and we all stand together in unification.  I have often taken my own moment to realize the exquisiteness of those unique capsules of time and space.  I feel the same way when seeing people cheer together at local sporting events, at the Olympic opening ceremonies, on the sidelines of charity races, and when people gather for parades.  There's something about human kind coming together to celebrate something that they all have in common, rather than everyone focusing on their differences.  They're very hope-inducing for me.

5. Seeing a sunrise.  I've seen many sunrises in my life and for me, each one is magical.  The colors are always magnificent, and the tangible(ish) reminder of a new day dawning always sparks hope within me.  It's like the quote from Charles Schulz that says, "Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia." Hope.

6. Laughing together with my family.  There have been times,  usually when watching RiffTrax together, that all 4 of us have been doubled over laughing in our basement in our respective seats on the couch, recliner, and giant beanbag.  The times when we have to pause the show because we're all laughing so hard that we can't hear what's coming next are miraculous experiences for me.  I have taken time to step back for split second to enjoy the preciousness of these times and they are honestly the moments in my life that I treasure the most.

I'll stop there because the point of what I want to say isn't about me going on and on about where I find hope in the world.  The main thing that I'm trying to express is that it's extremely important to figure out what concrete things bring us the most hope, so that if we encounter times of hopelessness, we can consciously seek out experiences that will trigger hope within us.  

For example, if you're in a rough patch and have misplaced your hope, what can you actively do to find it? If you're with me on the collective joy thing, then buy a ticket to the next baseball game in town and GO!  Major league, minor league, little league (those are free), doesn't matter, just get up, get out and DO IT!  Or soccer or lacrosse or football or a charity bike ride. You will be inspired by the collective happiness and exuberance that's in the air at those events and you'll most likely have your spirits lifted by cheering with other people who share a common goal.

If holding babies gives you hope then volunteer at your local hospital, orphanage, or place of worship. They are often looking for caring individuals to hold infants and give them the loving touch they need so desperately to thrive.

If seeing a sunrise gets your hopeful juices flowing then set your alarm for earlier, go outside where you can see the sky well, and take in the beauty and majesty of the beginning of a glorious new day.  What it can inspire in you is well worth the missed hour or so of sleep.

If oceans and/or mountaintops inspire hope in you then GO TO THEM!  They can't come to you so it's good that you will have to get up from the comfort of your misery and actually go and seek them out.  Breathe in the salty air of the sea or the fresh clean mountain air.  That alone will do wonders for your soul and spirit.

Whatever you figure out works for you, GO AND DO IT!  Then part two is doing something to help you remember it, so that if you can't get up on the mountaintop when you might need to, you will have created something to help activate the memory. Creating something usually generates hope in a person, combined with the feeling of having accomplished something.  So when you get back from your hike up the mountain, paint a picture of it so you can remember the feeling.  On your return from the ocean make a collage out of sand and shells that you picked up there.  If you knit or sew, create a blanket or hat for the baby you just held and bring it the next time you go.  Make a photo book of pictures you took at the sporting event or marathon you attended.  After taking in the experience it's so helpful to create something to bring back the connection to the hopeful feelings you had when you were there.

One last thing: when you're in the experience, I would encourage you to REALLY be in it.  Experience it as fully as you can, engaging all 5 of your senses. I'll use the ocean as an example:

1. Look at the waves.  What color are they? How do they compare to the color of the still part?  Examine how they foam and then dissolve away.  How clear is the water? What can you see at the bottom?

2. Listen to the rumble and crash of each wave as it builds, crests, and releases. Close your eyes and really listen to everything there is to hear.  Is there a rhythm to the sounds or are they random? Can you hear birds chirping? Was that a boat horn? Are there kids laughing nearby?

3. Feel the sand beneath your feet.  Squish the wet sand in your toes and allow them to be washed clean by the water.  Feel how cold or warm the water is.  Close your eyes and focus on the sensation of the water lapping against your ankles.  Put your hands in and feel how the water caresses them and cools them off.

4. Smell the air around you - again, close your eyes.  Can you smell the brininess of the seaweed? Can you smell the salt in the air? Are there food smells from vendors nearby? Breathe in deeply from your nose and smell everything.

5. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue and taste the air.  Is there salt in the air to taste?  Scoop up some water, taste it, and reflect on how salty it is.  Is it as salty as the last ocean water you tasted?

You can do the same on the top of a mountain (some leaves and flowers are interesting to taste, just make sure they are safe first), while holding a baby (I wouldn't do any tasting there but nothing smells quite as good as a fresh baby head), and there are certainly lots of ways to use all of your senses at a ball park.  The idea is to immerse yourself fully in the experience so you can get the absolute most out of it that you can.  Simply put, if if you're looking for hope, don't just look with your eyes.

Hope is all around us.  If you feel like you can't find it right now then I encourage you to seek it out. Make it a conscious effort to bring hope to yourself when it's not coming on its own.  And above all:

"Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future." - Robert H. Schuller


Sunday, July 2, 2017


The mind is a powerful thing.

Extremely powerful.

Staggeringly so at times.

I just woke up from a horrible nightmare.  I was me as I am now, but for some reason I was in college. I was sitting in a large lecture hall, everyone around me was smiling and laughing, and then the professor came in and sure enough, asked cheerfully if everyone was ready for the test today.  Everyone laughed and started getting out their pencils and notebooks (it was clearly college from my day because no one took out a laptop) and while I started looking around the classroom wildly in confusion.  What?!! A test today?! I didn't know there was a test today! What happened? Everyone else in the class was calm and prepared and completely in control.  The professor then made a joke about the practice quiz from the previous class, which I realized I had missed, and the whole class erupted in laughter while I was covered in a blanket of shame.  How did this happen? I asked myself.  As the tests began to be passed out my shame quickly turned to panic, as I realized that this was the first of this class I had even attended and I didn't even have the textbook yet.  My heart started pounding as the panic turned to real unadulterated fear.

My mind skipped ahead to the next class, but in the same room and I was in the same seat.  This professor greeted everyone kindly and then asked us all to pull out our homework.  He put a copy of it up on the screen (yes, it was an overhead projector) and everyone began to take out their beautifully completed papers.  It was a table type chart that was to be filled out based on three chapters of reading and these papers were covered with writing. I mean covered like it had taken hours to complete.  Of course, I had nothing to show for myself.  The shame returned. I hadn't even known about the assignment!  It was right about now that I realized I had a plane to catch in less than 2 hours and unless I left the class immediately I wasn't going to make it.  It was the only flight possible and my husband and kids were waiting to pick me up.  My hands were shaking as I pulled out my phone to text my husband.  My phone didn't work!! No matter what I tried the screen just kept jumping around and I couldn't make a call or send a text or use it in any way.  Now I couldn't breathe, an honest-to-goodness panic attack was beginning, and the frustration, shame, fear, and intense, overwhelming feeling of being out of control closed in on me and I felt like I would drown under the enormity of it all.

I woke up trying desperately to catch my breath with my heart hammering fiercely in my chest.  It took me a good five minutes or so to get my heart rate and breathing back to normal.  The headache (most likely from the blood pressure spike) is still lingering and I feel exhausted despite the 7 hours of sleep I've just had.

So why am I telling you all of this?

Because as I was trying fitfully to bring myself back to reality upon awakening, I realized that all of the feelings I was having while I was asleep were real. I was experiencing real fear and real shame and categorically real frustration and panic. My body was reacting as though I was awake and actually going through these scary and upsetting experiences.  Which means that, as I have said many times before, the mind is a very powerful thing and we need to be aware of that as we go about our daily lives.

We are our thoughts, and if we think that certain things are true - about ourselves, about other people, about our circumstances - then they really ARE TRUE to us and our perceptions.  Even if in reality they are false, if we think them then they are true to us and we make decision every day based on what our own truths are.

For example, if our minds tell us that we are ugly, stupid, no-good, and that we'll never amount to anything, then that becomes our absolute truth. It doesn't matter if others see us differently or if we actually have the potential to do great things.  (Which of course we ALL do.)  Our minds keep us trapped in the prisons of what we were taught to believe and unless we wake up and see that our truth is not reality, we'll be trapped within these cells of our own making forever.

Unfortunately I've been plagued with nightmares my whole life.  I've woken up countless times screaming, crying, howling, and sometimes kicking, as a result of the terrifying nature of these uncontrollable dreams.  In adulthood my (incredibly caring and never-once-complaining-about-being-awakened-so-violently) husband has always reassured me with the words, "It's just a dream, it's just a dream, it's not real, it's just a dream." And while this is obviously true, what I realized today is that according to my mind and body, I actually experienced the things in the dream and my reactions are as real as if they all actually happened.

How does one stop the disturbing musings of the subconscious mind? I have no idea. (I WISH I did!) But I do know that today I need to be a little extra kinder to myself, and maybe even begin to examine why such strong feelings of shame, fear, and being out of control reared their awful heads to me as the sun was coming up and a beautiful new day was about to begin.

Last thing: I just want to say here that mental illness is 100% real and needs to be dealt with out in the open and without even one iota of shame. I have known many people who struggle with mental illness and the stigma of it in this country needs to be lifted once and for all.  It's no different from a physical illness because it IS a physical illness. It distorts the brain's chemicals the same way that leukemia harms blood cells and diabetes messes with blood sugar. A person living with mental illness is experiencing  emotions and reactions based on stresses in his or her mind that are absolutely real to them, as if they were actually happening, even if they are not.  Their minds are essentially in wheelchairs, and they need and deserve our empathy, our kindness, and our compassion, even if we can't understand or relate to what they are going through.

"Post traumatic stress disorder starts out with nightmares, flashbacks and actually reliving the event.  And this happens over and over and over and over in your mind. If you let it go on, it can become chronic and become hard if not impossible to treat." - Dale Archer

If you think it, you believe it.  If your mind does it, it's real. So make a conscious effort to fill your mind with beauty, positivity, light, optimism, and faith. It may not stop the nightmares, but it may make them have to fight harder to break through to the surface.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A lesson from a life cut short too soon.

I wasn't planning on writing today, but something happened that I needed to share.

Lately I've been on a kick of letting people from my past know that their actions affected me in a positive way. I've reached out to a former teacher, a camp counselor, and some co-workers from a long time ago to let them know how their encouragement and kind words really helped me at an integral times in my life.  It occurred to me that many of these people had no idea of the profound effect they had in my life and I realized that if I had helped someone out in this way I certainly would want to know.

So I reached out to someone recently and today I received a letter back. I can honestly say that it is one of the most tragic things I have ever read in my life and it really shook me out of whatever state I was in and brought each moment since into extremely sharp focus.  To explain:

Thirty-three years ago I was 14 and had a huge crush on a somewhat well-known actor. His name was Timothy Patrick Murphy. Do you remember him? He had a few small roles on some nighttime dramas in the 80s, including Dallas, and I was a huge fan.  Take a look at this picture and you'll see


Pretty cute, huh?

Anyway, every summer my mom used to take us kids to a taping of the local entertainment show called AM Philadelphia.  We used to love going and seeing all of the behind the scenes activity that went on and watching the hosts and celebrities joke around during the commercial breaks.  Well that summer we went to a show and while I cannot remember who was the guest that day, they did a promo for the following day's show and guess who was going to be on?! My favorite favorite actor crush Timothy Patrick Murphy himself!! I got extraordinarily excited, immediately turned to my mother and asked, "Can we pleeeease come back tomorrow to see him? I LOVE HIM!!!"  God bless my wonderful mother she agreed and I was over the moon with excitement.

The next day we got up bright and early again and headed downtown for the taping.  To our surprise there was a huge line outside the studio.  We had never seen this kind of thing before and I couldn't imagine that all of these people were there to see my favorite not-so-well-known actor guy.  Well, it turned out that they were all in line to see a little local band called "The Hooters" who were big in Philadelphia and who were about to explode both nationally and internationally within the year.  Kudos to my mother again, who went up to the person manning the door and let him know unequivocally that we knew one of the producers of the show, which was true!  The bouncer guy went and got the guy we knew, he ushered us past the throngs of fans to our very own special seats in the audience, where we sat expectantly for the show to begin.

As we sat there I was going on and on about how excited I was to see my all-time favorite actor, and after a few minutes of that teenage girl blathering the woman in front of us turned around to say, "Are you a fan of Timothy Patrick Murphy?" I have no idea what I responded back but you can be sure that there was plenty of gushing involved.  She listened and smiled and nodded and when I was finished she said, "Oh that's wonderful, I'm his mother."  Again I launched into how much I adored him, how I had seen everything he was in and how I was no doubt his biggest fan.  She kept smiling and then asked me to write down my address and she'd send me some pictures.

Needless to say I was overjoyed at this as I scribbled my address down on the card from my mother's tissue packet.  I assumed she was just being nice and didn't expect it to go any further than that. I actually completely forgot about it after returning home from the show, where along with my crush I got to see The Hooters perform their original version (and far better in my opinion than the one they released for the radio) of "All You Zombies" and "Fightin' on the Same Side.

(P.S. From that moment on, and to this day, I am a huge fan of The Hooters.)

Anyway, after seeing TPM do his segment, where he was charming and gentlemanly and even pointed out his mother in the audience, we went home, where I'm guessing I was glowing for days after that fun and exciting experience.

To my amazement, about three weeks later I got a package in the mail. It contained several autographed photos - one specifically autographed to me, see above - and a lovely note from TPM's mother, saying how nice it was to meet me and that she just had to send me some photos because I was so sweet.

WOW!!!!!!  What a tremendous moment in my otherwise angst-filled teenaged life!!

The personalized photo was immediately framed and hung on my bedroom wall.  I subsequently took it to college with me and it has been in every home I have lived in since.  I also still have the other photos and the note, and they have been a wonderful reminder through the years of the kindness of others and that unexpected joys are possible.

Four years later my beloved TPM passed away at the age of 29.  I couldn't believe it at first - he was so young and in good shape and enjoying success living out his dream of being a working actor.  I couldn't help but think that he could have become more famous had he had more time.

Years passed and often I would think about his short life and how incredibly kind his mother had been to me.  She didn't have to do what she did and it was such a supremely generous act of kindness. I have never forgotten it (especially since that particular time in my life was rife with stress, anxiety, and often crippling self-doubt) and all of these years later I thought that I would send her a note to let her know how much her consideration and benevolence meant to me.

I started searching for her online, remembering her name and the town in which she had lived, and in my searching I found out some horrible news.  Not only did she lose her first son at 29, but she also lost another son, Patrick Sean Murphy at the age of 36 in the September 11th attacks.

Unbelievable.  How does a mother deal with the sudden deaths of 2 sons?  2?!

Anyway, I wrote her a note, expressing my thanks for her kindness, letting her know how much it meant to me all those years ago, and also letting her know how fondly I remembered her first-born even to this day.  I offered her my condolences on the loss of her other son and suggested that she had 2 very special angels watching over her in her life.

I did not expect to hear back from her but felt glad that I could at least articulate my gratitude toward her all of these years later.  You can imagine how thrilled and amazed I was to find a letter from her address in my mailbox today!

I opened it carefully and started reading. It was from her husband Thomas, whom I had not met, and he thanked me profusely for my letter, so appreciative that his sons were being remembered across the country from someone he had never even known.  Yay!

My initial glee stopped there. He went on to tell me that his wife was currently wheelchair-bound, suffering from dementia, and was unable to understand my letter but that he gladly shared it among other family members. He then let me know that in addition to losing both of his sons, his remaining son Sam was in the final stages of ALS.

WHAT?!! Seriously?! This was incomprehensible. I mean, how much heartache and pain can one family take?  I began crying as I read the letter the second time, and kept on crying through the third and fourth times.  I just can't seem to get my head around what this family has had to go through in their lives.   I know there's no point in asking "why," there's just me shaking my head in disbelief and incredulity. I can only hope that I was able to bring a tiny bit of joy and light to even a moment of this man's day.

Receiving this letter threw into sharp relief how inconsequential and downright senseless my current little gripes and annoyances are. While I am by no means unhappy right now, there are some things lately that I've allowed to bug me and have cast a bit of a shadow over my daily goings on. This made me realize once again the impermanence of life and how very very important it is to go after the things that will fulfill us, to not go on waiting for another time to do so, and to appreciate all of life's blessings while we still have them.  Simple stuff, but I clearly needed a reminder.

Here's what I really wanted to share; the point of all of this rambling:

1. Enjoy your life.  Period.  Forget about your little annoyances and troubles and focus on the big picture of what's going right in your life.  Don't sweat the small stuff because it is indeed all small stuff.

2. Don't put off doing anything that you want to do.  Just don't. Life is short, opportunities are to be grabbed when they happen and constructed when they are taking their time.

3. SAY THANK YOU TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE HELPED YOU! Expressing appreciation can go miles in improving someone's outlook. And if it takes some time and effort to track them down, DO IT!  It's worth it for you, it's worth it for them, and it helps make the world a kinder and more civilized place.

4. Stop complaining.  You think you have it tough? Take a look at the Murphy family and "kwitcherbellyakin."

Lastly, hug your loved ones, count your blessings, and appreciate all of the wonderful things that life has to offer.

"I love you and I don't want to lose you." - Timothy Patrick Murphy as Chip in "Glitter."

Dear Tim, we didn't want to lose you either.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Close the door

You know how people always say to keep the doors open in case opportunity comes a-knockin'? I believe this 100%.  People will also say things like "When one door closes, another opens." To this I say, "Hear hear!" It's always important to seek out open doors, and if they won't open of their own accord, we can feel free to do whatever it takes to open them ourselves. I believe that we should always look for the open doors in life because what lies behind them is often more wonderful and glorious than we could have imagined.


Except for when it's more beneficial and important to close the door. And by this I mean, when we're faced with a big decision, or when we're dealing with an issue in our lives, it can help immensely to close the door and go inside to feel and hear what our gut is saying.  Outside the door there can be many well-meaning family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers, who will offer their unsolicited advice to "help" us in our times of indecision and need.  And by well-meaning I mean serving their own interests and trying to get us to do what will benefit them the most.  The things that these people tend to say can usually be classified as mean, nasty, selfish, self-serving, and cruel.  In those cases we have every right to close the door on them and their uninvited comments.  We can shut out the noise and the hubbub and look within for the answer.  Our gut always knows best, we just need to be quiet and alone enough to hear it.

In one particular situation with regard to taking the next step in a relationship, I had to make a very important decision.  Everyone, and I mean everyone had an opinion about what I should do.  (And in some cases, what I simply had to do or else I would never be happy.  These people felt that there really wasn't a choice involved at all.) I can remember very clearly standing in my apartment, looking at the front door which led directly to the outside.  The door was closed and I was alone.  I sat down, closed my eyes and pictured the closed door.  I then pictured what it would be like with just me, living my life, here in my apartment, without anyone else's opinions or diatribes living here with me.  It felt nice.  Quiet.  Peaceful.  Content.  Then I pictured having my boyfriend here in the apartment with me. The front door is closed. No well-meaning people are giving us their opinions on what we should be doing.  He's sitting next to me on the couch with his arm around me. How did I feel? Elated. Exuberant. Overwhelmingly happy, along with Quiet, Peaceful, and Content.  I realized in that moment that no matter what anyone else thought of me or told me about myself, THIS WAS MY LIFE, NOT THEIRS!  And it wasn't until I consciously closed the door on all of them that I was able to truly realize that.

What does your life look like when the door to the outside is closed? How do you want to be spending your time? Whom do you want in there with you, if anyone?

This "closing the door on the outside world" concept applies to any decision, be it a business venture, a creative endeavor, or a personal lifestyle choice.  As Steve Jobs famously said:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking.  Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Don't waste it living someone else's life.  We all know in our hearts what we want to do, it's when we close the door on our own thoughts and feelings by putting stock to other people's opinions that we become shaky and indecisive.  And who the heck are these people who are trying to influence us anyway? Do we trust their opinions? Are they worth our time to invest in what they are saying?

Truthfully, usually not.  I spent time with a relative's coworker once when I was on a visit and this person did not know me nor my boyfriend (who became my husband, see above).  This stranger to me had her very limited viewpoints of what was right and proper and acceptable in her world according to her terms.  Anyone who strayed from those opinions was wrong and she wasted no time in telling me so. Why did she feel the need to do that? What difference did it make to her how I was living my life and who I was dating? We should have been completely inconsequential to her but she felt the overwhelming need to voice her disdain for us and our relationship.  Luckily I chose not to take her comments to heart, and to this day I have no idea why she felt so strongly about putting us down. But I recently learned what happened to this woman: embroiled in a bitter divorce with 2 young kids, the second one brought about in a futile attempt to save the marriage.  Her "perfect" world came crashing down around her and she got a new perspective on how things that she thought were a given actually weren't.  A great example of how karma is real and doesn't discern.

All this to say, yes, by all means, go through every door that is opened to you.  But don't be afraid to close the ones that are getting in your way.

Never dull your shine

...for somebody else.  Period. End of Sentence.

(or, Renounce the Dream Spitters Part II)

I first heard this phrase from Tyra Banks and I love it SO much!  Everyone is born with a light inside of them and I believe that every person's true purpose is to shine that light into the world.  Some of us choose to dull that shine and cover it over with mud or armor based on negative things we've heard from others.  Many people feel that a person's light can be too bright, and is therefore threatening or intimidating to others and so in those other people's opinions, that light needs to be dimmed or hidden or concealed.  But as much as we want to blame other people for dulling our shine, we ultimately do it to ourselves. No one truly has the power to darken our light except us.

This goes along with living in the present and letting go of the people in your life who do not raise you up and support you.  When I've talked before about relinquishing relationships that no longer align with your current purpose in life I've been met with some backlash. "But we've been friends for 30 years!" They'll say. Or "What about honoring the history we have together?" To which I would respond, "Are you still using anything purposeful from 30 years ago when you first met? A phone attached to the wall with a curly cord coming out of the receiver? A hot pink jacket with oversized white buttons and big shoulder pads? A cassette tape player? Yes, there's definitely something nostalgic about these things and those friends we had back then.  But if the friend's values and attitudes no longer line up with yours then there is no place for them in your lives. They belong with the outdated appliances and methods of doing things.

And that's okay.

So many of us are reluctant to let go of people we've known for a long time because they are a connection to the past.  I understand that, but along with the happy memories they also have to provide you with present day joy and support.  Just because someone was a friend to you during a particular season in your life when you may have particularly needed them and what they had to offer you at the time, doesn't mean that they are meant to be a friend for the rest of your life.  Essentially it doesn't matter what they might have done for you in the past, if they are not there for you the way you need them to be NOW, then they are not worth holding on to.

Remember those Dream Spitters I was talking about? So many of them are from our past, who knew us a certain way and then when we changed our habits, beliefs, and programming, they couldn't understand it and felt the need to undermine what their own brains couldn't process.  When I first moved away from my hometown there were some people who couldn't imagine that I would do such a thing. They had lived there for their entire lives, their parents and grandparents had lived there forever, and therefore they had no vision of ever venturing out past their familiar ground.  Because they were unable to see my point of view, they were likewise unable to give encouragement or be happy for me and my own choices.

As I'm thinking about this, I'm realizing that throughout my life there have been many many people who didn't "get" me.  My way of thinking, my sense of humor, my core belief system, and my outlook on life overall.  In continuing to think about it, I'm realizing that things like my way of thinking, my sense of humor, my core belief system, and my outlook on life overall have changed significantly (and in some cases quite drastically) over the years.  Because of the choices I have made I can honestly say that I am a radically different person now than I was in my 30s, the person I was in my 30s was very different from the person I was in my 20s, and the person I was in my 20s was somewhat different from the person I was as as teen and child.  Most people change throughout their lives, some more notably than others, and there is no guarantee that the people in your life will change the same way or at the same rate that you do. Hopefully you will all be able to support each other through all of the changes but not everyone will be able to do that.

And that's okay too.

No matter where you are in life, if there are people in your life who do not support your decisions and the way you choose to life the precious life you were given, then they do not need one more moment of your time and effort.  Love and friendship are supposed to be positive and feel good. They should help to alleviate stress, not be the cause.  If people don't "get" you, then find the people that do.  Remember that some people are meant to be in your life for a season, not a lifetime.  Above all, remember that no one has the right to dull your shine, and you have no right to let them.

"If a person closes the curtains to block out a blazing sun, that has no effect whatsoever on the sun that keeps on shining and fulfilling its glorious purpose."  - Rachel Cole

Don't let someone else's curtains block your light.  You're better off leaving them in the dark.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Out of the mouths of babes...

...although I'm not sure if it counts as a babe if it's my 18 year old daughter.  Well, she's MY babe, as in baby, so I guess that works.

Anyway, had a very edifying conversation with said daughter a few days ago and even though it was shorter than 5 minutes it created a paradigm shift in my head that I'm hoping will last forever.

We were packing for our upcoming trip and I was mentioning that I really didn't want to have to wear my big running sneakers to walk around San Francisco, even though I knew they were a better choice for my back and feet than my cute little Converse that have zero arch support. She was like, "Wear the sneakers, who cares?" And I responded, "Well, I don't want to look like an old lady." And she was like, "First of all, you're not wearing orthotics, they're Saucony running shoes. Second of all, you need to take care of yourself and your back, third of all, WHO CARES what you're wearing on your feet?"

She was right on all counts. But I didn't get the lesson yet. I pressed on further.

Me: "Well with the way my body is right now I already have a matronly type look and I don't want to be perceived as old and matronly and if I wear the sneakers with my capri pants I'll look like all of the old lady tourists who walk around the mall before it opens, talking about their hip replacements and their medications and all of that stuff."

Her: Audible sigh.  Pause.  Then, what came of her mouth were, in my opinion, words of wisdom far beyond her years.

"Here's the thing.  You're so concerned about what everyone else is thinking.  Well no one else is thinking ANYTHING! Not to mention, who cares what anyone else may be thinking - BE COMFORTABLE! Wear what you want to wear! It doesn't matter! Life is too short to worry about these things!"

Of course she was right. And I agreed with everything she said 100%.  In fact,  I have given her the same exact advice many many times throughout her life.  But isn't it true that we're usually great at giving the very advice to others that create roadblocks in our own lives?

I nodded silently, agreeing with everything she said in my head.  I was almost convinced, but decided to try one more tactic just to see if I was indeed correct in my thinking and could stay tethered to the bonds of insecurity from my youth.

I said, "I agree with everything you said. You're SO right.  But what about those makeovers on TV where they give people a new look which gives them confidence and sets them on a road to a new and happier life. What about the 'What Not To Wear' ladies?"

She thought for a moment and replied, "Well, the makeovers are a bit different.  It's true that they give people confidence, which I'm in favor of, but those people aren't able to maintain the hair and makeup that an entire team has spent hours working on. I think it's good to give the people a glimpse into what they 'could' look like, if they are dissatisfied with their current look, but I don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all that the shows try to make it seem like." Pause.  "And I have a REAL problem with those 'What Not To Wear' people. I don't think they should exist. Who are they to tell you what to wear or what not to wear based on a look that society thinks you should adhere to.  It's YOUR LIFE! If you want to wear a muumuu because it's comfortable for your life, then wear a muumuu. If you want to walk around in skinny jeans and high heels because it makes you feel attractive then wear that. But nobody has any right to tell anyone else how they should or shouldn't dress and how they should or shouldn't look. Their opinions are based on what THEY think you should look like according to often unattainable standards.  Wear what you want and who cares what anyone else thinks about it."

I was silent, taking in all that she said, and after about 10 seconds I realized something:

She rocked my world.

While on some level I already knew everything she was saying, at my most conscious level I always envied the makeover people on tv and completely subscribed to the "What Not To Wear" people's advice.  I saw the transformations and wished that someone would come to me to help make me the most beautiful and I could be, or at least acceptable to the world because I was now dressing in a way that most flattered my body shape.

But now as I think about it, what does that word "flattering" even mean? In my life it has always meant, "makes me look thinner." But the dictionary definition of "flattering" is: Complimentary, favorable, pleasing, becoming, and enhancing one's appearance. It also means: To praise or compliment insincerely, to gratify by falsification. Very interesting.  To me, "flattering" is all about how you appear to others and what those others think of your appearance.

As I have said here before, I was raised with the tenet that other people's opinions were more important and significant than my own.  If the scale didn't read society's acceptable level of weight I was ugly and a failure. If I was rejected by someone then it was futile to try again because those rejectors must be right. If someone ridiculed me about what I wore or the way I walked or looked, those comments were to be believed and taken to heart because what others had to say was always more important than the quiet voice inside of me that was trying desperately to disagree.  (Very early on that voice learned to stay silent because it knew speaking up was futile.)

To that, about a year ago someone told me that I had a matronly style.  This opinion was furthered shortly afterwards after I saw 2 women, one over 70 and one clearly in her 80s, wearing the same shirts that I had recently purchased.  (as an aside, I LOVED these shirts! They were color blocked and striped and they actually looked really good on me, even with the previously expressly forbidden for 35 years horizontal stripe pattern. For some reason these shirts just resonated with me and I absolutely loved them.)  They were on sale (plus I had discount coupons) and I liked them so much that actually bought 2 of them in different colors.  One woman was in the blue one, the other was in the pink one. Needless to say, I returned both shirts to the store because that person's words rang out in my head and did not like being viewed as having a matronly style.  (Especially with my ample curves I have been made to believe from a young age that I appear more matronly than someone with a flatter chest and narrower hips.)

That particular comment, which I viewed as an insult, has stuck with me like Krazy Glue. It wasn't until the conversation with my daughter that I realized that I had been taking it to heart every time I got dressed to leave the house.  I've said things to myself like, "Ok, this shirt is from Old Navy, these pants are from H&M, there's no way anyone could consider this outfit matronly." It became very important to me to be more cognizant of what I was wearing and how it could be perceived.

This also made me realize that how we believe we are perceived by others goes beyond our outer coverings.  Many of us walk around clothed in shame first, and the fabric we choose to cover our bodies often reflects how we feel underneath them.  And the shame can come from more than our appearance.  It can come from holding onto mistakes we might have made, or accomplishments unfinished, or dreams unrealized.  I know someone who walks around attired in defeat and regret every day because of her divorce.  It's been 15 years and she still can't get over what she considers to be an enormous failure in the eyes of everyone she meets.  I know someone else whose daily wardrobe consists of humiliation and self-degredation because she had plans for a certain career and then didn't get into the schools and programs she planned on.  She's ended up working a series of random jobs with no real focus because she can't get over her disappointment and find a new path.

As much as we try to hide our true feelings about ourselves, they come out loudly to the world regardless of what clothing we choose to put on top of them.  If we're happy and content and confident and grateful, then that is what shines forth beyond the comfortable non-designer clothes.  If we're morose, angry, dispirited, and pessimistic, that energy is what comes through, regardless of the trendy, high-end fashion we've using as an attempt to cover up our broken souls.

My point is, as my daughter put so eloquently, wear what you like, wear what makes you feel good, spend less time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, and don't worry one bit about what it might look like to someone else.  Life is too short to be a slave to what some random marketing machine deems stylish or appropriate or flattering. The only thing "Not To Wear" I think, is a frown or a negative attitude.  Have you noticed that when you're smiling everything looks good on you?

P.S. For those of you wondering, I brought my running sneakers on the trip, but for Day #1 of strolling around the city I wore my cute Converse with the minimal arch support.  My feet and back paid for it the next day and I've been sporting my Sauconys ever since.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Talk less, listen more.

As Erma Bombeck famously stated in her "If I Had My Life To Live Over" essay, she said she would have "talked less and listened more."

Dear Erma, I wholeheartedly agree.

Yesterday my family and I had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my husbands 93 year old grandmother.  The kids and I have only actually met her a handful of times, and usually as a part of a family reunion. So getting to talk to her, or more accurately, listen to her, was a rare occasion  to get a glimpse into her life way back before World War II, before the invention of the television, and before she had six kids and a husband who left her shortly after the sixth one was born.

I came prepared with questions that I jotted down on the back of a receipt I found in my purse on the way over to her house.  My husband did not know the answers to any of the questions and he was as fascinated as I was to learn about her experiences as a young girl in boarding school and how she spent her summers in her youth.  Being of hearty English stock, she recalled how she persevered steadfastly and rather unemotionally after her mother left when she was 6 and confessed how she never really knew the woman who gave birth to her.  She considers her stepmother her real mother and cherishes her 3 step siblings.  While she couldn't remember specific activities they did together as children, she remembered fondly the fact that they always had chores to do on the farm and how no adults were concerned about how their kids or the neighbors' kids were being entertained.  They were left to their own devices to figure out how to pass the time between school and work and there was virtually no supervision once a child could manage tasks on his or her own.  She laughed at the memory of the neighbor boy peering in the window to watch their first tiny black and white television, and frowned with disdain remembering the "coming out" parties of her debutante acquaintances.  She took us through her history of meeting Grandpa (my husband had never heard that story) of raising her kids on her own farm, of teaching special needs children and running horse camps after her children were grown (and finally retiring at age 70!) and of always having her door open for when a niece or nephew or grandchild needed a place to stay, even for an indefinite period of time.  When I asked her when was her happiest time she grew pensive for a moment and didn't answer.  After the pause I gently asked further, "Was it when you had your six children all around you in the house?" She remained silent for another minute, then looked up and replied, "Yes. Yes I think it was."  I'm quite sure no one had ever asked her that question in 93 years.

As she talked for a good 75 minutes or so, my teenage kids were enraptured.  There was no checking of phones or talking among themselves or looking bored.  They added their own questions and comments to her stories, and laughed along when she told of a funny instance that had, until then, been long since forgotten. It was, quite simply, a magical time spent together, and one that we are all incredibly grateful and honored to have had experienced.

I asked similar questions to 2 great aunts from my father's side many years ago, shortly before they passed away.  It was amazing to get a real picture of these quiet, polite, and very reserved old ladies whooping it up in the South, playing the part of Scarlett O'Hara in the early part of the twentieth century, long before their hair turned white. Their eyes sparkled and their voices came alive as they told us all about the nicknames in the family, the weekly dances and courting rituals, and of course, the rampant racism that wasn't recognized as such in the innocence of their youth.  After those special moments we all saw them as real people, and no longer just as the twice-older generation with whom we had nothing in common and nothing similar to which we could relate.

Everybody has a story.  Every person who has ever walked on the Earth has had experiences unique to them, but are also a part of a shared experience called humanity.  Everyone has hopes and expectations, has experienced love in some form or another, and has suffered loss, which I believe is the great unifier.  It can be fun and extremely rewarding to get to know the stories and backgrounds of the people that you know by name but don't really know as fellow human beings; especially those with whom you have a presumption that you're too different to have a connection with besides familially.

So I would encourage you, when you have the chance, sit down with an elderly relative or friend of the  family and ask them about their life.  Take them back to what will most likely be a simpler time when they had their life in front of them instead of behind. They will most likely be delighted to share their life stories with you, and undoubtedly thrilled that someone took the time to ask. Unfortunately it seems that senior citizenship is not recognized or respected in American culture and often the elders in our society are pushed off to the side and even ignored when the younger people are around.  Wouldn't it be nice to change that within your own circle?

Here is a list of questions to get you started:

1.  Where did you go to elementary school? What was the culture there? What were the disciplinary actions doled out by the teachers?

2.  What did you do for fun as a family, before television and computers? Did your family have a radio that they listened to nightly?

3.  What were some of your favorite meals cooked by your mother? What did she do while you were in school?

4.  Did you have a secret hideout like a tree or a cave nearby? Who were your friends and what kind of games did you play?

5.  What was your first job? Do you remember what you got paid?

6.  How did you meet Grandpa/Grandma? Were you ever in love before you met him or her? How long did you date before getting engaged/married? May we see your wedding photos?

7.  What were your career goals?  Were you encouraged to follow your aspirations as a young adult?

8.  What was the political climate like when you were young? Was there racism or prejudice in the town where you grew up? If so, which groups of people were targets?

9.  What was your favorite toy as a child? Do you remember who gave it to you or where you got it?

10. What was your favorite subject in school?

11. What was the make of your first car?

12. Did you have a pet growing up? What was its name?

13. What were birthday parties like when you were young?

14. What was your favorite book growing up?

15. What did you wear to go to school?

16. Do you remember when you first got a television? A record player/phonograph?

17. Do you remember how much a loaf of bread cost when you were young? How about a chocolate bar? A soda at the soda fountain?

18. What did you worry about when you were younger? Did you have to participate in things like air raid drills?

19. Did you know your own grandparents?

20. When was the happiest time in your life?

Please feel free to add your own questions and let the conversation go off on as many tangents as the speaker wants.  I would also suggest keeping water or another beverage handy if the person isn't used to talking so much at one time.  You can also record the conversation to play for other relatives who might be interested.  We didn't record this conversation because I felt that Grandma wouldn't feel as comfortable speaking freely if she was being recorded, but if your person is up for it, it would be a wonderful keepsake to pass along to future generations (assuming of course they will have the correct technology to play the recording 😉)

All this to say, while we still have our precious elders with us, we should try to form a connection with them before they and their stories are gone forever.  Don't forget, you came from somewhere - we all did - and it is only through the the accomplishments and daily living of the people who came before us that led us to where we are today.  Find out about them.  Take the time to engage and question and listen to the fascinating stories about what came before you.  Hopefully the young ones of the future will do the same with us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Renounce the Dream Spitters

You know who I'm talking about.  The discouragers, the putter-downers, the "well-meaning" people who let you know in no uncertain terms just how lame, stupid, and impossible your dream is, and who go out of their way to steer you in a different direction claiming it's for your own good.

I know a lot of these people. I call them the Dream Spitters.

Because that's what they do. They spit on your dreams.

Dream Spitters come in all forms - supervisors, friends, family members, acquaintances, and sometimes even strangers will, for some unknown reason,  make it a point to say to your face exactly why you shouldn't be doing what you're doing.  It's happened to me more times than I can count and all I can say is, protecting myself from the spit is extremely tiring.

I wasn't always able to protect myself though.  The first major Dream Spitter I encountered (and who earned the first official nickname) was in Seattle many years ago. I was newly engaged, excited about living in a new place, and along with my day job (which by the way was filled with Dream Spitters, my direct boss was the king of soul-crushing expectorating) I was going to sign language interpreting school at night.  One of my dreams was to be an ASL interpreter, specifically at concerts after seeing one at a concert and falling in love with the art and skill of interpreting music.  After about a year and half of school an opportunity arose for me to try interpreting for a church's worship music segment.  (Those of us who weren't certified yet weren't able to do any spoken word interpreting, but because music is more free flowing and doesn't have to be as exactly lined up as speech, it was a good way to practice in public.) I met with the signing supervisor, who was very warm and welcoming, I worked hard all week on memorizing the songs, and I was so excited on Saturday night when the musicians, pastor, signing supervisor, and I met for the rehearsal.  I was beaming with joy and anticipation as I stepped up onto the mini stage off to the side where I would be one step closer to my dream coming true.  The music started and I went into a zone - I was hearing the music and feeling the music, my entire body was engaged in the signing, not just my hands, and overall I felt this beautiful flow between the music coming out of the speakers and the signs appearing effortlessly one after the other.  It was a magical, beautiful, joy-filled, expressive experience for me, and when I was finished I felt like I had really accomplished something magnificent.  Yes, it was just a rehearsal in small church with no attendees, but for me it was a triumph. I felt like a bright shining light, emitting beauty and expression into the dark empty space. I had that sacred experience of what happens when what you think you want to do intersects with what you are supposed to do, and you feel like your dreams have aligned with your purpose. For me, it was a feeling of unequivocal exuberance and sparkling pride...which lasted for about 30 seconds.

Enter the Dream Spitter.

The warm and welcoming signing supervisor came up to me as I stepped down.  I was beaming and smiling, unable to contain my elation.  She frowned at me and held up a large lined notebook.  As the pastor began his sermon practice she sat me down and said these words to me:

"You have a beautiful signing style...but here's what you did wrong."

She proceeded to go down her extensive list of how she would have done it differently, how at this place instead of using this certain sign they used a different sign, and how the Deaf people she knew who attended this service preferred this song signed this particular way, etc. etc. etc.  She basically cut me off at the knees and let me know that while my signing might be acceptable somewhere else, here at this church SHE would be the one to take over the following morning.

I. Was. Crushed.

I got in my car and sobbed uncontrollably until I was calm enough to drive myself home.  Once I got there I called my fiancé (this was before cell phones so I had to wait to get home to call him) and started hysterically crying all over again.  I felt like my dream, my purpose, my ultimately fulfilling job that I was working toward had been snatched out of my hands and thrown far away, unable to be reached because I was so incredibly incompetent.  At that moment I felt like a huge ugly door had slammed shut on my beautiful, magical dream and I remember feeling utterly inconsolable.

I was young. I was impressionable.  I had hopes that didn't match my self-esteem. And I believed what this person said about my abilities, and assigned that poison to my soul.  Which I know now is the ultimate goal of the Dream Spitter.

I did not volunteer again, and although I kept going to school, my heart was no longer in it.  We moved shortly after we got married and I was unable to get my certification, but I didn't really care.  I had left this dream behind and did not possess the desire or the wherewithal to try to open the door to it again.

At the time I was so "in" it that I couldn't see the reality of the situation.  Too often this happens with young people who don't have a foundation of courage and determination to help see them through these times of disappointment and defeat.  Now that I'm 2 decades removed, and have encountered many similar incidents in my life, I can see that the following things were true in my scenario:

1. My signs were spot on.  Every sign was technically correct and would have been understood perfectly by a Deaf person watching.  I think it's important to note this because I wasn't a slacker - I cared about this assignment, I studied and worked diligently to make sure that what I was doing was absolutely accurate.  Music can be signed on a broad scale, and even though what I chose to do may not have aligned with the supervisor's choices, it was still right and would have been comprehended as it was intended. (Not to mention that it was her responsibility to tell me ahead of time if certain signs were preferred over others at this place.)

2. This Dream Spitter was a big fish in a teeny tiny pond.  I was young (she wasn't), I was cute (she wasn't), I was on my pre-wedding diet so I was thin-ish (she wasn't), and I was happy, energetic, and effusively excited about getting to sign for my first time outside of the classroom.  In other words, I was a threat to her domain, and seeing her position potentially jeopardized by this fresh and bubbly new person made her scared and feel the overwhelming need to put me in my place.

Sad, isn't it?  It was her job to be encouraging and supportive and ideally be a mentor to us up and coming interpreters. They needed signers and she complained incessantly about having her weekends constantly taken up by this job because she had no one to help her.  But as we can see, she didn't actually want anyone to help her, and certainly not anyone who might have been better at her job than she was.

There's no telling how many other people's dreams she has spit on throughout her life and how many additional people took her deliberate denigration to heart. But as I said in my last post, that must be one heavy heart she has to carry around, and one miserable life she has to feel the need to put people down instead of lifting them up.

This woman was just one of many Dream Spitters I have encountered in my life.  The boss who told me that my self-review numbers were way too high.  The music teacher who harped on my inadequacies with never a positive affirmation.  The close friend who let me know to my face all of my unforgivable faults that made me a terrible companion.  The co-worker who advised me to dial it down a notch because I was making the rest of them look bad by comparison.  The relative who told me that I would never find any kind of success as long as I was overweight.  The bridesmaid who admonished me post-ceremony in front of the wedding party that the wedding kiss went on too long.  The distant relative who advised me against looking for another job when I was crying myself to sleep every night.  The other boss who set me up on my first day to appear incompetent while she took over for my unpreparedness (Did I mention it was my very first day on the job?). I can think of at least ten more off the top of my head.  Dream Spitters are everywhere, and they will do everything they can to bring us dreamers down to their pitiful level, where they kill others' hope and anticipation in an pathetic attempt try to feel better about themselves.

So how do we combat the Dream Spitters?  The Joy Stealers? The people who are all too happy to see us fall flat on our faces after deliberately placing the banana peel under our feet.

First off, cut them out of your life.  Immediately.  You don't need them.  If you can't completely cut them out (i.e. family members that you have obligations to see) then cut them out of your circle that you tell good things to.  If you don't share your dreams with them, then they won't be able to spit on them.  When asked what you're working on, you have every right to reply "This and that," or "I've got a few things in the works," and leave it at that.  Usually that is enough to make the other person realize that you don't want to discuss it further, but if they don't get it the first time around, when they ask you, "Like what?" then you can feel free to say, "I'll let you know when it's done, I'm not really comfortable talking about it while I'm in process." Or something like that.  Usually these people love to talk about themselves so another tactic would be to answer the "What are you doing right now?" question with "Not much, what are YOU working on right now? I heard you joined a new book club (or knitting club, or cooking class, or whatever you heard they are into)." Or "You know, this and that.  How's work going? Did you get the new desk chair you wanted?" You get the idea.  The point is, get the focus off of yourself as quickly as possible and these all-too-discouraging people will forget about spitting on you and instead enjoy talking about their favorite subject: themselves.  You may have to put up with complaining and kvetching and whining from them about their current situation, but at least you and your aspirations will be off limits.

Secondly, remember remember remember that their dream spitting is not about you. It is about them.  I remember when I had my first baby and chose to not return to work outside my home I got calls every few weeks from a former colleague of mine.  She said she was calling to check in on the baby and me, but in every single conversation she would inevitably ask me when I was returning to work.  I would patiently explain to her that I was not going back to work, instead I was staying home to raise my child.  She could not understand this concept.  She would say things like, "But you could be doing so much MORE!" and"But you have skills and an education, don't you want to put them to good use?" and "But don't you want more out of your life?" Not only were these comments incredibly rude, but they were also supremely disrespectful of the choice I had made of the way I wanted to live this new chapter of my life.  Because I had a different opinion than her, she simply couldn't comprehend why I, or anyone, would make that choice.  Dream spitter.

Now, this woman chose to remain unmarried and childless and used her time and efforts to move up the corporate ladder.  At any point during that time I could have said to her, "But don't you want MORE out of your life? Won't this choice leave you unfulfilled because no one ever said on their deathbed 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office?' Why would you ever NOT want to have a family?"   I could have easily (and some would argue justifiably) spit on her dreams because they were diametrically opposed from mine.  But I pride myself on being a lifter-upper, not a keeper-downer.

Thirdly, recognize that 9 times out of 10 the reason the Dream Spitters are doing the spitting is because they are unhappy in their own lives.  This is obvious, but when you're in the midst of someone making you feel like your dreams are impossible it's can be hard to see the root of where it's coming from.  You might want to willingly take on what they are dishing out because it's easier to give up than to keep plugging away at your dream. But don't ever let the Dream Spitters win.  It's what they want, and they don't deserve it.

Lastly, realize that the Dream Spitters of the world are wholly and completely consumed by outside validation.  Their lives are all about what other people think, or more accurately, what they THINK other people are thinking.  Miss Dream Spitter Sign Language Interpreter enjoyed her position of power and relished reigning over her underlings.  Do you know what I found out about her later? Her husband left her, her first daughter had a baby out of wedlock (which was a big deal to the small tightly-knit church community), her son had been nearly arrested, and her other daughter left the house as soon as she could to get away from her mother.  I have to assume that mine weren't the only dreams she made a habit of spitting upon.

The list goes on.  The friend who kept telling me what was wrong with me was dealing with a crumbling marriage and an fierce desire to work but kept coming up short in finding her perfect job. Horrible boss #1 had just gone through her third divorce and it was common knowledge that she only had that job because she was a friend of one of the directors there.  The colleague who badgered me about my decision to give up my job only found her validation from outside forces like her job title and her salary - she couldn't get it from inside of herself, nor could any of the other people who have felt so free to spit on my and other people's dreams.  The trick is to not let these people's frustrations and disappointments about their own lives rub off on you or me or anyone else who is trying to live a fulfilled and happy life according to their own terms.

So my friend, I encourage you to renounce the Dream Spitters in your life!! You have my permission to cut anyone out of your life who spits on your dreams and doesn't see you as the luminous, stellar, amazing, accomplished, capable-of-anything, talented person THAT YOU ARE.  Not all of us will be able to fulfill our dreams or see them fully realized, but each and every single one of us deserves the chance to try.  And while we're trying, we don't need some yucky Dream Spitters to get in our way.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Teflon Skin

Allow me to set the scene for you: It's mid-May, in the year 2017, I'm in a lovely town in a mid-Atlantic state in the United States of America.  The sun is out, the sky is blue, a catered lunch is about to be served, and everyone is joyfully milling about in pastel florals and lightweight suits.  I'm leaning down to find my table number card when out of nowhere...

WHAM!!!!! I'm smacked across the face with blatant, discriminatory, personally pinpointed, directed fully toward me racism.

This is no joke.  When it happened I was so stunned I couldn't breathe for a moment.  Several moments actually.  While it's not important what was said, what is important was that it had to do with my being unwelcome there, the person's offense that I was in his presence, and that he thought his remarks were terribly terribly funny.

2017. The United States of America.

For some background, this is person that I've actually known for many years.  While I do not know him well, we have been in each other's lives enough for him to have been on the receiving end of my family's generosity for things like like the loss of his wife, a house move, a significant birthday, etc.  This is NOT the first time he has been prejudicial and pejorative to me; the times before making it abundantly clear that he would have been proud to wear a brown shirt overseas in the early 1940s.


Enough about him though - he's not worth the time or the effort it takes to type his description.  What I do want to talk about here is: What do we do when we're faced with brazen, unabashed prejudice and racism? Aimed at ourselves or at others. Not what "should" we do, but what do we DO?

Firstly I just want to say that I have never understood racism and I never will.  For every single human being on the Earth the following things are true:

1. When a human being is cut by a sharp object he or she bleeds blood and it's the color red.

Every. Single. Human. Being.

2. When a human being has dust fly up his or her nose, he or she sneezes.  Involuntarily.

Every. Single. Human. Being.

3. If a human being's heart stops beating, he or she dies.

Every single time. Every. Single. Human. Being.

4. At some point during every day a human being will need to rid itself of waste matter that his or her body has generated.  So he or she will urinate.

Every. Single. Human. Being.

5. If a new human being is going to be created, it can only be created one way.  No matter what color, what race, what genetic makeup, or what religion is observed. There are different methods to achieve this conception, but it can literally only be created one way.

Every. Single. Human. Being.

Obviously I could go on, but the point is that, with rare exception, every single human being has more things going on in it that are the same as other human beings than things going on in it that are different.  We may think differently, we may love differently, we may grieve differently, but on the most basic level, every single human being's bodily functions are the same.  I would add, in my opinion, that every single human being on the planet wants to live without fear, without discrimination, without neglect, and without indifference. I would argue that just about every human being on some level wants to feel love, to feel seen, to feel joy, and be free to live the life he or she believes he or she is meant to live.

So if we're more alike than we are different, why do so many people hate each other?

I believe it's because every single human being was also given a brain which generates thoughts and ideas and conceptions and opinions.  It's when these opinions differ (even down to "I think you shouldn't exist and you think you should") that the problems arise.  And more often than not, a person will have certain thoughts or understandings based on what they were taught in childhood, the same way they were taught to walk or dress or feed themselves.  For some, prejudice is as ingrained in them as breathing, and for others, tolerance is built and fostered instead.

But that's about who's on the giving end.  What about those of us on the receiving end of the racial slurs and unmitigated narrow-mindedness? How do we handle them in a way that doesn't give the bullies the satisfaction of our acceptance and us believing that what they say is true?

Well, one way is to not take anything someone else says personally. Ever. Good or bad, whatever someone else says about you is merely their opinion of you, it is never who you actually are. When an epithet is aimed directly at you, channel Jackie Robinson and duck so you don't get hit.  Cover yourself in figurative Teflon so the barbs simply bounce off and don't stick.  Remember the schoolyard saying, "I'm rubber and you're glue. Everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!"  If you don't take on what the offender is trying to put onto you, then they are stuck alone with their misery and overwhelming need to feel superior.  Have you ever met a calm, content, or peaceful racist?  No, because they are so churned up with their hate and intolerance that they can't relax and enjoy their lives.  They have to scream and shout and burn crosses and hold pitchforks to get the debasement out of themselves and onto others.  The bigot's bigotry is less about the victim than it is about their own low self-esteem and the sheer discomfort they suffer by having to live in their own skin every day.

Another way to handle these horrible people is to speak up.  In dangerous situations we're told to keep quiet, to not make a scene, and to just try to get out of the situation alive. But in the non-violent situations where astonishingly inappropriate things are said, if someone stands up to the bully, there's a chance that the bully will become aware of the offensiveness of his or her actions and want to change. While I would expect on some level that the person who recently tried to offend me would somehow realistically see that what was said was utterly and completely discriminatory, I now know that he actually believed what he said was funny, and believed I would think it was funny too.  He's so unbelievably ignorant that it's remotely possible that if his egregious offensiveness was pointed out to him, he might have a tiny bit of remorse about it. (But between you and me I doubt it, and the realization wouldn't stop him from saying it again.)

Whether or not you speak up against offenders, either on your own behalf or on those of others, the most important thing is: DO NOT TAKE IT ON AND DO NOT TAKE IT IN.


If you have brown eyes and someone says, "Wow, those are some ugly blue eyes you have," you would look at them like they were nuts and think "Really? What a stupid and ridiculous thing to say."  If you're seven feet tall and someone says, "It's a shame that you're so short," you would think, "Seriously? You're kidding, right?"  If someone puts you down in a racist or prejudicial way then it's no different.  No matter what they say, if they are treating you as less of a 100% human being then it's as silly and absurd as calling a blond-haired person a brunette.  It's not true, it makes no sense, and just because someone says it does not make it accurate, valid, or credible.

If you've never had prejudice assigned to you then there's no possible way you can understand what it feels like. But if you have then you know how difficult it is to hear and to try to let it bounce off of you without taking it in.  We can quote Eleanor Roosevelt ("No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.") as much as we want but there's a reason why the "rubber-glue" and "sticks and stones" rhymes were devised on those playgrounds long ago.  Because words can injure souls, and when we get made fun of or disparaged for nothing but the way we were made then we don't have many built-in defenses against that.

As for myself, I'm putting this latest incident behind me and moving forward because I do not want to spend one more second of my life thinking about this person or what was said to me.  And because I really do believe that what goes around comes around, I can be grateful that I am who I am and that I do not have the burden of carrying that person's heavy and damaged heart around for every beleaguered step of life.  All I can control is myself, my own actions and my own reactions.  Ultimately the racist is going to be more affected by his words and actions than I am, because I have the choice to not accept them. But if racism and prejudice are parts of what make up a person, then they will never truly experience happiness or peace.

As for myself, I'll choose joy and happiness, fulfillment and contentment, sympathy and empathy, serenity and peace. But never the path of least resistance to get there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Choices We Make

I have repeated this quote more than once here on my blog:

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." -Norman Vincent Peale

Here is another quote, courtesy of Bill, the amazingly nice guy who works at the post office:
"Happiness is a choice."

Thank you Bill. I was reminded of both of these today while going through a situation that could have  easily gone two different ways.  I could have ended up feeling angry, annoyed, upset and frustrated, or, I could have found myself feeling cheerful, grateful, content, and peaceful.

I surprised myself and went for the latter. Here's what happened:

Without going into too much detail I will say that I was disrespected for the umpteenth time where I volunteer.  My supervisor did something, which she does often, which showed me again her complete and utter disregard for my time, my going above and beyond what's expected, and for all that I have done (without compensation) over the past 5 years there.

(I should say here that I am not the only volunteer who feels this way.  Because this person is so wrapped up in her own issues and is mentally unable to be considerate of other people's time and lives, I was fully aware that what happened was not a deliberate act of malice toward me. It was just a result of her usual carelessness and overall indifference for anyone else's needs or feelings.)

At this moment, when this thing happened yet again, I realized that I had a choice in how I was going to handle it.  I could give in to the feelings of anger, disappointment, annoyance, and disrespect that were bubbling up in my stomach, OR, I could make the choice to consciously change my mind about the situation and turn those knee jerk reactions into contentment, calm, acceptance, and peace.

I considered my situation and the choices I had (basically to stick around and do my job or stomp off in a huff) and I thought about what I wanted to fill my body with and what I would be projecting to the world when I did that.  I got out of my head and took a moment to actually look around and take in the reality of my surroundings. When I did that it was like a switch got flipped inside of myself.  I flipped the switch to "choose happiness" and the ire that had been foaming inside me settled down into serenity.  While couldn't change the circumstances, I realized that I could accept them, and then move forward into what would be the best and healthiest scenario for me.

To clarify, I wasn't being physically or emotionally harmed, I wasn't just accepting abuse or prejudice - that I would not do.  But I realized that I was experiencing a first world problem* and the only person hurting me at that moment was myself.  My supervisor had done her thing, she was over it and had moved on, so if I chose to spend the next few hours simmering in my own frustration, I had no one to blame but myself.  So I stuck around and did my job and every time I saw her I reminded myself that I could only control my own actions and no one else's.

Amazingly, right before I left she apologized for her actions, at which point I made another choice. Honestly, I was so fed up that I wanted to chew her out and call out every single infraction from the past few years, ending with this final frustrating straw.  But instead I graciously accepted her apology and went on my way. I left the place feeling peaceful and a little proud of how I handled the whole situation. What happened next astounded me.

As composed as I was feeling emotionally, physically this whole internal dissonance was wreaking having with my stomach.  Because I had spent a good hour with all of the negative stuff building up inside me, I was feeling a bit nauseous and off-kilter constitutionally. Coca-cola usually tends to settle my uneasy gut so even though I've been doing limited carbs and sugar lately, I went in search of a Coke.  On my way I passed by Panera and remembered that I still had my free birthday pastry to claim if it hadn't expired yet.  So I went in, handed the cashier my card, and to my delight she told me that not only was my free birthday treat still on there, but it was also free bagel month and I was entitled to a free bagel as well.

Needless to say, after my recently exhausting experience I was ecstatic.  I said something like, "Who-hooo! This is great! You just made my day!" The cashier must have picked up on my palpable joy because after I picked out my 2 carb-laden snacks she held out an empty cup and said, "Here, have a drink. It's on me."

I was stunned.  Seriously.  I wanted a soda to help make myself feel better and here she was handing me free one.  I mean, WOW!  I felt like the universe was giving a me high five for handling the situation gracefully and healthily, rather than in my old way, by which I would still be angry and upset about it several hours later and carrying around huge amounts of negativity and indignation.

Did my supervisor behave inappropriately and disrespectfully? Absolutely. Did I have every right to be angry and annoyed? I believe the answer to that is a resounding "yes." But I was not being purposely or personally victimized or mistreated.  I was merely on the receiving end of her typical forgetfulness and inconsiderate attitude toward others. She messed up yet again, it affected me yet again, but ultimately it was my choice to let someone else's impudence and ineptitude interfere with the joy and peace that I try to cultivate in my life. Or not.

We have these choices every moment of every day.  Any time we have to deal with an annoying or less-than-ideal situation we get to make the choice of how we're going to handle it. And even if we have every right to be angry or exasperated, we have to decide if that's how we want to go through our day, or if we want to consciously make another choice.  It's natural to feel displeasure, and sometimes it's important to feel those necessary feelings.  But we can allow ourselves to work through them and then choose to let them go instead of hanging onto them long after the catalytic situation is over.  Your choices are always your own, and more often than not we get a confirmation that we've made the right ones.  Sometimes it's in the laughter you hear from the people around you, sometimes it's a hug from a loved one, and sometimes, when you're really lucky, it's a free Coke when you really really need one.

*What I want to add about first world problems is this: So often people will classify things as "First World Problems," meaning that they really aren't anything to get upset about, especially when compared to the other, often horrendous, actual life-or-death problems that other people have to deal with. I completely subscribe to looking at our minor annoyances this way because it keeps them in perspective and gets us out of our own heads where things can be magnified. But there is also something to be said for having enough skin in the game of your life that you take things seriously, and that you care enough to let something bother you, even for a short time. I remember many years ago we had house cleaners who broke a pair of treasured candleholders I had.  They were not worth a lot of money, but I really liked them, and since I had gotten them at Home Goods a few years prior they were virtually irreplaceable.  I remember complaining to one of my friends about it and saying, "I know, they're just things," to which she responded passionately, "Yeah, but they're YOUR things! No one has a right to be careless with your things, you have every right to be upset about this!" And you know what? She was right.  Yes, they were only things, but I was engaged enough in my life and in surrounding myself with things that I liked to look at and that brought me joy that I was upset when someone else took them from me.  I CARED. I'm not someone who angers easily or who takes a lot of opportunities to be annoyed by things, but when I do choose to get upset it reminds me that I'm a person who is fully living life, jumping in with both feet, and investing in every moment with my emotions and spirit and vigor.  I would much rather live my life that way, as opposed to the people I know who just cruise along on an even keel, without any ups or downs at all.  Again, I don't want to hold onto things that make me upset, but feeling them at the time is another life-affirming experience that we each get to have in our time here on Earth.