Thursday, February 28, 2008

Choosing your words 2

Okay, so I don't really have time to write much, but there's a story on Dianne Sylvan's blog Dancing Down the Moon that you really ought to read.

You know how you always think of the PERFECT comeback long after the person who has zinged you is far, far away?

Dianne -- for once, she says -- got to make that comeback. Immediately.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Passion for the arts

You know I'm an enthusiastic arts advocate, right?

The Tehama County Arts Council has a new blog: Connections. And yes, I'm writing on it too, although I'm hoping some of my fellow TCAC directors will write for it as well.

The goal is to become a connection between art, art events, and artists in our county, and to help each other network and learn about events, classes, deals, and more. If you've got news, you can e-mail TCAC at Or drop me a note.

This weekend is the Corning Wine, Food and Art Festival at Rolling Hills Casino in Corning. It oughta be good, and it's affordable. Leave the kids at home, though -- 21 and over only. You can read more about it at the TCAC site, or watch the papers for more info.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Words that change lives

Sometimes you know you've made a difference in someone's life. They tell you, or you can see for yourself. (I'm not thinking so much of family here as I am friends and more casual aquaintances, or teachers and students, or co-workers -- those kinds of relationships.)

And sometimes -- probably more often than not -- you don't know. You might hope you have, but you may never know. Or you simply don't realize the impact of your words.

Sometimes it's a positive thing, isn't it -- someone gives you a compliment at a moment when you really need to feel good about yourself or what you're doing. And sometimes it isn't: you're criticized for your faults or actions, perhaps unfairly, perhaps not, but it sticks with you, probably all your life, and rankles, or hurts, or pinches a bit.

My high school English teacher made a huge difference in my life. Mrs. Simmons encouraged my writing and handed me books that were not the sort I usually read (although I always was a voracious reader, which she knew), but books that would challenge my thinking, teach me critical analysis or a style of writing. She was not a teacher you loved, but she was good -- and I didn't appreciate how good until I was in college. When I got into a classroom to teach my own classes, I found myself using so many of her techniques to help my students learn to analyze what they read, to express themselves clearly and accurately.

And I told her so in a letter. She was deeply appreciative -- said she had never received such a nice letter from a former student, and was glad to know she'd made a difference. We corresponded for a year or so, off and on. But I got to say thank you.

I also remember an offhand comment from a high school acquaintance that has never left me. She was one of the cute, short, bouncy girls of the '60s; I was tall and not terribly comfortable in my body, and had to push myself out of self-consciousness. I was highly sensitive to criticism (still am more than I'd like to be, alas). There were several of us talking in the girls' locker room one day, and she turned to me and said, "You are so loud! Your voice carries too much. Everyone can hear you all over."

Of course that made me even more self-conscious and embarrassed, and I tried for years to stifle my laughter, my enthusiasm, and my voice level. Only after I'd done a fair bit of acting did I realize that a voice that carries is a huge asset in theatre, and I learned to control it much better. But it hurt for years, and even now, after -- ooo -- some 45 years, I remember how it stung. And I remember her name.

More than 10 years ago I was active in an Internet chat room -- before I'd ever even contemplated a move to California. There were amazing people there -- funny, very well-read, extremely good writers, imaginative. There were special friendships formed there, and several had met in RT -- real time. At least one couple had married. It was a magical year with that group, and I also got to meet several of them in RT.

I'll never forget an online conversation with a few members of that group while I was out here for the first time. I'd come for a 10-day training session and fell in love with the Bay Area. Nearly as soon as I arrived, I knew that I belonged in California, even though it was going to mean turning my life completely upside down, and I think I knew on some level that I was ripe for that change even before I got on the airplane.

One of those new friends told me as I was waxing on about how right it felt here, how I believed I needed to be here: "Then make it happen, sister. Make it happen."

For the next six months those words were my mantra, and I indeed made it happen by researching, by talking to anyone who could help me realize that goal, and by examining what I truly wanted from life and who I truly was becoming (rather than the person I'd been who often acted in accordance with other people's expectations of me). I left a marriage, I left friends, I left a job (although my company created a new one here for me), and I found my life.

But her words were the catalyst that made me believe that I could really do it.

We never know when a casual comment may make all the difference in another's life, change their perception of themselves, give them hope or courage, devastate them into failure.

Choose your words carefully. Say thank you to someone whose words have deeply and positively affected your life. And don't allow the negative stuff to control one more instant of your precious life.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A love letter

Thirty-two years ago today my life changed forever. And I didn't even know it for two weeks.

Today is my daughter's birthday. On March 3, the social worker with whom we'd been working to adopt a child called to tell us that we had a baby. And on March 5, she came home.

I answered the phone that day a little before noon as I was on my way to the bedroom to get dressed after taking a shower and preparing to go into the part-time job I had -- I may have had a robe on, but I actually think I was naked, because I remember dragging on some clothes while I talked first to the social worker, and then to my husband, and then I called my mother who was teaching school in Springfield, Missouri, and for the first time in my life I asked that she be called out of the classroom to take my call.

I know the rest of the day and the following one were a flurry of preparations, although we had a crib, bedding, some clothing, and so on. But there was formula to get, bottles and diapers to buy, a car seat, and just simply stopping to take in the whole amazing reality from time to time.

We saw our daughter the next day and held her, that little bundle of soft pink arms and legs and big eyes and reddish hair. I adored her from that moment. And they brought her to us the next day, after I'd been up most of the night mopping water seeping through the walls of the house we were renting -- the kitchen, a bedroom, bath, and den were in the walkout basement level of the house, and heavy rains had saturated the soil. Apparently there was a crack in the foundation walls, because water had soaked carpet and was running onto the tile floors. The landlord brought a wet-vac early the next morning, which helped.

We have always celebrated her birthday with a party and cake or special dinner, and 14 days later we celebrated her adoption day, with a special gift and often some special activity with one friend. And always on her birthday, I've said a gratitude prayer for her biological mother -- who she met about six or seven years ago in a lovely Christmas-time meeting with both families present.

There is a poem for adopted children that all adoptive parents should know. It's titled "The Answer."

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously
My own.
Never forget
For a single minute:
You didn't grow under my heart
But in it.

--Fleur Conkling Heyliger

You are still my heart, my dear daughter. You are the miracle of my life (you and finding the wonderful man I now share my life with). I wish for you all the miracles you seek, you hope for. I wish for you enough of everything, but especially love, honey. Especially that.

Happy birthday. And to Maryellen, who carried you for nine months and then gave you to me, thank you. Again. Always.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Examining the Secret -- and yourself

There's a comment from a "John Curtis" on the posting below that rants about self-help and how it is all an attempt for each of us to find someone to tell us how to think and feel, etc.

I wrote a response which you can read below his.

And then I did some poking around to find out who this guy is. If you click on his name, you'll be taken to a page that no longer exists. HOWEVER, in back of the address is a URL for a group that is against "fraudulent self help." You read it for yourself (if you want to take the time).

Clearly the group hates the current popularity of the secret -- but tucked in their list of opinions is one that basically says that if you want it to succeed, you first must focus your attention on what you want, and then take action to get it.


That hardly qualifies as fraudulent self-help in my book -- in fact, it's the only thing that truly works, imho, no matter what program/church/practice you follow in your own life. It's what I've been saying in this blog for the past three years: you create your own destiny by the choices you make (or don't make).

There is no easy way. You can't read a book, hear a sermon, watch a video, and sit back and wait for things to happen. It takes work and patience and gratitude and more work. And the results you get may vary from what you thought you wanted -- but my experience is that it works better than what I'd planned.

Yes, people are making lots of money writing about the secret. So what? TV evangelists make lots of money talking about church. Does that make what they're doing fraudulent or wrong? No. The evangelistic entrepreneurs may believe what they're advocating, but they also know they can make a living from people who will abdicate responsibility for their own lives and choices. And there will always be those people.

As with any program/practice/church that I've EVER been involved with, I've taken some of the secret concepts and tried to apply them to my life -- always with an eye towards living a better, kinder, more productive life, but also being true to who I am. I don't swallow anything whole anymore, and that to me is just plain ol' common sense. Question. Examine. Discard some, save others. (can you hear strains of "I did it myyyyyyyyyy wayyyyyyyy" floating in the background?) That's me.

You do it your way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Contemplating the weather...and The Secret

It's hard to think of snow and ice elsewhere in the country when our temps are 70 degrees as they have been over the last few days. My friends and family who are braving temps in the teens and ice pellets as they drive slowly to work don't want to hear about things starting to bloom and early spring fever. Most of them truly do have the six more weeks of winter forecast on Groundhog Day.

If it's any consolation, our respite is nearly over (okay, for a few days) with wind and cooler temps in the forecast (okay, so it is supposed to climb back near 70 for the weekend...please don't shoot the harbinger of spring here). Truly, I do expect some cold and rain -- and even welcome it. We still need more rain, and I'm not ready for spring and constant sunshine just yet. The cool grey feeds my soul too, and I haven't had enough yet. There's a severe weather alert out that calls for fairly strong winds, and I'm not crazy about that, however...

I have so many good things to read, so many interesting TV programs to watch, but a whole lotta bunch of deadlines to meet this week are keeping me from doing much of either. I'm not complaining, mind you (okay, not much). It is good to be working and good to be writing.

One program I managed to squeeze in was the latest Oprah show on The Secret with several life coaches giving their perspectives. In this month's O magazine, Martha Beck talks about envisioning the perfect mate, for instance. Now I already have the perfect one for me (((glow))) but I actually visualized what I wanted in a partner years ago, long before I met him, without knowing anything about the law of attraction. No, I didn't know the color of his socks (read the article), but I knew the critical stuff. And I got all of that and more.

While there is a lot to ponder about the Secret, it boils down to choices we may make: to be positive or to be negative about our lives, to curse god and die when things happen that aren't fun and are hard to deal with (and I cannot believe that even the Secret devotees don't have a few bad days and bad stuff that happens to them), or to concentrate hard on the only thing you actually have the power to change: your own attitude; and figure out a way to live a good life even with problems.

I'm actively practicing gratitude, morning and night. I'm trying to figure out the happiest moment of every day and to give thanks for that every night. I'm sending love and energy to friends and family who I know are struggling with issues, and I'm sending it to myself. I'm asking the universe for what I want, and I'm trusting that it -- or something better -- will happen.

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity for a "regular" job and strongly considered it. My deepest heart, however, screamed "NO!" at me, although I tried to give it all proper consideration. And then the universe threw another option at me that fits much better with the way I work -- that message was waiting for me when I returned home from talking to the folks about the first. Coincidence? There are no coincidences.

I asked the universe for what I needed and wanted. And I got it.

Trust. Act. Be grateful, every day, for every thing. Ask... and trust again. Be patient.

It will be all right.

I believe that.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wisdom to know the difference

I am powerless over people, places and things.

For anyone who's ever been in a 12-step program, that's a mantra you learn and repeat daily, if not more often.

The only person you have any control over is yourself: your actions, your emotions, your behavior. You choose. And in the choosing, you create your own destiny.

But boy, oh boy, it is hard.

I want to "fix" situations. I want to "fix" people. It's so obvious to me that it only would take just this leeeeeetle bit of action or non-action, and then things would be sooooo much better.

Especially when it comes to my children. And anyone I love or care about.

Accepting another's right to act as s/he chooses is so hard for me sometimes, and especially with my daughters, I am constantly letting go and then taking back the worry and the fear for their wellbeing and their future. And then letting go again.

It is hard to accept without visible judgement too -- I try hard to keep a poker face (and am terrible at it), to keep my voice even and unemotional, to keep my words neutral and calm. And yet I know where I'd like each of them to go, which paths to choose that will help them to have good outcomes and lessen the pain and stress that I see ahead otherwise.

But oh, I am not omniscient, I am not all-powerful, and I cannot. I CANNOT. control their choices and destinies, any more than my mother or father could control mine. I made choices, a couple of ones that hugely impacted my life and who I am, and yet I'm okay. I am working to accept where they are, although it is so painful to watch them hurt and teeter on the edge of depression and actions which will have life-long implications!

I can't "fix" my daughters' problems nor their unhappiness. I can and have encouraged them to take steps to help themselves, but it's always a lack of money, time, or something else, it seems.

There is a long-time friend who is unhappy with his life -- he has always felt that he never gets a break, never has the wind at his back for very long, if at all. He has complained about his life for as long as I've known him. He doesn't like living alone, has little family left, and while he has friends, he desperately wants a love relationship, a companion. He is a good person and helps others, lives an ethical life, but yet feels unloved and as though he is of no importance to much of anyone. It hurts my heart when someone I care about feels so unloved and alone.

I can't "fix" him (I've tried, believe me).

I'm so aware that there are people who don't seem to have the ability, the desire, to take control over their lives and change what they don't like. Long ago I knew a woman, a bright, pretty, very talented children's librarian, a success in her field and loved by her colleagues and clients. She was hospitalized numerous times for depression and suicide attempts, including a terrible instance when she swallowed Drano, which left her alive and unable to eat normally. Not too long after she was released from the hospital after that attempt, she finally succeeded in ending her life.

And I guess I don't understand. I know depression -- most of us at one point or another have been depressed and paralyzed into inaction, although most of us don't make it into hospitalization and eventually come out of it or get help.

It is hard. Changing, making changes is so hard. There are days, weeks, even months that are just slogging through the crap, putting one foot in front of the other, getting through and doing it all over again the next day. But it passes.

NOTHING lasts forever. EVERYTHING changes.

I'm trying to remember that as yet again I put my worry and concern into the great universe rather than keeping it close to me. I trust that the people I want to fix will find their paths, will be taken care of, will be offered choices, just as I have been. I pray that they have the courage and the strength to follow the paths that will help them lead the kind of life they say they want.

And I pray for the serenity to accept their choices.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A classic movie is back

We spent a big chunk of time this weekend watching El Cid, that magnificent epic film of 1961 with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, which has been digitally remastered and released to DVD for the first time.

Tony has been hot to get this one for years, and it was released Jan. 29. I remember it well -- especially the final scene of the dead El Cid leading the charge into battle along the seacoast, with the light glittered on his armor and his white horse, and the music soaring into heaven.

Oh but I cried. I would have been around 13 or so, and a great-uncle who I'd idealized as a truly good person had recently died of a heart attack at only 55 or so, and it just resonated then with this already emotional adolescent!

Like every other woman who had a hormone left in her body, I fell madly in love with Charlton Heston all over again -- I mean, Ben Hur was simply magnificent two years earlier, and then El Cid! Swoon

(yeah, I got over him a long time ago, and he sure wasn't the hunkahottie off screen that he was on, from everything I've since read....he wasn't very good to his leading ladies, and in fact, despite their on-screen romance, Heston and Loren hated each other!)

But they don't make 'em like this movie anymore. The photography is breathtaking. There were no CG effects here either -- every person in both Spanish and Muslim armies was flesh and blood, and there are a lot of them. Costumes are painstakingly accurate and stunning.

El Cid is based on a true story, although there is also much legend around him. It is noble and selfless; it demonstrates the highest loyalty (misplaced though it seems to be) to king and country; and of course he has a passionate love affair with his wife, even though he is away in battle throughout much of their marriage.

The score simply soars, complex and emotional and evocative, unlike so many we hear today (with notable exceptions, of course, such as Lord of the Rings...)

If you remember any of those epics, try this one. It's got literary substance and for sheer grandeur, it's hard to beat.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Purification and renewal for this weekend

Today and tomorrow are, for many, the beginnings of spring. February 1 or 2 are celebrated as the Feast Day of St. Brigid, who, according to various sources, was the attempt to christianize the goddess Brigid.

Brigid traditionally is associated with home and hearth but also with wisdom, poetry, craftsmanship, and healing.

It also is Candlemas, the day midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and traditionally associated with cleansing, renewal, and, of course, candles. But first Candlemas was known as Imbolc, associated with the flowing of ewe's milk for new lambs -- the awakening of the world for spring.

If you've noticed, the light is coming back: days are lengthening quite visibly. In just over a month, on March 9, we begin daylight savings time again -- spring forward. The dark is over for this winter.

My friend Lunaea gives directions for making your own Brigid's Cross. She says, "The cross represents the cross-quarter days of the wheel of the year and the sun and the balance of energies and elements, and many other fine things. For me, it also represents movement, progress, and radiant strength, all good things to affirm as the light returns to bless the land."

I've got a fire in the woodstove and will light candles tonight as I honor these days both pagan and Christian, and reflect on creating, purifying, and renewal.

May light shine in your life.