Saturday, November 4, 2017

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

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

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

Although sometimes I sure wish it did.

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

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


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

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

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

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


I took the high road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dance It Out

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

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

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

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

Light and sparkly from head to toe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

When the world throws you a curve ball...

...swing for the fences.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's not just cancer either.

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

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

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

Let's not forget about the men:

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

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

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

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

So what can we learn from this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Blame Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Keep a smile on your face...'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.