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.