About Me

My photo

Thanks for checking in. We all know life can be EXTREMELY complicated. I blog about recognizing and removing the barriers that sabotage our living well. 

- Nobody had perfect parents, so we all have issues.
- We struggle to keep up with work, personal goals, staying healthy, and all kinds of relationships.
- Our minds are busy, and they seem to often work against us.
- At the end of many days, we're disappointed about what didn't get done, how we failed, what we should have done.

So I blog about increasing personal awareness and finding balance so we can cut ourselves some slack. Let's stay grounded as we move forward in manageable steps. Perspective is everything, and I try to see around the corners so we can leverage what we've already got into more of what we want.

Follow me and give me feedback. You inspire me, and I'll try to inspire you. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pay Attention--Really

I watched the movie "Deepwater Horizon" this weekend. It's based on the disastrous BP oil spill. That devastating event was totally human error. Taking short cuts. Not paying close enough attention to what was needed to get the job done correctly.

I thought about how many small and not-so-small problems start with not paying full attention to the task we're doing. Too often, people make mistakes in daily life because they just weren't paying attention.

Decades ago, I went through a frazzled period of relationship stuff. It was often at the back of my mind when (if I knew then what I know now) I could have compartmentalized parts of my life much, much better. During one of those distracted periods, I wrote checks for my monthly bills. Suddenly, my checks were bouncing all over New York City. Insufficient funds fees mounted, and I had noooo idea why. There were no automated banking features back then, so I finally went to the bank to see what happened. I'd written a check for the full amount of my checking account to the oil company! They just put in on my account. I was lucky they returned the extra when they found out my error. Since then, I've learned to shut off my problems when I'm working or dealing with money. I want my job and my money!

We're human, and sometimes we go through things that become all-consuming, and it's understandable to be distracted and make mistakes. But that's actually rare for most periods of our lives. For most days of lives, we aren't usually dealing with true emergencies and hardship. And still many are not "present" for large chunks of daily life.

As a society, we have adopted multitasking and distractedness as a way of life. We commit a slew of safety mistakes on a daily basis:
- talk on the phone while crossing the street with a baby carriage,
- check messages and social media while driving,
- make money transactions while checking a message or talking to a friend,
- chip teeth while using them as scissors or openers,
- put on makeup while driving,
- keep abreast of social communication while performing our jobs.

It's really important to start checking ourselves before the worst happens. Sometimes the worst is not so bad, but sometimes it can be life-shattering. If you don't know how to focus, learn how. If it's hard to stay away from social media, start training yourself. Tell yourself often that the most important thing is THE thing you're doing right now. Learn to control yourself.

Once you know you have common sense, make yourself use it all day long. Walk slower, breathe, make decisions about what you do with your mind and your body. Don't go around on automatic. If you do, the law of averages says that sooner or later you will be very sorry you did.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sometimes it's better to forget....

A graduation speaker advised a group of graduating high school seniors as follows: "Never forget where you came from." It was very well received. The intentions were clearly honorable.

On the surface, I was okay with the gist of it all, but I ruminate and turn things over a time or two. So my authentic response is a lot more complicated--because society, communities, and families are complicated. In some cases, it's almost better to forget where you came from. Sometimes ties with one's past associates, family members, community dynamics, etc. can bog you down and keep you from gaining the traction needed to move forward in life. Sometimes where you came from is rife with drugs, violence, emotional or physical abuse, mental illness. Or sometimes it just wasn't a good experience, and there might have been some toxic overload going on.

Two Eckhart Tolle quotes speak to the complexity of one's ties to the past:

1) "Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on."
2) "A significant portion of the earth's population will soon recognize, if they haven't already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die."

So I'd like to tweak the guest speaker's message in order to incorporate some deeper truths: 

- Never forget where you came from, unless it was emotionally crippling. If it was, forget it as efficiently as possible, and start your future now.

- If you were raised in lousy circumstances, never forget where you came from, so you remember how to save yourself. (And if necessary, how to stay far far away)

- Never forget that you're incredibly strong, and sometimes your village is crazy.

- Never forget where you came from--in the context of how it can help you live a happy and satisfying life.

And I'll close with another quote (by someone I can't recall)--which basically says, Sometimes the best thing you can give to others is the example of your own life working. Which means, don't let where you came from have such a tight hold that, out of guilt, you try to save everybody, or you're afraid to be all you can be.

Stay tuned.....

Heads up! Mainstreet Rag's latest issue features an interview about my journey as a writer, and my short story "In My Soul." 

Here's the link to order a copy!




Sunday, January 1, 2017

We're better than this....

We're better than this! read a bumper sticker on a car in front of me. It grabbed me. Made me say, "Yes. We are. I am." Even before I figured out than what? So on New Year's Day, when everybody makes resolutions, that might be a great place to start.

Here are some things I know I'm better than, and I REFUSE to bring them into 2017:


  1. I'm better than getting annoyed about things over which I have no control. The other day my friend and I conferred about important things to put on our To Do lists. She offered one for me: "Remember what a good life you have." She's right. So when random things threaten to get on my nerves, I allow myself to focus on one of those wonderful things I have going for me, and move on.
  2. I'm better than assuming that I know what's best for other people. When someone complains or commiserates, I can listen, but I must allow them to feel what they feel. Often I try to talk a friend or loved one into feeling better. But I'm reading Marianne Williamson's Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment. She suggests that we make the effort to understand what lessons our pain and distress can teach us instead of trying to escape them. And I agree. So my "fixing" conversations probably get in the way of other people's growth.
  3. I'm better than planning poorly. There's no excuse for overcommitting and overfilling my calendar. I'm beyond rushing to accomplish ordinary tasks, sacrificing quality because I procrastinated, or feeling resentment because I said "yes" to something that should have been a "no."
  4. I'm better than creating stress for myself. I'm busy, but focused and mellow. (That's the vision I want to hold of myself.) If I think before I speak or move in a direction, then I can cruise most of the time. Because we usually made the choices that led to the stress.
As usual, I come back to the same thing. Take time to know yourself, then honor what you know. Make decisions that feed your soul. You're better than being on automatic with your precious life.

   

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On teaching, blessings and stiff spines....

I love the fall. It officially launches my new year. Feels like new beginnings. I get all reflective and start setting goals. This week I thought about how I started my journey in the world of education and how many fall seasons I made transitions--AT&T to lateral entry teacher, to district grant writer, to project developer, to freelance consultant, back to teaching. All fall changes....

So now I teach, but I don't really call myself an educator. It's what I do--not what I am. What it is is that I enjoy working with kids who need a leg up. Never knew how much I would until I stopped working at AT&T a couple of decades ago and had to choose something else to do besides writing stories (since there was no life-sustaining check attached to that vocation).

So I taught for two years in a tiny NYC public school for kids with severe handicaps. And I loved it. I bonded with all these hard-partying teachers and administrators who loved the hell out of our population of teens with cerebral palsy, life-threatening seizures, Downs Syndrome, and diseases you only hear about in movies and medical journals. Many had started their lives in Willowbrook--the asylum Geraldo Rivera exposed and got shut down for inhumane conditions.

Fall reminds me that we're as lucky as we realize. Fall says to me plant your feet, take stock, and get ready for what's coming. Whether it's kids coming back to school, hurricane season, or frost and the ensuing ice and snow. Life can be tough, but mostly it's merciful if you get your mind right. If you know better than to get "down in your cups" and fall into self pity about how hard your life is right now. Jobs aren't perfect, we don't always get what we want, people don't act the way we want them to, not to mention the weather......

But.....

It always behooves me to remember the kids I met in that small school when I first entered the world of education. And to remember their parents who wished their kids had homework or that they could do anything at all on their own. Parents who were grateful for nonprofit organizations who provided a night of respite so they could actually have a normal night's sleep. A night when they didn't have to listen out for a medically-fragile kid. 

So with this change of season, be mindful of your mindset. Keep your spine straight and your eyes peeled on the many ways that you're fortunate. There are so many who suffer in ways that are beyond what you'd even imagine. 

People often say I'm always smiling and that I'm so cheerful. But I've seen what suffering is, so in my heart I know I've nothing to frown about.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Casting the Dark Shadows Aside

Sometimes I think about something from my past that makes me cringe. I imagine most people have similar memories that make them want to cover their eyes and wish they could go back and undo that episode or chapter in their lives. 

When I was in my 30s, I spent a lot of time recovering from my 20s! :>) I had a scroll of regrets that shook my confidence and made me feel less than I should have. I didn't want to send out my stories--didn't want to call attention to myself for fear the past would creep up and bite me in the butt.

Then I realized everybody's got their own stuff. The self-centeredness of youth made me think my mistakes were of interest to anybody else. (Since I'm not a politician.) We all have our less-than-optimal moments: as children, students, lovers, spouses, parents, employees, siblings, and family members. Many of us have had our dark hours and wicked phases. 

Now and then I'll still have a random memory that makes me suck in my breath and wish I could take it back. But this morning I decided to embrace it all. Might be because I'm reading a LOT of good fiction, and good fiction introduces us to characters who show us all sides of their personalities and history. And that's what makes them come alive and makes us root for them.

So I challenge you to reconsider your dark shadows. To let them reside comfortably among the finer moments. To do so is to accept all of you--all parts of yourself. Last year I read Learning to Love Yourself: A guide to becoming centered by Gay Hendricks. It was the first time I'd encountered the notion of immediate acceptance of our flaws and mistakes as they happen. That becomes the way to truly meet your potential. Iyanla Vanzant is a perfect example with her boat load of hardships and a past that could've choked the life out of her.

I realize now that it makes perfect sense to accept it all. I have been a fool many many times, and I'm sure there are many more foolish episodes to come. But the energy spent regretting takes away the positive power from the moment I'm living.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In the throes of disturbing news....

When horrible things happen, I go in overdrive to find a positive. I'm not a Pollyanna. Yes, bad things happen to good people all the time. Reality is.

This weekend a group of young people organized a peace rally downtown. They were young adults--from late teens to early 20s. One of the chants they bellowed as they marched was, "This is what democracy looks like!" And indeed it does. All races and genders were represented--a true  rainbow of young folks planning, collaborating, and linking arms. I was heartened.

E.L. Doctorow was my mentor back at NYU. Even though I was a committed writer, like many of my peers, I was both wild and clueless. During one of our sessions, I remember he said he was disheartened by the lack of student advocacy on American campuses. That the Civil Rights' momentum gained much-needed traction when young people in communities and on campuses showed commitment and support. Likewise with Vietnam. He was basically saying young people had to be actively involved in the shaping of their future.

On Saturday, his words came back to me, and I understood what he meant. Although I plan to be around for a long time, young people now are different from my generation, and their future will, hopefully, be different from ours. I have always said that racism and gender bias never surprise me because many of the same people who fought vehemently to maintain segregation and the status quo are still alive and well. And many who aren't did a fine job of indoctrinating their offspring.

But those who are now coming of age (at least those in larger, more urbanized areas) have a different history. Many, if not most, have not lived in fear of differences. Interracial dating and marriage, gender choices, biracial children, interracial and interethnic adoptions, interfaith communities have existed during their entire lifetimes. Many of their neighborhoods, classrooms, sports teams, transportation systems, workplaces, etc. have  exposed them continually to differences. From my perspective, they've grown up in a world that, I hope, minimizes the fear factor.

There will always be outliers,. But I (optimist that I am) truly believe that sometimes when bad things happen, it casts a much-needed light beneath putrid underbellies requiring exposure and healing. I sometimes view the victims as souls whose lives become symbolic of change and enlightenment. Change generally happens slowly, and sometimes very painfully.

When there's violence, hatred, ignorance, I believe fear (in one of its many guises) is the true motivation. On Saturday, it was good to see young people putting themselves out there saying they are not afraid--especially not of each other.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

How to Bless Your Heart

One of the happiest, most content women I've ever known had a hand-to-mouth existence. Her days were unpredictable and often filled with the appearance of dark and random events. Three of her sons were killed in their 30s and 40s. Grandchildren, great-grands, nephews, nieces and even cousins of ill-repute continually found their way to her door in their hours of distress. Their eyes were frequently hungry for whatever she could provide: a couch for a few days, weeks, or months; a pallet in the corner if the couch was taken; a few dollars till payday; or a bowl of whatever simmered on the stove in the tiny kitchen of her two-bedroom, Brooklyn apartment.

No matter.

She was always laughing, always hugging. Even if she was chastising. Even as she was saying she was "flat broke"-- and she meant it. She was telling the truth when she said she had just five dollars to last till her social security check came in the mail. And it was usually because she had helped somebody else keep their lights on or bought somebody's baby some Pampers.

When I was a young woman, I spent lots of time in her apartment. I was fortunate enough not to need anything from her. And her ways certainly were not mine. Folks would have been blinking in the dark, and their babies would have been bare-bottomed if it was up to me. But from time to time, I think about her and realize how much she taught me.

Her way was to love, and she lived to be an old woman who was loved fiercely by an entire community beyond her own family. She lived by her own rules-- untainted by the opinion or judgment of others. She was exceptional at loving, making do, spreading cheer, and modeling that one can thrive-- no matter the circumstances. I imagine that her rooms were packed to the rafters with angels who kept her lights on, kept her rent paid and provided something to fix for dinner.

Her unspoken lesson to me was to have the courage to find my path and keep to it. The best path for each of us is the one that suits us. We ultimately don't need anyone to tell us who we are, what we should do, and how we should handle the situations that come into our lives. We have to figure it out for ourselves, learn not to need approval, and begin to value the power of living an authentic life. Once we can do that, we will have actually blessed our hearts.






Monday, January 25, 2016

Love, choices and the power of parents

I'm working on the expanded version of Salt in the Sugar Bowl. So I'm thinking pretty hard about motivations, choices, mistakes, atonement, etc. Several weeks ago, a group of NC State students included me in a project focused on local authors. They asked me the following question:

What were you hoping Sophia Sawyer's actions say about women's role in society and in family life?

Here's my response-- which I think provokes thought about the extreme power of parenting. We're all on a journey, so there's no real "getting it right." And the sexual revolution that started in the 60s and 70s led to more options that are, historically speaking, still relatively new. So really we're just starting to understand and experience a lot of fallout from the choices that weren't always available to us. So I think we can learn from what we're seeing and start to tread lightly!

         Sophia represents what happens when a woman doesn't know who she is, and she constructs a life based on pretense, superficiality, and the expectations of others. Instead of conspiring with her mother to meet the marriage milestone with a man who fit a certain criteria, Sophia would have fared better if she'd taken time to understand herself as an individual living in a world that offers many options. There is no evidence that Sophia actually knew Hunt enough to either love him or make an informed choice to create a lasting relationship and family with him. Their coupling focused primarily on the value of societally-established physical attributes. Had she developed greater self-awareness about her personality, strengths, and needs, the entire trajectory of her life would have been different. She  would not have married a man who'd been infatuated with her but didn't take the opportunity to actually know her or love her. And she would not have had six children who would ultimately be negatively impacted by her initial wrong move


         I hope she pushes women to think about the incredible power their life choices have on future generations. The actions of mothers (and fathers) set the stage for the issues that their offspring will contend with for perhaps decades, or even a lifetime. Nobody is perfect, and parents will do the best they can. In too many cases, however, impulsive decisions severely harm both parents' lives and those of their children. 

So Sophia teaches us to
1) truly consider the relationships we sign up for, and 
2) value our uniqueness because we are not cookie cutter, media-inspired creations who can live successfully by following a general script for life. 

(Unfortunately, I ran into the following survey. Rather depressing, but I thought I'd include it to underscore the importance of choosing well.) Jeeze!










Haven't read my novella, Salt in the Sugar Bowl? You can still get a copy (and see what readers have said about it): http://tinyurl.com/mpsxpjd

If you've read it and have an opinion, take a minute and write a review. (I'd appreciate it!)



Sunday, January 3, 2016

Start the new year without that awful codependence....

As we start plotting the course for doing things differently in the new year, I dissected one of the core tendencies that creeps up and consumes many people who have abandonment issues: Codependence. Codependence can take a fine life and tear it all to pieces. It can happen to anybody-- given the right suboptimal circumstances at a crucial stage of development. So to help both define codependence and provide some coping strategies, I'm quoting some valuable insights expressed by Dan Millman in his book The Life You Were Born to Live. The excerpt that follows is taken from the section titled "The Law of Responsibility."

          "Those of us who feel a strong drive to support, serve, and assist others can, in our need to give, sometimes overcooperate to the extent that debilitates both us and those we serve. In extreme cases, this tendency to overhelp degenerates into codependency, where we lose ourselves in obsessive focus on other people's lives, pouring out without receiving in return. Codependents assume responsibility for other people's lives far beyond the normal duties of parents or friends or employees. They base their value, self-worth, and even their identities on their ability to help other people, always (rather than sometimes) focusing on others' needs before their own ....
          The overcooperation that lies at the core of codependency involves a distorted or exaggerated sense of responsibility, leading us to try to "fix" others' mistakes rather than allowing them to learn from the consequences of their own behaviors. ...
          In applying the Law of Responsibility, we support others, but we also accept support; we find a balance between what we think we 'should' do or be and what our heart really desires. We do what we can feel good about inside; if we don't feel good inside, we state our feelings and reach a compromise: I'll do this much, but you'll have to do the rest." That's the heart of responsibility and the soul of cooperation."

'nuff said! In 2016, give yourself permission to keep track of what you need to be healthy and happy!

And if your mind and energy is too often spent on other people's situations, remember something I heard a long time ago (can't remember who said it): When codependents die, other people's lives flash before their eyes. 


          


            

Sunday, November 22, 2015

While in the company of writers, the stars aligned and shed light on my self

Once in a great while-- a very great while, I'll experience a life-transforming event. Back in the '80s Codependent No More fell off the shelf in Barnes and Noble, I picked it up and had to take two days off from work to read and process it. When I encountered Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I stayed in pajamas until I'd read it all the way through and taken notes.

Well this weekend, some creaky old door within my psyche flew wide open. It started when I was featured as visiting author at Alice Osborn's Wonderland Book Club to discuss Salt in the Sugar Bowl. Participants opened up about their own understanding of and experiences with issues of abandonment, the vulnerability associated with being authentic, tendencies to hide, self-protect and project.

Right after that session of honest reflection and sharing, I drove westward to Asheville to attend the North Carolina Writers Conference. Things got deeper when author Lee Smith stepped onto the podium as the keynote speaker. As far as I can tell, Lee Smith is about as authentic as they come. Her words, her accent, the rich and random stories that seem to percolate from her very being reveal, to me, a life fully lived and processed-- which she generously shares in almosraison d'ĂȘtre fashion. That was Friday night.

On Saturday, an itch--an irritation like an emotional pimple erupted. I had vague conversations about  "being an artist" with writers Danny Johnson, Crystal Simone Smith, Grace O'Casio, Rowena Mason, Alice Osborn, Maureen Sherbondy and Robin Muira, respectively. It was vague because I was unearthing and coming to grips with a self-defeating tendency I'd unknowingly cultivated-- that of public self-protection. I thank them all for their (unknowing) parts in clarifying something for me: Art cannot and should not occupy the same space as avoidance, pretense and toxic shame. 


I believe I have spent decades creating and presenting a self-protected aspect of myself. Parts of my story, my history, are dark and shadowy. These parts have made me gritty (and sometimes coarse). There are other aspects that are tender, optimistic and resilient. But all parts crave expression and acceptance. However, issues of trust, abandonment, fear of rejection and judgment have caused a general apprehension about the safety of being authentically who I am in light of all the places I have been.


I needed the company of artists at this point in my journey to reveal to me that artists can't hide. The general population may have the luxury of digesting societal norms and existing safely within their margins. But retreating to the safety zones might just do the artist in. In the end, our work, or at least my part of this work, is to have the courage to look under rocks and venture into the shadowy corners. Artists share and push themselves toward greater levels of honesty. We wrestle with and reveal aspects of experiences because they need to come out-- no matter how light or frivolous or dark. I don't believe the artist can concern herself with the perceptions of others, or burden herself with keeping up a persona. Such a tendency, I've learned, will consume the energy needed to turn over the boulders and hold them up long enough to capture what we've seen.