Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's Just Another New Year's Eve ... (a repost)


“… another night like all the rest …” Thank you, Barry Manilow.

Yes, it’s the end of an old year and the beginning of another. I see too many people stressing about their plans for this evening (or “Amateur Night,” as most people in the bar business like to call it).

As the end of one period and the beginning of another, it is significant. But why? In actuality, it is no significant than any other moment, because each moment is the same ending and beginning; therefore, every moment is significant.

What sets New Year’s Eve apart from every other night is the fact that we have been conditioned to believe that this one night is more important, more of a chance of new beginnings, than any other night – and all because of a change in a number.

The day you got your new job, got married, quit smoking, and/or bought a house have more importance than a simple night of having a glass of champagne at midnight – which you can do any night.

I’m actually quite surprised there wasn’t more of a hoopla made on December 20, 2012.  I would’ve thought the eve of the world ending would be considered a little big.

Look at all of us; we stay up late to watch a ball drop at the precise moment the new day begins. Isn’t every night that important? Because there are so many people in this world going through so many bigger, individual events, the way we have set this night up to be has turned more into a night of expectation – which, for many people (outside of a good party), can turn out to seem more like a night of empty promises.  There are too many people disappointed by not celebrating the moment with a special someone and a kiss at midnight – more than any other night.

However,

Simply because it has been forever, it is a holiday. And any one of us can take it and make it something enjoyable, positive and happy.

First of all, if you buy into the adage about “whatever you’re doing at midnight New Year’s Eve will be what you will be doing the rest of the year,” – or something like that – why not go out of your way to make sure you are smiling.

No, you don’t need a reason, either; but maybe this will help you feel there is one:

Because NYE is a holiday, there is the same energy out and about this night as Christmas. It’s palpable. There are a great many people going out to have a good time, and their energy collects together and connects. Just go out and stand among them and feel it – but do NOT hold yourself as separate or apart, or make silly comparisons about what you feel that they have that you don’t. Concentrate on the energy, really feel it. That will lift your spirits. Unless you believe it won’t – because you will be right. I’m not being sarcastic here, I’m just aware of the fact that truth is an individual thing; your beliefs are your own truths. If you believe nothing will work, then nothing will.

Then again, if you totally felt like that, you would probably not be reading this right now.

A part of the energy around NYE in the excitement for the new year is the simple excitement for the new. This is part of the reason adults are so willing to make a big deal out of this night, because after so many years and trials and tribulations, there is very little new to experience – which isn’t true. It is, however, a very popular collective belief.

Don’t be lonely. Even if you are a single in a sea of couples, if you are there with them you are not alone. Share the night with anyone and everyone around you. Be aware of how much your own negative attitude will shut you off from so much going on, including possibilities of any kind that a closed mind will blind your eyes to.

Make this night yours. Don’t set yourself up for expectations you really don’t believe will be met. If you go out, go out knowing that you and the rest of us are all celebrating the same event together. Be wherever you are. Right there and nowhere else. Tell your inner cynic that since it’s a holiday, he or she deserves the night off.

Our bodies were made to dance all by themselves, no one else is needed. All you girls know that there is always a group of us on the dance floor, and we all make room for whoever wants to jump in.

Let go of expectations. Feel the positive energy and the sense of new. Share the smiles. Make it your night.

That’s another thing our bodies were designed to do solo – to make things happen.

If you are at home alone, spending the night all by yourself, remember that you are choosing to do so. And if you are miserable, I can guarantee that your New Year’s Eve will not meet even any of your smallest expectations.

Make the night yours. Do something you enjoy. Watch the ball drop or don’t. Have a glass of champagne or don’t. There are no rules to having fun, and there are no regulations to New Year’s Eve (except the valid one about not drinking and driving)
.
If you feel negatively that New Year’s Eve is just another night, understand that you are condemning every other night of yours as insignificant.

The bottom line is that how you celebrate or whether or not you celebrate it is a choice. You have more input to everything you feel than you think.

Remember, that if you don’t take control of your own happiness, other people and circumstances will. 

You are not supposed to be a victim; you are a creator. Celebrate that.

Have a Happy New Year.

Or not.


Again, your choice. 

(But if you feel like dancing, even alone in your kitchen, I have a great playlist for you! Stepping Out or Staying In - Music to Ring in the New Year

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Little Christmas Magic

I have always loved Christmas, especially the lights and the trees. For as long as I can remember, I’d feel a deep sadness as the once brightly-lit houses went dark again, and seeing Christmas trees lying on their sides by the curb for garbage collection was truly depressing.

I still feel that way, but the feeling has been lessened by the fact that for the past 10 years my tree has been fake – I never had to abandon it by the side of the road. Yes, I would complain that it looked slightly anorexic and that you could see through it; but I would console myself with thoughts of being able to keep it up as long as I wanted to and to not have to worry about watering it, or worry about sweeping up pine needles for the next year.

This year was different; this year I had a real tree. I won it, calling in to a radio station at the right time – even though I’d just turned the radio on and missed the announcement for callers; I was calling to make a request (thank you, again, WPLM 99.1 and Plainville’s Boston Tropical and Tree)! It was fun going to the tree lot to pick it out – I knew which one I wanted the moment I saw it, the first one I laid eyes on. Even loading it onto the car was fun (although we had to be told we had it facing the wrong way and needed to turn it around!).

When we put it up, I was in awe. It was beautiful, even without decorations and lights. It was so … full. After the kids went to sleep, I sat down with a cup of coffee and just stared at it for a long while.

Winning something is always fun, but it’s even better when you realize how happy you are with your prize – and I was truly happy with my tree. My daughters were different about decorating this one, too; I think they liked it almost as much as I did. Almost.

The night we decorated it, I did something I hadn’t done in many years: I lay down under it, looking up into its fullness and lights and decorations. When I was a kid, that used to be my favorite Christmas pastime. I would lie down under the tree and just stare up into it and dream happy Christmas dreams. Doing it again brought all of the same feelings of … magic back. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not jaded about Christmas. I still believe it’s the happiest time of year and that everything about it is magical, but after that night I had to admit that maybe some of my original enthusiasm had faded a little.

It happens to the best of us, and it happens because we get older. As children, our only responsibility to Christmas is to just show up. As adults, we are responsible for giving the children the reason to show up on top of everything else we already have to do. With more Christmases under our belts, we’ve had the chance to experience tragedies during the holidays and endure losses that forever change what we considered our Christmas traditions to be. Then we begin celebrating ‘Christmas by comparison’ where we say things like, “I remember when we used to …”

If we are fortunate enough to age past that stage, we begin finding moments of getting that magic back, despite personal losses and the financial concerns that are always exacerbated during the holiday season. That can be caused by many things: a new love, a rekindled relationship, children who’ve outgrown the idea of Santa but created their own Christmas magic, a random act of kindness, forgiveness, the end of a family feud, the birth of a grandchild … or a real Christmas tree.

My tree – and I was constantly talking about ‘my tree’- was that for me. If any of us choose to look back on our past holidays, there will always be one thing in particular that stands out – good or bad. This Christmas it was my tree. My kitchen has the most space in my apartment; there is a corner I call ‘the dead corner’ because it is space, but not functional kitchen space. It was perfect for the Christmas tree (especially one as big as I had this year). My tree was the first thing you saw when you walked into my apartment, and I could sit at the table with my coffee and just look at it every morning. I found myself doing that a lot this season, and on the days when I was worried about bills or whether or not I could provide Christmas for my kids I would find myself just looking at my tree and thinking how beautiful it was.

And then I would feel better.

I had to un-decorate it tonight and get ready to take it outside. It’s only December 29 (actually, it’s the 30th since it’s 2 a.m., but I haven’t gone to bed yet so to me it is still the 29th). Normally I wait until January; I had to make the adult decision that now was the best time, since I had other rearranging around the house to do, and my kids aren’t here.

I hate making ‘adult’ decisions – but that’s another story.

Pulling the decorations off and wrapping them up was sad. I had to use extra strands of lights (even white ones) because it was so full (a problem I was happy to have), and it took some doing to get them all off without hurting myself – did you know that once Christmas trees begin to dry out the needles get extra stabby? I remember that, now.

So now, my tree is naked. And it is still beautiful. And I’m going to hate taking it outside.

- but I am so very grateful I had it.

One thing that we all tend to forget is how powerful our minds are. Once we experience something (good or bad) and have knowledge of what it felt like, we can re-create the feeling again - even after we feel we have lost what caused it.  Our reality is not based on a certain time or event but our experience of that time or event; the fact that no two people perceive a time or event in the exact same way proves that.

When I look back on this Christmas of 2016, the first thing I’m going to remember is my tree, and how much pleasure I got from it. It will always make me smile, and it’s nice to know I have another good memory to add to my list. Maybe later when I’m in a looking-back mood, I will choose a good thought like this to look back on instead of something from that ‘other’ list. Maybe, too, I will carry this good thought with me every day this year.

In the grand scheme of things, something like this can seem pretty small – ridiculous, even. But anything that gives us a reason to smile is never insignificant.


Especially not 'my' tree.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Waiting for Baby (For Jessica)

It’s been a LOOOOONG pregnancy, hasn’t it? Overdue, being induced tomorrow with no guarantee that you still won’t be waiting another day … will he be born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? (Of course, he could still show up during the next few hours.)

I know your mother is waiting rather impatiently, too. Hell, even I am – I got your mother a gift that she can’t open until the baby is born! Hurry it up, already!

I don’t envy you right now. I remember the last few weeks of my pregnancies; they were hellish – and both of my children were born early! I can’t imagine how much more fun it is to wait longer than expected, especially knowing what a generally patient person I am on a good day!

I got to thinking; before my first was born, a woman gave me this piece of advice: “Get your sleep now, because it will be gone forever after the baby is born.” I remember thinking at the time that I already knew that (actually, my first reaction was probably, “DUH!”), and then my daughter was born – then I REALLY knew what she meant.

I know you are uncomfortable. I know that the discomfort interferes with your sleep – but it is really nothing compared to the lack of sleep you will be getting later.

And then even later.

You may not see it now, but even this – this combination of impatience, pain, discomfort, crankiness, strange hungers, and sleeplessness has a bright side, one that you will look back on with a strange, fond ruefulness when you realize that this is the very last time you will be able to feel all of this shit and be able to cater to it. The next time you are tired, you will still have to take care of someone else; the next time you have a cold or sickness that you would have previously just ignored and barreled through, you will have to responsibly take care of to prevent passing contagions; and you will endure the next headache upright and with your eyes open, because someone else will have to be fed.

How about all of those annoying people that want to rub the pregnant lady’s belly and make a wish? You’re going to miss them when you realize that after the baby is born no one is going to even notice you are there when the baby is around. You won’t be able to be seen alone without someone asking, “Where’s the baby?”

Later, in the mornings when you get up to get ready for work, you will miss the days when it’s only you that you have to worry about getting ready. You’ll miss the days when you could accept an invitation without having to get a babysitter.

And there is an upside to all of this, too: the first time you see your child’s face light up with recognition of your face or voice, his self-pride when he accomplishes something new (like finding his toes or taking his first steps), and the special feeling you will get when he grabs your hand or wraps his arms around you. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

This is also just the beginning of your having to wait for him; you’ll be waiting for him to fall asleep so that you can, too … waiting for him to zip up his jacket so you can leave the house … waiting for him to finish his homework or come home on time for curfew … waiting for doctor test results when he is sick or injured …

There is an upside and a downside to everything, something wonderful about every moment. Right now, don’t wait for what’s next; notice every aspect about now that is good and wonderful. Starting that habit now will prevent you from overlooking little moments you may one day look back on with regret at not paying better attention. For parents, the most common lament is about what they missed when their children were little. Days, months, years go by fast; I’m sure your own mother is feeling that way right about now.


Don’t wait. Enjoy that these are the last few days you will have without needing to lug around a baby carrier … that you can feed your child at the same time you feed yourself – and the food will be hot when you eat it … that the attention is all on you. And then, when he is here, enjoy every sleepless night, cold meal, late start, hair-pulling debates … happy giggles, warm hugs, sleepy smiles, and wondrous eyes. Every moment of it, before and after, is  wonderful and worth it. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Let’s Put The ‘Social’ Back In Social Media: Don’t Turn Facebook Into HATEbook.

Two years ago, I wrote about “Why I Love Facebook” (read here). Three years ago I wrote another blog called, “Easy Facebook Etiquette: How to get along in the neighborhood” (read here).

After reading the posts during the recent election and the day after, I went back and read my two blogs again. My opinions haven’t changed (although my job has). Facebook is social media, emphasis on ‘social’- as in “party, gathering, get-together” - and most of what’s been posted has been quite anti-social.

I love my Facebook friends, I love my live friends, and I love my live friends who are on Facebook.

I do not love what many of them are saying. There has been gloating, un-friending, anger, hate, vicious attacks … and then there have been really nasty things posted.


I don’t discuss politics. I don’t post politics – although I have reposted some memes that were just too funny - I’m sorry; Donald Trump’s hair has been a thing for me since I was a teenager – but after things got ‘real’ I stopped. Because things got so heated towards the end of the race, I did involve myself in a little political conversation with a few around me. I will tell you now that I was on the side that ‘lost’ – and I will also tell you I wasn’t fond of either side, and that voting did not make me feel good.


I am only telling you this because I want it known that what I say here has nothing to do with what side I was on; this is not gloating, nor is it sour grapes. Yes, I was disappointed with the outcome, for my own reasons; but I am also aware that the game is not over and that life will – and has to – go on.

We all knew this was going to be a tough election for everyone. We were all in that together. And we all knew that one side would be disappointed. None of this was a surprise, yet people are acting more divisive and angry than they were before the outcome was revealed.

“You are not my friend if you voted for – “. “I’m leaving the country if – wins.” “You are not a nice person if you voted for – “

If any of you have read anything I’ve ever posted or blogged about, you know where I stand on many ‘issues’.  I have very strong opinions about certain things, and I talk or write about them every single time a thought crosses my mind.

But one theme that keeps popping up in my writing/talking is connectedness, and I believe in that more strongly than anything else.

What depresses me most is the disconnectedness I am seeing. If we all agree that we each have our own opinions and our own right to our own opinion, why is it that we are battling each other over having them?

One of my live/Facebook friends posted something nasty about Hillary when the outcome was revealed, and then one hour later posted an “I saw someone who had real problems – get the fuck over it” type of post. This is a person I consider loving and kind, too.

Yesterday, I had a bit of personal happy that I wanted to share - and someone tried to discourage me from posting about it because of possible backlash, as in, "How could you post something positive while this country is going to shit?"

What?

(I posted anyway.)

We really do have bigger issues than this; we have the ones that are right in front of our faces, the ones we have to deal with daily. A gentle reminder to someone that “things could be worse, let’s put it into perspective” is one thing; but condemning someone so harshly for their feelings is another, especially when you know that the election was so close that it could have been your side that lost. You know how strong your feelings were for your choice - how would you be feeling if you were truly concerned about something and people just kept telling you to "get over it!"?

Your feelings matter (coincidentally – if I believed in coincidences – I wrote about that, too. Read here). All of your feelings, even the negative ones. You have them for a reason. You are allowed to have them.

So is everyone else. You can feel proud that your candidate won, scared because yours didn’t, or even sick to your stomach that those two were our choices. You even have the right to voice your opinion.
But to think you have the right to invalidate and insult someone else because theirs doesn’t agree with yours is something else entirely.

We are not being kind. We are being divisive and hateful. We will end up killing this country faster than one ‘representative’ will, because we are the foundation.

If you know me at all, you know that I do not follow the (m)asses. I speak up whenever I feel the need to, and I always will. I will continue to write/speak on the issues that I believe or don’t believe in, and I will live by what I say – or do my best to.

I will not go against my belief in unity; I can’t. I will try not to participate in divisive behavior.

That being said:

I live in the United States; that makes this my country. My collective country voted that Donald Trump should be president of my country; that makes him my president. Even if he wasn’t my personal choice. Even if I may be upset that he won.

And I will continue to speak out about what I believe in, at every opportunity. I will also try to come up with new solutions for things I believe to be problems. I will honor my own opinions and feelings and yours, as well. If I try to invalidate you and yours, I am invalidating my own.

I have a responsibility to my belief in unity – but I do not have responsibility for the actions and thoughts of anyone else.

Please, everyone, understand that no matter your opinions we are all in this together.

Together.


Facebook is our place to play, to laugh, to connect. Allow others to have their own opinions. Let’s not violate this privilege we have. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

P.C.

What a jumble my thoughts are in right now, but I'll do the best I can here. 

I’m an Android girl. I’m known to be very vocal in my opinions against Apple. My issues aren’t even with their products so much as they are with the company itself. Proprietary is the first word that comes to mind. Once you buy in, you have to stay in. Their products, as nice as they may be in general, don’t play well with others, and each ‘generation’ became more walled in.

He who owns the ball makes the rules, right? You want to play? You do it my way.

Apple does have good products, but I don’t want to be in a cage – no matter how prettily it’s decorated.

Isolate and exclude.

I’m ashamed to admit this: I own an iPod. The 160 GB Classic. I had the original Microsoft Zune and I absolutely loved it (I still have it, and it still works well), but there wasn’t enough storage on it for me (yes, I need to take as much of my music library with me wherever I go). Microsoft upgraded the Zune to 120 GB and I was all set to buy it until I saw the iPod 160 being sold for the same price. I sold out for those extra 40 GB.

My daughter and then-husband had iPods. I was already well-versed in iTunes (and well-disgusted). It’s a filing nightmare to try to transfer already-uploaded music into iTunes. I spent many hours converting CDs, records and cassette tapes into digital files, and the transfer into the iTunes program didn’t go well – stored information on each file was changed or not accepted. I had/still have to go through each individual file to correct the artist name, title, album, and genre to be able to sort it out into playlists and to be able to choose what I want to listen to. Apple wants you to upload your music directly into the program from the source or, better yet, purchase directly from them. I have been building my music collection for over 40 years now; I’m not buying it all over again, nor will I purchase audio files that I can only play in one place. If I choose to buy a $60 collection or audio book, I want the CD; that way I can record and play it anywhere – not only on my iPod (remember, I still have my Zune).

Once my iPod is full and filed properly (it’s been years and still not the way I want it), I’m not changing it. I made my bed and I will lie in it. I will buy a different company’s product if I need any other upgrade.

We’ve all sold out in some way, haven’t we? We spend more for labels. You can’t put a price on quality, right? But does “quality” need to be emblazoned in large letters across your chest or your ass? Your support of a label provides companies with the inflated profit of the product and gives them free advertising as well. You are part of the problem, too.

We all are. We have accepted that we can’t truly be safe in cars unless we buy the most expensive. We can’t eat healthy without spending more. We can’t protect our children, seniors, homes, bank accounts, and selves without a cost. We can’t take care of our health and our homes and responsibilities. We are forced to make value judgments on essentials.

How did we get here?

We blame our government, first.

Isolate and exclude.

We isolate ‘them’ as the source of blame and exclude ourselves from the fact that we put them there, by our support (even tolerance is a measure of support) and perpetuation of ‘normal’ or ‘standard’.

We become further divided in our handling of the problems we see. Some will fight against the norm and others won’t, either out of fear of reprisal or a fatalistic attitude of “That’s the way it is.” Then, the people who are fighting the issue are fighting the people who won’t fight. And the people who won’t fight settle back into their chairs even further because it seems that the people who are fighting ‘are getting nowhere, anyway’.

We are going in the same circles, around and around and around again.

United we stand. No truer words. The irony that these words were written during times of serious isolation and exclusion is not lost on me.

We even use those words in fight. We need to band together (isolate) to fight them (exclude). There’s another irony right there.

Isolate and exclude.

Our country’s motto of unity is hypocrisy, right from the day those words were written, because all of us in some way have bowed to or chose some form of isolation and exclusion.

Fighting doesn’t work. If it did, we’d all be unified by now. Like George Carlin said, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”

We’ve made this bed. All of us, together (and we even deny that unity). We’re going to have to learn to lie in it without hogging all the covers or kicking people off of it.

We have to begin again, at ground zero.

“But where shall I start? The world is so vast, I shall start with the country I know best, my own. But my country is so very large, I had better start with my town. But my town, too, is large. I had best start with my street. No, my home. No, my family. Never mind, I shall start with myself.” – Elie Wiesel

Be, but let others be. Stop judging others, stop telling them that what they are doing or who they are is wrong.

Fighting is tiring; unhappy acceptance is tiring. We are a tired nation. And we will never learn to get along with others until we get along among ourselves, and that starts with each and every one of us.
Right now, my country stands on isolation and exclusion (that is how it was built); but we do have a collective conscience that keeps reminding us, united we stand.

The only way to achieve true unity is to stop dividing lines between us. Every single one of us was created both the same and different. This and that. The contrast is always what makes life beautiful. If everything and everyone were the same, there would be no joy - because we would have no way to recognize it.

Even those of us who don’t cook understand that it is the combination of different ingredients that make the sauce so tasty. True wine aficionados won’t serve grapes with their wines, because the contrast of other foods is what enhances the flavor of the wine. Vintners go out of their way to use different grapes to create one specific taste (the same grapes only different?).  Different instruments are required to give music its depth.

 – Harmony is the blend of differences.

How is it that we can understand that concept of the necessity of inclusion of differences in so many aspects of life, but not in the overall picture?

We either have reached or are nearing our tipping point. If our country falls, we are all responsible for it. Many people have been screaming for some type of change, but expecting others to do it for them. And it always comes back in our faces, doesn’t it?

Monopolies fall (Ma Bell, anyone?), because isolation and exclusion only goes so far – how long something continues relies on participation. The same goes for our country.

(I never liked Monopoly.)

Our country is made up of smaller groups; states, cities and towns, organizations, religions, ethnicities, and more. Each group can be further divided down until you hit the common denominator: the individual person. You. Me. That is where the change begins. We choose our participation. 

Whatever happens now, we are certainly all in it together, aren’t we?

Androids and Apples are the same, only different. I will go with my preference, and I will let you go with yours. That is where I will start.


I already feel better. How I act, support, be, do is up to me, and I do have control over that. I will show my unity with you by letting you do the same. 

And we can stand, together. The same and different.

United.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Just a little self-promotion!



For those who haven't heard (those fortunate enough not to be near enough to me to shove something in their faces), I have co-authored a book with Jody Clark.

Jody is a screenplay writer from York, Maine, and has nine scripts under his belt. He went looking for writers on the East Coast to help him turn his scripts into novels. He found me (God help him) during his search.

I'm happy to say we were able to stick to something of a schedule and finished it in a year.

Our book, Livin' on a Prayer,  is a comedy following high school sweethearts Tommy and Gina and their friends from 1988 to the present. It is a story that takes you from hair bands and Aquanet through tragedy and redemption, all the way to yoga pants.

If you were fortunate enough to experience the 80s - even if you only vaguely remember them - and enjoy hearty and heartwarming laughter, check it out here!


CAN YOU FEEL IT? (Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs!)

What a nail-biter, right?

If you know me you would be wondering what I was talking about, because you know I don’t watch sports (and a select few of you would also know that I stopped biting my nails when I was 24).

But I watch happy, and I watch awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, amazing, incredible, loving, surprising, momentous, wondrous, and funny. And I watch people, from one individual person to large and larger groups.

When I’m down, I have a series of video clips that I watch: soldiers returning home and surprising family and pets, Susan Boyle’s first audition with Britian’s Got Talent, the last half hour of Shawshank Redemption, and the last fifteen minutes of The Pursuit of Happyness. They pick me right up.

I have another clip to add to my collection, now, thanks to EarthCam (and SportsWorldChicago.com #worldseries #game7 #chicagocubs #clevelandindians #facebooklive) and their live footage of the crowd outside of Wrigley Field (yes, I had to look that up) the night the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years (I found that out on Facebook).


The video is three hours long, but you only need to watch the first fifteen minutes. For those of us who follow-sports-casually-but-don’t-watch, those first ten minutes explain every comment your friends made on Facebook during the game.

You feel it all: tension, anticipation, hope, loss of breath, tingling, fear … and then you feel the overwhelming excitement and happiness and joy and awe - especially that OHMYGOD moment when everyone found out they won!

Look at the crowd. Watch them as they are waiting. Even knowing the outcome (I’m sure I’m not spoiling this for anyone by now), you feel it all. While it’s hard to look at individual faces, check out the body language and what they are doing. See all the cell phones held up, either taking pictures or showing what’s going on inside the stadium to those close enough to see. Notice the police personnel and security; watch them get in formation for crowd control – you can even sense what they are feeling: tension, hopeful anticipation, preparedness … and maybe real fear.

Can you feel it? In those first fifteen minutes, you understand the lyrics of the song by the Jackson 5. It’s in the air, the whole world is coming together … can you feel it?

I dare anyone to watch that video and tell me that they don’t know or have any perception of the emotional atmosphere, or feel even the slightest sensation of what every single person is feeling there.

Now I have a question for you:

How do you know?

HOW do you know?

This is empathy, the ability to understand and share someone else’s – and in some cases, everyone else’s – feelings.

But you already knew that. Empathy is an accepted condition. But how does it travel? What is it that allows more than one person to share and experience the same emotion?

Connectedness.

We are all the same. I still can’t understand how the idea of empathy can be so accepted while separation between us is so forced. I daresay that in that crowd there are many different types of people of different colors, different genders, differing faiths, Clinton supporters, Trump supporters, straight, LGBTQ, racists, conservatives, liberals, dog lovers, cat lovers, marrieds, singles, pro-lifers, pro-choicers, coffee drinkers, tea drinkers, tree huggers, techies, Trekkies, home owners, apartment renters, people who like anchovies and people who don’t, conformists, non-conformists, book readers and e-book readers, people who swear by the Oxford comma and those who want to get rid of it, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, grandparents, step-parents, mothers, fathers, and children.

There may even be every one of those types there.

(And we are all children, aren’t we?)

Look at all of them, together like that. You can actually see the sameness of all of us in those few minutes, even with and through the variety of emotions displayed.

Look around you when you’re at a concert, in a cafeteria, in school, in church, or in line for the bathroom (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about!). Our connectedness is in our faces daily, and we still want to draw lines between us as if our differences matter in who we care for, associate with … accept.

And we are all hypocrites if we continue to live by separation of our differences and choose to be a part of any extended group of people like this – we are saying our sameness is selective. Today, right now, for this, we can accept each other?

It can’t be both ways, can it? But it is. Look at the event itself: The World Series. This event is what triggered every positive emotional reaction in that crowd – and the exact opposite emotions being experienced at that same moment in Cleveland: disappointment, sadness, anger, bewilderment, loss, grief …

One event. Opposite meanings. This and that. The same and different.

It will always be this and that, no matter how much we try to force the choosing of sides. We are all the same and we are different – and our differences always circle ‘round back to our sameness, because despite them there is always a commonality.

Let’s try not to be selective, and accept all of it. This and that. Always.

To Cleveland and the Indians: I’m sorry, but I have high hopes for the future. (I’m from Boston. Believe me, I understand what you are going through.)

To Chicago and the Cubs: Congratulations! (I’m from Boston. Believe me, I understand what you are going through.)

Even as someone who pays little attention to sporting events until they get really big (did I mention I didn’t know that the World Series was going on until the 5th game – and that I found out on Facebook?), I can sense both the excitement and disappointment with the highs and lows of our home teams, because it’s in the air - we all can. I remember when the Red Sox won the World Series (I did pay attention at the end). What I remember most was what it felt like, that rush, the high that had captured all of Boston and Massachusetts for months afterwards. The happiness in everyone that carried over into everything else in our lives at that time.

Chicago will be enjoying that boost for months and years to come.


I can feel it.

(Photo from EarthCam's Facebook Pagehttps://scontent.fbos1-1.fna.fbcdn.net/t31.0-8/14917170_10153928446696437_3880599374157667238_o.jpg)

Monday, October 31, 2016

You're So Vain

It’s Halloween, and my 11-year-old daughter – in costume – is admiring herself in the mirror. I’ve seen her do that before, when she is wearing something she particularly likes. It’s something I actually love to watch her doing, because she is always pleased with what she sees in the mirror.

She is always pleased with what she sees in the mirror.

WHOA!

Can you say that about yourself?

I’ve watched her do that many times before. New shoes, a dress she picked out, fancy earrings, a hairpiece or hairdo … her bikini … or even just a face-painted design. It’s particularly fun for me when she puts together an ensemble or certain ‘look’ – she is so proud of herself, so happy with what she came up with, and how she looks in it.

And I’m happy to see that. So very, very, happy.

It was my admiring her self-admiration this morning when a few things really hit me. I’ll say the first thing again: She is always pleased with what she sees in the mirror.

I’m not. I never have been, at least as far as I can remember; however, my father might tell you something different. One of the many things he told me regularly when I was younger that I was vain; his famous line was that “Susie is so vain. She can’t walk by a mirror without admiring herself.” He still says that now, in past tense.

He was both right and wrong. A mirror did stop me – but it was not for admiration; it was for a checkup, to make sure what I wanted hidden or camouflaged was hidden or camouflaged. I was almost never admiring myself, because I was almost never happy with what I saw in the mirror – even at my daughter’s age.   
 
I was told I was fat regularly, and in a variety of creative ways: “You’d better lay off the ice cream, Cheeks.” and “I don’t understand how those legs of yours can hold you up!” and “Fat people are the loneliest people in the world.” and (if I reached for seconds at the dinner table) “Do you really need that?” I remember one time my aunt had mentioned that I lost weight. She said to my father, “Don’t you think so?” His answer? “Yes. But I’m not going to tell her that; she’ll stop.”

I have to point out that this is not complaining. This is simple recounting of what happened. The one thing I had and have always known is that my father’s intentions were and are always in the right place – he just went about it wrong (yes, I am saying that). I even told him that back then that I needed encouragement, not ‘breaking’.  But Dad was a drill instructor who’d had his own brand of parenting (like all people), and he did the best he could with what he had. As angry and as hurt as I would get about the things he said – and as many times as I would try to get through to him without success, I would console myself a teeny bit with the thought: “He’s an idiot.”

Honestly? I hope that my own kids think of me that way. That I did the best that I could with what I had. That my intentions were in the right place. That I was an idiot.

Being happy with how you look is not vanity. Caring only about how you look is.

As children, we learn about the idea of being happy with ourselves in stages. How we look is first. Think about it, what were the first five years or so of our lives about? What did we hear all the time? “Oooh … she’s/he’s adorable!” “How cute is she/he?”

Our first frame of reference for judging ourselves is our appearance. Kids believe they are ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ and beautiful’ because that’s what everyone told them, all the time. Then they get a little older and go to school and begin to hear other things; they begin to understand the barrage of advertisements on the radio and television and learn about what makes certain celebrities so popular. Then, they make comparisons with themselves and others.

The second stage is usually learned as a consolation: “She may be very pretty/thin/popular, but she’s not a nice person, and being nice is important.”

Well, that always made me feel better.

Being happy with yourself is not about how you look; it’s about how you feel about yourself as a person – but none of us realize that until well after childhood, when we’ve had relationships (romantic, friendships, and work- or team-related) and we’ve had the chance to experience other types of contrast.

An initial negative self-image sets the stage for more negativity. No, I couldn’t walk past a mirror without stopping for damage control – and all I saw when I looked was my flaws, something that got worse as I got older and knew there were more to see.

Positive self-image starts somewhere. Children are set up with all the ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ and ‘awwws’ they hear. When they start thinking to believe it, let them. Even when they choose an outfit that is mismatched, or want to wear a Batman cape to school every day – even if you yourself think they look fat in that bathing suit (you can be honest with yourself, right? Remember, you’ve been ‘programmed’, too).

When children start off admiring themselves in mirrors, they will be more likely to continue looking for what they like in them, rather than looking for things to tear apart.

Tell them they are smart. Praise them when they show foresight. Encourage them to think positively about everyone around them. Teach them that opinions of others don’t need to affect them (without being too harsh on others). Let them know that what they like is perfect for them, and should never be changed for anyone else.

But remember, their first 50,000 compliments and words of encouragement heard all had to do with how they looked. Let them be happy with how they look. Let them make decisions on what they think looks good for them. They will learn to make the ‘what’s right for them’ choices a little earlier, even with outside differences of opinion – that starts off smaller at younger ages, and they can learn it in small bites. Then, they will grow into making more and bigger ‘what’s right for them’ choices.

This will change the programming. It’s up to us to support it – despite our own ingrained ‘stuff’.

Think it doesn’t matter? I grew up believing I was fat and stupid. I hated myself, all the way up until I began to see that I did not have to accept others’ opinions of me as my own – and then, I had to fight myself to stop believing it (and still fighting). That’s taken a lot of time. Having to spend time erasing takes time away from moving forward.

Four months ago, I was with my father and he made a reference to me being skinny. When I say it stopped me in my tracks, I am totally understating how it affected me. I said to him later that I never (never) thought I would hear him say that about me. He said in surprise, “That was thirty years ago!”

Idiot.

(I’m smiling as I say that.)

He and I will probably not always see eye to eye. We grew up with different experiences and different types of programming. He may not even believe in programming the way that I do. Because I am me, if he ever sees my daughter admiring herself in a mirror and dares to comment on it (and I know he will), I will probably feel compelled to line up more mirrors so she has more to look at (and he knows I will)!

There is much more to being happy with yourself than just how you look – but it has to start somewhere.  I struggle to make sure my daughters don’t have the same poor body image that I had/have. My older daughter doesn't have a great body image, but it is better than mine was. Maybe my younger’s will be even better. And, hopefully, they will both think I'm an idiot.

Without-getting-into-it-now-but-feeling-the-need-to-acknowledge-it: I understand there is much more to the dynamics of body image, self-worth and the idea of ‘programming’ (I’m sure I’ll be getting into that, later) – but let’s take this in small bites.

Let children love themselves – every single part of them. Relearn the love you had for yourself before you were told there was less to love.

A word about selfies: is it a sign of insecurity to post a picture of yourself when you think you look good? Or is it a statement to the world that “I think I look good and that’s all that matters!” Doesn't that 'insecurity' stem from the perception of what others think and why? You are allowed to take pride in being happy with how you look; you are allowed to love every aspect of yourself.


Look in the mirror. Smile. Be happy with what you see. All of it. It’s all yours.

Monday, October 17, 2016

November 8 is Coming!

It will be November 8 in three weeks, and people can’t shut up about it – for the wrong reason, as far as I’m concerned. We have an election coming. Big deal.

I will, to some extent, agree that it is a big deal. We are all to vote for the individual we feel will lead this country onward and upward (or against someone else’s ‘takeover’).  This particular election is particularly heated; emotions are rather high on both sides and things that are being said about the candidates are quite ugly.

The ugly mudslinging isn’t only occurring between candidates; it is happening between us, making us no better than them. Tensions get spectacularly high the month before the election – for no reason, if you think about it; at this point nearly everyone has made their choices and none of this last-minute campaigning between us is going to make a difference. We are like the children rushing around to finish the book report that is due tomorrow that we had six months to write.

It’s not like we haven’t been here before, yet the months leading up to the election have people acting like the choice we have one chance to make is a ‘do or die’ thing. Technically, all of the elections are like that. We question and whine about the final candidates we have to choose from, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t just support they received within the previous year that got them there – their support started long before that. Rising to the top of the election food chain is a time-consuming process, and it is the individual attitudes and moves of the people of this country combined that got them there.

Our government has been selected by us; if we hate what we have to choose from on the ‘final’ vote, we have only ourselves to blame.

I will do my civic duty on November 8 – but if I’m going to inundate myself with anything about that date it will be on something that I consider so much more worthy of my time: it is my best friend’s birthday. I know she doesn’t birthday like I do, but I am still very sorry that the election has to fall on that day. I'm actually offended that an event so wonderful is being overshadowed by something so negative.

Like I said earlier, these candidates got where they are because of us and our choices. I’m using my privilege of choice to focus on things that are good and positive, and to try to be good and positive. Maybe if I do that more often I will live to see a day where my individual good choices and intentions will combine with the individual good choices and intentions of others and there will be an election day I will be happy to ‘celebrate’ – even in advance.

But until then:

Fuck the election - it’s Donna’s birthday in three weeks!

I brag constantly about my friends because all of them are truly wonderful. I am one very lucky girl, I know. Donna has been there since 1973 (you can do the math yourself; she hates when I brag about how many years it’s been – like I said, she doesn’t birthday like I do).

We have been through parallel lives, distance, anger, heartbreak, death, menstruation, love, parenting, alcohol, and everything else together.

She is the one I called when I ran away from home at age 13.

She is the one I first tried pot with (I’m still not sure if I inhaled – but I did try).

She is the one who wanted to punch the man who broke my heart.

I can say anything to her, and she can say anything to me.

(I would marry her if my daughters didn’t think it would be wrong for me to continue to go out with men afterward.)

We have relationships with our candidates; relationships that we’ve apparently not fully realized how we’ve nurtured them. If we understand that everything is related, and that we have relationships with everyone and every situation around us, then maybe we can pay better attention to what we nurture and give our attention to.

This friendship, this relationship that I have with Donna – like my relationship with and to everything else – got to this point because of that attention, from both of us. We gave it its foundation. It stands because of us.

Like our candidates.

Like the future of our country.

It’s not too late to start – it’s never too late to start – positive intentions and actions. The first thing we can do is to try and do our best right now.

So, when I think about November 8, the best thing right now I can think about is Donna and the fact that it’s her birthday – the day that caused her to be a part of my extremely grateful life. I will cast my vote in the election, too. I know what my decision is and will not play in any discussion about it, because it will not be as positively charged as my thoughts about her.

Election day is not the end of the world; it is always the beginning of something new, and all change has something positive about it. Remember that. If you see good, it’s because you can see bad. And vice versa.

This particular election day is no different.

For me, though, the election is quite secondary (or tertiary, or whatever comes after that).


Donna’s birthday is coming!




Tuesday, October 4, 2016

With Empathy (Brynnsight) - I probably should have cut this into two parts.

I’m not even sure where to begin here. Usually by the time I sit down to write a blog I already have paragraphs written out in my head, in order, before I even sit down with my pen or keyboard. I do know what I want to say, but the order is still screwed up. I would have waited until it was all ready, but it would appear that I have to write it now – the thoughts pushed against the front of my head so much that I was alerted (read: woken up) 3 hours before my alarm with an inability to ignore them. I’ve written before about how much I enjoy learning these little quirks of mine that validate my urge to write. I’ve even bragged about how little time it takes me to write something (because things percolate in my head first) – and I feel like I’m eating those words now! Whatever; I have to listen to the voices.

I’m also unable to control the length of this in my head – there is a measure of necessary backstory.

(Mom, you may as well stop reading now. This could be long.)

Let me start off by saying this: I do not take credit for my children in any way – blame or praise.

Children don’t ‘turn into’ creations we’ve molded them to be.  Think about this: we all have had those special moments of clarity when we realize what a unique spirit each of us truly is. In that moment – whether we manage to retain the thought or not – do we once feel that we were the product of our parents? No. What we feel is our own individuality – a feeling that we understand to be solely a part of our individual selves, separate from and above any one thing we have ever been taught and any one we have ever known. Is that sense of spirit something we ‘grew’? No. It is something we are, and are born with – and it is who we are, no matter our upbringing.

This is the basis of all stories involving children who grew up to become something other than what was expected of them, good and bad.

Understand, too, that there is more than one way to teach anyone anything. What is learned/accepted/absorbed depends on how a person learns and that person’s level of motivation to learn (for whatever reason, be it the threat of backlash, the desire for praise, or something in between).

Children do not learn solely what they are told, either. They’ve shown us in many hilarious ways that they are great mimics, too. Familial dynamics and birth order included, if you really think about it, anything we feel we’ve taught or imprinted on them is as relevant as residue. As they begin to feel their unique spirit on their own, they make choices about what they will accept from us based on what they resonate with. If they don’t like it, they can just brush it off.

We’ve all made that choice knowingly, in many ways. Did you always get along with your parents? When you started making your own decisions, who did or do you listen to first – or ultimately?

This is not an attempt at absolution of blame. First of all, there is no blame. Each and every one of us acts and reacts solely on the unique mixture of our own experiences, thoughts, and emotions; secondly, the idea of blame is the denial of self-power.

You made me do it. No. My reasons for doing it may have involved some consideration of you, but I made the choice to do it. The understanding of that comes down to the personal level self-awareness – remember, choices can be made unconsciously and by default, but they are still choices.

Whether or not my children do ‘well’ is entirely up to them. My job – my responsibility to them – first involves physical nurturing (food, clothing, housing, and clean diapers) and basic guidance (“look both ways before crossing the street”). Since they first learn what they see, I need to show them how to honor their own unique spirit by honoring my own, from that place of love.

Taking credit for them is also wrong. Credit and blame are two sides of the same coin. My children will understand that the power is theirs; I will not take it away from them by accepting credit for their accomplishments.

They are not going to grow into unique individuals; they are unique individuals. Each of my daughters’ being is and always was, and has very little to do with me. I’m a gateway, not a way.

In the same respect that the teacher is the student, I as the parent am also the child. There have been many occasions where my daughters have said or done something surprising – something I cannot trace back to anything about me or their lineage/surroundings. Those experiences have shown and continuously prove the idea of unique spirit. I have been made aware of it, and I’ll be damned if I attempt to thwart it.

If I really believed that my daughters were my creation, then I would have to believe that my real children were switched at birth with someone better's kids, and that I should start looking for their natural birth mothers.


I tell them they are weird. It is the highest compliment I can give them, because it supports the idea for them that they don’t have to be anything other than themselves.

My girls have taught me so much in so many ways, and I am constantly in awe of both of them.

THAT BEING SAID, here’s the prologue:

(It’s Brynn’s fault this time!) :)

Brynn is eleven years old, and she is more adult than I am. She has a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ far better than I do, an immediate grasp of situations, and a talent for being able to put things in words succinctly. As of this morning (because it just occurred to me), I will now be calling this quality, ‘Brynnsight’.

Two specific examples (before last night) stand out:

Her father and I split up when she was almost six. Like all parents before us in the same situation, we ‘sat her down’ to give her the bad news. After we told her – making sure to tell her what we were supposed to - that this had nothing to do with her and that we still both loved her very much and respected each other, she got very quiet in a considering sort of way. She asked who she was going to live with and we told her she would live with me. Then she got off my lap and said, “I’ll be right back.” She left the room for a minute and came back with a tiny little clay animal that she had made and handed it to her father, saying calmly, “Here, Daddy. I made this for you in case this happened.”

WHOA!

The other time was just three years ago, when she was eight. Her sister Deren (who is older by eleven years) was nearing the end of a not-so-positive three-year relationship. Another … big upset had occurred, and it was becoming very clear to Deren that this may not be something she wanted. It was a case of the usual ‘how many times does something bad have to happen before I realize this may not be working?’ situation. The three of us were in the room together, and Brynn had her arm around Deren in sympathy. Deren was very upset, understandably. Brynn let her talk for a while and then said to her, comfortingly, “At least this wasn’t a surprise.”

(-- I don’t know who was more shocked when she said that!)

NOW ONTO THE SPECIFICS OF WHAT SET ME OFF ON THIS TANGENT:

Like any parent who is tired of watching the same stupid children’s movies over and over and over again, I’ve begun exposing Brynn to a lot of older movies, movies I grew up with. I did the same with Deren. I tell them I’m exposing them to pop culture, but in reality I’m ensuring that the same stupid children’s movies we watch over and over and over again are the stupid children’s movies that I like. I admit it.

At this point I have to interject a little about myself – not to prove that Brynn is like me, but to show my basis for understanding her own uniqueness.

During my many therapy sessions – or conversations with my girlfriends over drinks (tomato, tomahto), I’ve begun to understand my own sense and depth of empathy. My best doctor/friend, Donna, was the one who helped me understand it the best. We were discussing connections, a very strong life-theme of mine, and I was venting my anger at my inability to understand why I can feel empathy to such a level that it incapacitates me. I can’t read or watch the news; when I hear of something bad happening to someone, I have a sense of feeling everything I can imagine they are feeling. I won’t go into detail, but what I experience is enough to paralyze me indefinitely. I wanted to know what the purpose of it was – I thought I’d be able to deal with it better if I understood why, or if I thought there was some cosmic benefit to it.

I can’t watch movies where children are being hurt, tormented, or portrayed as evil. Violence in movies actually makes me sick. I got into a full-on fight with my first ex because he didn’t change the television channel in time for me to avoid seeing something I didn’t want to see (something I still remember and feel to this day, nineteen years later).

I understand empathy to be a part of our connectedness, however I was questioning the whys of it. Donna gave me the kick in the ass I needed, by telling me in no uncertain terms that it was not my place to know why – that I don’t and can’t control everything. She also helped me understand that on some level, my taking on of those feelings was more of a Universal way of easing the load of the collective.  That I was able to understand, because I believe anything done to or for one is done for all.

So, anyway, now I’m introducing older movies to Brynn (mostly 80’s classics). I’ve been trying to guess her taste by what she showed interest in. I was very surprised that she loved “Forrest Gump”. Honestly, I thought that because she didn’t know most of the history of it that she would have no interest. She has stated openly that she now realizes she likes romantic comedies – but not all. She loves “You’ve Got Mail” but hated “Sleepless in Seattle” (except the ending).  She hated “Sixteen Candles”! What? She wouldn’t even watch the whole thing! All she kept saying was, “Why didn’t she tell her parents they forgot her birthday?!”

I did tell her it ended happy, but it wasn’t enough for her to endure what she called ‘torture’.  It was after this that I realized we share a similar quirk of … something, regarding what we can or cannot expose ourselves to (she knows I only repeatedly watch the endings of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” because I cannot endure the pain of them). Okay. Noted.

Then, we tried “Moulin Rouge”. After it ended, she looked at me and burst into tears – partly in anger at me that I made her watch a sad movie. Apparently, she and I are not alike in our taste of ‘reflective’ sorts of movies.

I told you she was weird, right? She’s a rule-follower. To the letter. She takes pride in that, too. Doesn’t use bad words, or even words she considers bad. Totally not me.

She is also very – very – expressive in her happiness. If she is enjoying something, she will stop and just announce, “I LOVE THIS!” I love her constant expressions of appreciation.

As her mother, and knowing her life, I would not say she’s had the best childhood – at least nothing to brag about. Her parents are not together, she’s never lived in a house, she has gone without more than with. And she is happy, oddly enough.

The first time I had to reprimand her – actually, reprimand her – was four years ago. She broke down in tears to the point of hyperventilating. I then had to explain to her that there will be some times she will be yelled at, and that not everything is perfect. Her answer? Between crying hiccups she stammered, “But … it … always … has … been!” That blew me away.

Last night (I know, FINALLY!), I suggested “Edward Scissorhands”. She knows who Johnny Depp is and Tim Burton (even though she thinks he’s creepy), and appreciates Danny Elfman’s music (“The Nightmare Before Christmas” soundtrack is a favorite).

BAD DECISION.

I was working, so she was watching it alone. She came into my room after about 45 minutes or so with an odd look on her face and burst out crying (they had turned on him).

She told me (I can’t remember her exact wording here) that as she is getting older, she is being exposed to more things (not just movies) that upset her and “she can’t do anything!” – which hit me hard, with my own understanding of painful things paralyzing me.

I asked her if she understood the ideas of sympathy and empathy, and explained to her the general definitions of sympathy being the idea of feeling sorry for someone and of empathy being the idea of feeling the same feelings as another.

I told her that I understood her feeling that way, mentioning my own quirks about what I feel the need to inundate myself with or avoid.

I also told her that I was trying to understand her point of view. She liked “Notting Hill” – and Hugh Grant is miserable during a lot of it. She liked “Forrest Gump” even though his mother and Jenny died. I knew from “Moulin Rouge” that she didn’t like sad movies, but I couldn’t put my finger on what separated one partially sad movie with a happy or inspiring ending from another with her.
This is where she sat me back on my heels, both in her explanation and in her ability to understand her own feelings enough to vocalize them clearly:

“I feel that sense of …

(ready for this?)

… abuse.”

How the hell did she come up with such right, clear, concise, and understandable words? How does she understand herself so well at her age? The understanding she has of herself is truly amazing. I have to get a better grasp of that before I really piss her off.

Thank you, Brynn, for giving me an explanation even I understand. Thank you for proving more clearly to me each person’s own unique spirit. Thank you for teaching me more perspective.

Thank you, too, for waking me up too early and causing me to start my day later than I wanted to.