Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lessons learned from a trash-talking mother

My mother has an outer shell so tough that for a long time I didn’t realize there was anything soft inside. She will often find humor in situations that you’d never think have a lighter side. She will make comments so wry that you might question whether her emotional heart is actually functioning. Her perspective can be so tough that her words have  made me cringe. I see this side of her most clearly when someone has been foolish, or whose lousy judgment has led them to some misfortune that one wouldn’t wish on a dog.

God help me, but I sometimes hear my mother’s voice and sentiments coming from my own mouth.  I happen to have a kind tone of voice, so people are often surprised when I cut through the sentimental and get straight to the core of a matter. I like to get to the place where you either fish or cut bait. Over time I’ve pissed off and lost a couple of friends. But life teaches you after a while that bosses can be mean and unfair,  a short-tempered moody lover probably won’t be much fun for long, a married lover is a married lover, money can be tight for very long periods of time, and so on. No amount of complaining, wishing, and hoping will make it otherwise. So when faced with such dilemmas, my mother’s voice fills my mind loud and clear.

Looking back, I realize that I, too, have sometimes been a fool and fallen into a mishap that I should have seen coming. But while it was happening, I managed to keep it moving, keep my chin up, do whatever the heck was in front of me to do. And this is where I see the value of my mother’s biting perspective. When life gets hard,  we do something that makes sense.

So even when a person is neck deep in crap, it’s the belief in oneself that moves her step-by-step out of the muck to the other side. My mother’s view of the world has taught me it's our attitude about situations that make us tougher than the circumstances that life will bring. At the end of the day, it’s about whether we see ourselves as victors or victims in our lives. And God bless her, my clear-thinking, cigarette-smoking, junk-talking mother has never seen herself as a victim. And she is almost always a happy woman who can find something to laugh about.

As we start a new year (beyond 2012!!!!) ask yourself, are you a victim or a victor?

Heads Up Readers!
My novella, Salt in the Sugar Bowl is now available for preorder from Main Street Rag Publishing Company! Preorder on

It's now $6.50 plus S/H (compared to $12 plus S/H after April 9th)


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Good advice if you're striving to reach a goal

Louise Erdrich has always been one of my favorite authors. I always read her fiction, but the other day I came across this poem, and now I love her even more. She captured just what I need to remember every time life gets in the way of my personal goals-- the big ones. When we work, take care of families and homes, and get bogged down with the hundred little tasks that make up a day, we can get sidetracked. So often, I wind up cleaning the scum from my fridge when I should be writing. So I post this for all of you who have a passion and a goal that keeps falling behind the mundane chores of our lives.
Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
Is this just what you needed to hear?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A personal truth realized about love and relationships

My husband and I entertained last night. We had family and a few old and new friends over to celebrate the season. A few couples that we've known for years were here, and I was reminded of how relationships can grow stronger in an understated and timeless fashion. Over the years I have seen couples go through some things. At times, relationships seem as up in the air as a pair of dice-- with bystanders wondering where it will land. But over time, I am aware of the ebb and flow of couplings-- sometimes they are closer than others, sometimes more or less patient with each other.  And sometimes monkey wrenches are thrown in that upset some crucial parts. But some couplings seem destined to survive the long haul.

More than a decade ago, Rev. Dr. William Barber II (President of the NAACP), married my cousins. I was in the wedding, and I listened to every word because I was about to get married myself. He made the congregation vow to support the couple. It was a specific direction to do what was necessary to lift them up and help sustain their relationship instead of tearing it down, or causing it stress. I now realize how important that is, because when I was a young person, I paid no attention to any such values. And drama could have been my middle name for quite some years. Now I realize how important it is, karma wise, to respect the relationships around us. If we want strong relationships, I believe we have to acknowledge and value the relationships of others.

Being around both youngish and older seasoned couples last night reminded me that love is a courageous act. Love makes a person vulnerable and doubtful.  Committing to love is not for the faint-hearted, or the mindless. It's for those who are strong enough to see beyond the superficial TV love. Because there is always the possibility of pain and sadness, that things can go awry and end up badly. Because each person is still an individual-- even as they are part of a couple. Many would love to remove a loved one's feet, so he or she could not have the mobility to walk his or her own path. But the freedom to be one's own person is part of the joy of living. And it's also part of the joy of love. Because if we respect the relationships of others, and do their love no harm, we become more secure in our own relationships-- meaning we can live and love with more confidence.
Life truly is a mirror. We see ourselves in others. If we are able to see the good and the positive, we are more apt to experience it in our own lives-- because what we notice is often what we expect. I decided today, that I will try to embrace only kind and loving thoughts about the couples that I encounter. I will wish them a peaceful and loving journey. I hate to be all cryptic, but I believe that what I wish for others, I claim for myself.

Heads Up Readers!
My novella, Salt in the Sugar Bowl is now available for preorder from Main Street Rag Publishing Company! Preorder on
It's now $6.50 plus S/H (compared to $12 plus S/H after April 9th)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Living beyond the phases of our lives

When I was younger, I was wild as weeds. Truth be told, there were times I partied so hard that I would awaken not knowing if it was dawn or dusk, without a clue what day it was. After I became a parent, I reeled it in quite a bit. Then most of my play  was done with other parents-- and we had kid-friendly environments where the children entertained themselves, while we grown ups did our thing in other parts of the house. When I was self employed, I learned even more about balance. I had to work sooooo hard for long stretches, and I was bleary-eyed for weeks and sometimes months at a time-- going through life like a machine. When I finally had some down time,  I played pretty hard (but not nearly as hard as the "what day is this?" years).

Now I'm in the I've got to work and I've got to write phase of my life. Which pretty much means, I am involved in some form of work for a majority of my waking hours. Even my entertainment involves work-- going to open mics and reading my fiction. Going to writing venues and learning and sharing with other writers. My world has narrowed, and I absolutely LOVE the box of work as play as work cycle I'm in.


So last night at the community party, I told my friend how rigid I'm starting to feel. That I have to make myself get into the mood for a lot of things that, quite often,  don't seem worth the effort. I have a hard time drumming up excitement about the stuff of  life in general-- if it doesn't have anything to do with my work as play phase.

So I mused about it. And this is what I think: Life is a series of phases. As we go through each phase, be aware that we won't always be whomever we are at the moment. The world is HUGE, and our choices are infinite. So I think it's important that we stay flexible enough to be all right with the whole world as we encounter it at any given moment (as long as nobody's getting hurt). We need to let our minds sort of loosen up and be-- without thinking, judging, or interpreting how everything sits with us in relation to the phase we're in. Because all kinds of people, holidays, professions, opinions, celebrations, experiences, and occasions are the ingredients of a rich life.

Last night, at the party, there was a woman of my mother's generation,  while most were  a couple of decades younger than she. She was relaxed and natural, conversed with the guests, and really seemed to enjoy herself. She, I believe, is a model for me and how I want to approach life. We must do what we must within our boxes, but being a happy human means appreciating and participating in the world as it happens. Otherwise we paint ourselves into tiny little corners that are hard to move out of. And as we age, it will be harder and harder to experience the spontaneous joy available to us. If we get too attached to judging and nitpicking about what we want and don't want to do, believe in or don't believe in,  are comfortable or uncomfortable with, we may create a habit of counting ourselves out of the many games of life.

This picture is entitled "Lonely." As we go through our phases, embrace more of life-at-large, so we are always living  beyond our narrow margins.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thank God for the rescue squad!

For a long time I worried about other people all the time. I worried about myself too, but I had the worries of others lodged deeply in my spirit. I began to worry that if I died, pictures of other people's lives would flash before my eyes. Whenever I left a lover, I worried about how he'd fare without me, so I would leave behind the things I loved-- things I thought would help him make it through. That sounds pretty arrogant, but life taught me early that I have what I need to handle whatever life brings. I always know I will  be okay-- even if I have to part with some things along the way. That's how I know I'm a warrior.  I have started my life all the way over four times.

This all crossed my mind this morning, and it dovetailed with a thought I had yesterday while driving down the street and a firetruck whizzed by me.

People are stronger than I have given them credit for being. The same resources I have in my spirit reside in them; they just have to decide to use them. Their lives are not made better by my concern. They are made better by choices they make. No matter how much we love and care about another person, we will never control their minds, and therefore we will never control their lives. So when you're troubled and frazzled because you are worried about friends, lovers, husbands, wives, even children and parents, remember, you will never live their lives for them. And being a martyr will never make your life any better.

So my tip on this chilly Saturday morning, is to live your life. Be the (peaceful) warrior you need to be to make a good life for yourself. And do what you can for your loved ones within reason, because things can definitely get out of control for people. And when they do, know that you can't save them. Just thank God for the rescue squad!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Keeping your energy level high when you're so tired you could drop

People are tired! Life is so busy. Sometimes I want to think that nobody could possibly be as tired as I feel on a given day. Then I ask myself if I'm serious. There are people with five kids and a full-time job, so I pull myself together. That's when I sort of tap into my intuition and ask my body what it needs to keep going. It will usually tell me. This is our State Fair weekend, so on top of everything else-- writing, laundry, shopping, cleaning, and cooking, there is also walking through miles of thousands of people inching their way through the deafening sounds of tractor pulls and bullhorns, and rides, and the screams of terrified and elated children for several hours. (Because going to the fair is not an in-and-out kind of party).

So I ask my body and it says, "Fish head stew and greens." So I comply. I go to my fish market and buy a salmon head and stew it with onions, garlic, thyme, lime, and cayenne peppers and scallions from my doorstep garden. I steam a pan of kale. Yes, it's a bit slimy, but it has the absolute highest vibration food wise, and my body seems to grow lighter and calmer as I get to the end of the bowl. (That's my pot of stew in the picture.)

Bottom line is, I made it through the fair. We got home at midnight; I was in bed by 1 a.m. Now I will have a small bowl and head down to see Maya Angelou get inducted into the North Carolina hall of fame.

So my energy-raising tip is to ask your body what it needs. Then respond to it!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Education, diversity, and harder to teach children

I just finished a great week of teaching. We're a month into the new semester, so now the students are familiar with their teachers,  the environment, and their classmates. I teach at an alternative high school in which a majority of the students are Black or Latino, with fewer than a dozen White kids. When many new students come, they believe they are coming to a school for bad kids. Sometimes this makes them bring a bit of attitude because they believe they're coming into a survival of the fittest arena. What they bring more than anything is the brutal fallout of inadequate and inappropriate educational and life experiences, because inside, they are just like other teenagers.

Diversity is a strange thing. It works if people are comfortable with the traits and dynamics that all members of the population bring. It is the path to hell when the traits that participants bring go against the expectations that have been set beforehand. My former school superintendent, Lester W. Young, Jr., always said (and I paraphrase), "Schools should be able to adapt and change in order to respond appropriately to the children that come through their doors; the expectation shouldn't be that the children will change in order to fit into the school building." So when students, through a generally long and torturous road, find themselves at our high school, most usually feel accepted for who they are for the first time in many years (if ever).

  • Many of our kids are a bit tough, but often they and their families have really been through some things, and are still going through them. I have foster kids, homeless kids, and kids who live independently.
  • Many are not friendly up front, and can be downright rude, but they have often been rejected, dismissed, ridiculed, and left behind in a lot of classrooms-- and they are expecting the worse from their teachers.
  • Some don't listen very well, and that's because many have been taking care of themselves and their siblings for a while, or have been dismissed because they themselves haven't felt listened to or heard because they don't speak standard English, or have the right tone of voice.
  • And some can honestly be called mean as snakes, but that's because they are angry as hell because of what has happened in their young lives, and oftentimes teachers have been part of their daily misery. But it's hard to know and understand the "big picture" when there's a whole classroom full of personalities needing attention.
So they find themselves in our school because they don't fit well into the mainstream setting as it is generally constructed. But they are not the losers that they and many others will peg them. And many have been pegged losers since third grade when they couldn't pass the mainstream tests, and haven't been quite considered normal since.

But I had a great week because this is the time in the semester that the students know that I really do accept them for who they are, and I want the best for them. Most have fallen into the habit of working hard for me, and I have created a safe environment where some will begin to struggle and read aloud, and stumble over words that children 8 or 9 years younger can breeze through; and I dare anybody to make them feel less than courageous and hardworking. In such settings, the gap finally begins to close because they are met where they are, and they feel better about themselves as students. Some let their brilliance show for the first time because they can bring their whole selves with them--especially their unique perspectives.

There are a lot of grey areas in education, but my tips are really for people who work with children and young adults. Try very hard to like them and connect with them. You never know what they are going through and who they really want to be inside. Think of how it is in a large family where each child has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points. The parents' job is to juggle the responses and see with a large and ever-trolling eye. It's a juggling act, but that is the important and bottom line work of it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Health detective: Beware!

So this morning I take my supplements, and have my morning green drink, and I'm good to go. I get to school, and my neighbor and I have a lively philosophical chat. The bell rings and I take my post outside the door. Seconds later I feel like I'm going to faint. Literally like I will pass out if I don't sit down IMMEDIATELY. I never feel dizzy, so this is scary.  So I tell my other neighbor. She follows me with concern as I hold onto the wall and make my way to a seat!!!!! I'm afraid to stand up!

Things go through my mind! Am I having a STROKE! Is my blood pressure HIGH? Am I having a HEART ATTACK????!!!!  The students come in and I can't hover and traipse through the classroom as I usually do. I am dizzily confined to my DESK! I make it to the bathroom... holding on to make sure I don't collapse! I Google stroke and heart attack. I don't seem to be having either. I make an executive decision!To go home. The last thing I want is to pass out at school and be carted off to the hospital. So I go home an hour after arriving.

I drive home slowly and carefully (only 8 minutes away) and go to bed. I'm groggy and heavy-eyed, and I wonder how long I will be in this unfortunate state!

Fast forward! I am a supplement devotee. I can say with sincerity that vitamins and supplements have changed my life and kept me alive. My entire physiology has changed dramatically with the nourishment of vitamins and herbs.

So then I'm lying woozily, sleepily on the sofa, a little worried-- when I remember that I took the herb valerian this morning. Just because it happened to be on the counter, and who doesn't like to be calm? But there's also valerian in my new vitamin B complex. AHA! I had taken a strong dose of a supplement best taken in the evening! And I only take it at night if I'm really really busy and stress levels are high!

I was actually herbally over-sedated! Were I less "alternative" I would have rushed to the emergency room and submitted to a battery of tests. And had it been someone less alternative, I'd think they were crazy NOT to be in the emergency room submitting to a battery of tests.

So all is well now. Still a bit groggy, but I'm not dizzy, and I'm in no danger.

My advice....Be careful, because herbs and supplements are wonderfully powerful, so know the right dosage and cross-check what's in different formulas! And know yourself to the extent that you can be a health detective-- empowered to make decisions that are best for you.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I have a cousin who has some kind of spatial gift. Whenever I enter a place that he has organized, I feel like I am breathing deeper, cleaner air. He is not a clutter person. He always has clear spaces and surfaces, and sensibly organized items. I am trying to use him as my model, because I am not a hoarder, but I can attract a lot of stuff that I don't quite have a place for. Stuff I sort of move around from one pile to another. Standing in a room with a pile in your arms wondering where to put it causes stress.

So I recently cleaned out my office. I was amazed by how much better it feels to have an empty shelf or two. It feel s like I have room to grow. I love it in here now.

These are some of the things I threw out:
- old magazines with articles that I thought I might read
- cords to old electronics
- books that are not of interest to anybody (at least not anybody I have access to)
- old Christmas cards (some that I received, and new ones too yellowed to send to anybody)
- a pile of clothes that I was going to repair that have gone out of style.

I'm sure you have your own list of things that can go right now, and you'll never miss them. So, get rid of it. Just pick it up and throw it in the trash. Now!

That is not my book case, but mine looked a LOT like that. But not anymore.

Clutter 05

Monday, September 3, 2012

Me First!

For the past two weekends, I have gotten sooo much done that I wanted to. I've written a mini-story, updated (though I'm not finished) my website, learned all this crazy technology stuff that was hard for me to fathom! I'm thrilled.
I 'm thrilled because I did this even though everything else wasn't done.

It feels absolutely wonderful to take care of all this because no one is going to say, "Angie, just stop and spend some time on these things that are so important to you, but that you can't seem to fit in because you're always so busy doing other stuff!" Never in a million years is anybody going to tell me that. (Keep reading below this terrific picture!)

Lovers Doin' Laundry
This (and other similar housebound scenarios)is now only part of my weekend.

Soooo, I've gotten better at integrating my artist stuff into my schedule and actually sticking to it! I feel terrific, and when I feel terrific, I'm more pleasant. When I'm more pleasant, I get along better with everybody. When I get along better with people, they are kinder and more helpful. When people are more helpful, I have more energy to do all kinds of thinking and writing, and fun stuff. Sooo, life works better all around when I make time to do the things I want to do. Try it!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Think first and save yourself some grief

I almost hit a little dog this morning. The dog's "mom" was down the street clapping her hands-- wishing him back, I suppose, while he ran cowering down the street in the opposite direction. Other cars had to stop as well to keep from ending this small dog's life. I have often seen two or three children playing with this cute little yorkie as he ran UNLEASHED across their front yard.

I was annoyed by this woman. This isn't the first time I've seen it galloping toward the street while they frantically call its name. If someone had hit their dog, she would be crying, the kids would be devastated, and probably, judging by most pet owners (I don't have a pet), they would have to mourn a family member's death. It certainly would have ruined my day had I run it down in dawn's first light! IF it had happened, it would have been avoidable by simply putting a leash on the dog. Traffic goes through continually, and a dog is not a person. Dogs chase squirrels and cats and whatever motivates their little doggie minds. Hopefully she has learned her lesson, because the little dog's days may be numbered otherwise.

So my stress busting tip is this: Do the simple, everyday thinking that will save you some grief in the long run.

Don't let this happen to your little furry friend!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Remembering how strong we really are

Lately I've been thinking about how strong we are. Sometimes we forget-- especially if  facing an illness, unemployment, horrible bosses, unruly children, overdue bills, crumbling relationships, a busted boiler, leaky plumbing or whatever the challenge of the moment might be. Sometimes we feel like our heads will explode from the stress.

But I recently thought about our ancestors. Our inner strength runs so much wider and deeper than we remember. This is no warm fuzzy blanket I'm offering, but I want to point out that most of our problems can/must be handled calmly, one step at a time, and with a clear mind. Many of our ancestors survived the Middle Passage, the Holocaust, wars, lived in harsh and often hostile environments filled with violence, poverty and sickness. Many ran away from horrendous conditions not knowing where they were headed. Individuals lost their entire families. Children have fed and clothed their siblings. And there are so many stories of such survivors-- in the far and recent past, who not only survived, but thrived.

Post Apocalyptic Woman WarriorsSo my stress relieving tip is to put whatever you are dealing with into a broader perspective. Yes, things aren't necessarily the way you want them to be, but most times, they aren't nearly as horrible as they could be. So keep your cool, and breathe-- breathe deep and slow. Do it enough times to calm yourself down. Don't let your mind fool you into thinking that you don't have what it takes to get through the problem of the moment. Remember how strong you actually are-- inside. Then plot a course-- step by tiny step toward a solution.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anxiety as a positive.....

I have always dreaded the feeling of anxiety. I hate the tension, the shallow breathing, the sweat beading on the tip of my nose, etc. That feeling crops up when I have to do things that push me out of my comfort zone. Anxiety makes me want to avoid certain situations.  

In any culture, we will meet with rejection and various biases: sexism, racism, gender bias, age-ism, etc. When we go out into the world or engage in different interactions, we often anticipate what we are up against, and we feel anxious. But creating a life that we want requires moving ahead in spite of .......

This week I've been reading Thomas Hora's Beyond the Dream (one of my favorite books in the world This is what Dr. Hora writes about anxiety:

"[Anxiety] is actually just a heightened state of alertness, connected with an anxious desire to succeed in some project. Therefore it is actually healthy to be anxious. We can say, it is all right to be anxious as long as we are not timid. Timidity is a fear of appearing anxious, and it gives rise to a desire to stifle and cover up the anxiety. Anxiety can be accepted as something positive, and timidity can be refused as something cowardly, unproductive, and self-indulgent. Timid people often blame anxiety for their suffering, but if they realize that the [enemy] is timidity hiding behind anxiety, then they can simply refuse to be timid and the whole problem disappears. Therefore, we can say that it is all right to be anxious as long as we are willing not to be timid."

I love a choice! I now choose courage and productivity, and I release timidity.

That may be easier said than done, but I believe hard things are doable when we have the right mindset. Refuse to be timid because who else can represent you in this world?

TIMID: easily frightened; lacking self-confidence, shy

Monday, July 30, 2012

Too much communication!

I came up before cell phones existed. I walked to a New York City public school, and my mother took the subway to work at wherever she was assigned as a Transit Authority railroad clerk. If I  got sick during the school day, I pretty much descended into a lethargic mass until the end of the day, then walked home and went to bed. I was rarely sick enough to warrant a visit to the school nurse, and not once did I have a condition that required a call from my "Medical Contact" card.

Such experiences gave me a realistic sense of what's what. "I don't feel good" is in a completely different category from "Call my mom because I'm sick." I think one's emotional health is hinged on having a balanced understanding of such differences. I teach high school students who have "under the weather" type days quite often. (Who doesn't?) For most of them, the first response is, "Can I call my mom, or my grandma?" My response is always, "Of course you can, if you are really sick, but I saw you laughing a few minutes ago, so I'm not sure you're really sick. You probably just don't feel so good." Then I give my lecture about wasting a working person's sick days, and then I have to explain what they are. Then I tell them about me and my mom, and me and my daughter. And I explain to them that really sick usually involves intense pain, or vomiting, or diarrhea, or swollen glands, or a fever, or a pallor, or listlessness, etc. I think I owe this to the parents and grandparents who will be stressed out by a call saying that their loved one is too sick to function.

But! I'd say about 7 times out of 10, I'll get a call from the office within the 90-minute class period saying that the child is being picked up by a parent or caregiver. The same child who is now chatting it up and gossiping at the computer with pals as they're working on their projects. But the parent has been secretly texted, and I get a creepy crawly feeling about what kinds of kids we're raising.

It's important for parents and caretakers to teach young people clear enough boundaries about: 1)  school day communications, and 2) what constitutes a medical intervention. Such responses to mild discomfort, in my opinion, give them unrealistic ideas about their own strength and ability to endure the headaches of life. This is really unfortunate because the true discomforts in life, which are still bearable, will seem like a living hell to them. To take it a step further, I think this has a lot to do with the overmedication of our society... because once you're grown up and you can't call mom, who do you call? The doctor!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Staying Grounded in a Frantic World: Don't try to impress anybody.

Staying Grounded in a Frantic World: Don't try to impress anybody.: I was self-employed for years. I had to give a lot of thought about how to "sell" myself and my products to prospective clients. I was think...

Don't try to impress anybody.

I was self-employed for years. I had to give a lot of thought about how to "sell" myself and my products to prospective clients. I was thinking about that today, and remembered how there were times that I was so stressed about meeting certain people that I'd be a wreck up to the moment that I sat in the chair.  (That is not healthy!) There is no shortage of books and articles about how to impress and influence people, and reading such things will definitely make us feel like we're preparing ourselves for what we might encounter. And there is certainly a need to dress and act according to the environment we're entering. But there are simple uniforms that we can all wear and little guidelines we can follow for such occasions (like no-gum and cellphones) and be done with that part of it. No stress there.

What I'm talking about is the stress of interacting with a strange personality who will be judging our personality and making a decision about who we are and whether or not we are worthy. I'm talking about the stress that goes into trying to land whatever it is we're trying to land.


Can we really know what a stranger values and favors in another individual? I think not. Everybody is unique-- including a prospective boss, a new man or woman, your finance's parents, a potential client, etc. Trying to adjust or contort ourselves in order to make someone think highly of us is a recipe for throwing off our game.

What do I mean by that? The truth is, the best we have to offer is the confident self; not the shrinking, insecure, I-hope-you-like-me self. What is attractive-- whether in business or in our personal lives, is usually the thoughtful presentation of the best qualities that we have acquired and honed according to our unique experiences.

So when we approach situations that require us to impress someone, maybe we can shift the thinking to the need to show up as the best self that we have to offer. I really believe that we should reflect often about how to develop the gifts and personal traits that we have-- sort of like training for personal olympics. If we have goals and aspirations, we can continually take personal inventories of our strengths and and qualities and keep refining them and sharpening them, so that when opportunities arrive, we are more than prepared to show up as the confident individuals that we have become-- instead of stressing over who we need to be in somebody else's eyes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Using vacation time well

One of the greatest perks about teaching is having the summer off. (Although I hear year-round teachers love their schedule.) The great thing for me is that I get to write a LOT! I always write, but what I always want is to get up in the morning and write all day, and just do that day after day after day. But even during summer vacation, I still have to eat well, exercise, do laundry, vacuum, and brush my teeth, etc. So my point is that even when we have down time, there is a long list of must dos.

Why am I throwing the monkey wrench into the notion of vacation? Because I use time better when I'm realistic about all that life requires. The first summer I was off disappeared in the blink of an eye. I had little to show for it. I had this naive notion that time drags during vacation, and I'd have plenty of time. It doesn't drag! It flies! All year I'd waited for the summer vacation to come so I'd have time to get organized, clear the attic, finish the novel, get rid of clutter, etc. But my late starts and daydreaming with three cups of tea took up hours of my days, and suddenly it was all over. I was soooo disappointed.

This is not happening to me this year! I front-loaded a lot of entertainment into my schedule as soon as I got out, and I still have lots of time left! I went to NY, had houseguests, went to a family reunion, and really enjoyed myself. Now I'm writing during morning hours, and researching a good part of the afternoon, and I'm building in the must-dos where they fit in. This is exactly the vacation lifestyle that satisfies my soul.

So if you're lucky enough to have asummer vacation, I nudge you to enjoy every minute of it. And I urge you to prioritize doing the things you really want to do. Otherwise all your time can be spent doing all the things you have to do anyway (like the laundry and dinner and vacuuming) without the satisfaction of using time in the way you intended or that nourishes your spirit. And it doesn't matter whether you have a week, a month, or two months, it's your time to use the way YOU decide. So make decisions about what will give you the greatest satisfaction.


Nardo and I with Walt (Clyde) Frazier at Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine in NYC.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Four Agreements and uncovering who we are at the core

"In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Miguel Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors."

 I love this little book. It was the perfect read for the beginning of the summer. I read it in two days, and I'm committing to Don Miguel Ruiz's four agreements:
  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Take nothing personally.
  • Don't make assumptions.
  • Always do your best.
At the heart of the book is getting beyond all the programming or societal "agreements" that are made unconsciously. Regardless of who we are at the core, we are pretty much programmed into believing and behaving in certain ways. This quote says it all for me: "Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We learned to live our life trying to satisfy other people's demands. We have learned to live by other people's points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else."

If I follow his four agreements, Ruiz says: "They will create enough personal power for you to change the entire system of your old agreements."

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

For the teachers out there....

I teach. Some of the high school students I teach give me (and everybody else) a good run for my money. This morning I was thinking about why so many teachers burn out. I, personally, am not burned out. ...not by any stretch of the imagination. I actually enjoy what I do, but I am, of course, looking forward to the end of the school year because who doesn't love vacation?

So back to the burn out. The thing about teaching is that, as far as students go, you get what you get. Some will be easier than others. Some students will consistently buck every one of your systems, directives, and desires. That overwhelmed condition known as burn out can easily be caused by a teacher's belief that he or she can (metaphorically) whip kids into shape. During the course of my career, I've seen teachers' veins bulge out of their necks and foreheads, cry in the restroom, and plead with administrators.

I'm here to say, you have to know what is possible and what is not. You should learn as much about classroom management as you possibly can because that is what will ultimately save your hide. You should get to know the students as well as you can (which is largely dependent on the size of your classes) in order to target your strategies appropriately. Of course you should know your subject areas so your lessons aren't so boring or disjointed that you deserve to be given a hard time. Those are basically the tools of the trade.

So, if you have your tools, and you use them wisely, know that you still won't get all the students to do exactly what you have in mind, and no amount of stress and strain will make it happen. Students are people too, and they have personalities and goals and sometimes what you're selling isn't exactly what they want on their plates. There are days that I actually laugh out loud at how incorrigible a particular student has proven to be. Sometimes it's a whole handful of incorrigibles who sort of band together as a sort of anti-class posse. Because that's just how life is, and that's how school is.

Soooo... recognize when you are doing your very best, then cut yourself enough slack that you can actually enjoy your work.

And for teachers who are mothers, you have to realize that most of your little darlings aren't always little darlings, so they sure don't miraculously change into them once they're in the classroom.

So know your trade, do your absolute best without working yourself into a stupor, keep a sense of humor, and move on......

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Problem-solving for real....

I'm at a conference that tackles issues related to teenage pregnancy. Since I work with a number of pregnant and parenting teens, I see the importance of this issue firsthand.

Dr. Michael Carrera and Dr. Joycelyn Elders are the speakers at the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of NC. The great thing about people like them-- accomplished individuals with a vision, is that they have a long history of figuring out how to deal with the problems that people find overwhelming. What I heard today in their really inspiring speeches, were testimonies and examples of how they made things work.

Dr. Elders has reached all kinds of milestones and still has the down-to-earth wit that kept the audience entertained. She is unabashedly honest about sexuality-- and how Americans stick their heads in the sand when it comes to the truth about sex. (
Dr. Carrera has implemented 50 adolescent pregnancy prevention programs in more than 20 states. We know all this crap about basketball wives and Atlanta Housewives (well, I don't personally), but we don't know about the amazing strategies that really do change people's lives. And while people are trying to reinvent wheels all over the country, there people who know how to do what so many keep revisiting-- with little success.

I'm inspired by their commitment. We have to be committed to the things we find important in our lives.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's Heart Time

Yesterday I woke up feeling like the bottom of an old shoe-- just worn all the way out. So I went to my naturopath and herbalist, Margie Mulholland (   
Timberlake Herb Store

(Isn't this place a gem in this age of overkill?)
She wasn't surprised to see me because "I'm on the path" and I'm "sensitive." She told me it's heart time. It's the time of the year when the atmosphere heats up, and our hearts will feel it the most. Those with heart issues of any and all kinds might need some extra support. It's a time to stay cool and not get too overheated.

Ironically, I'm increasing my use of cayenne pepper and taking cayenne capsules because it stimulates the system and improves circulation. I'm also up-ing my CoenzymeQ10 which is something of a miracle in itself.

Today I'm feeling way better; luckily, my remedies are most often found in nature. My tips: Know your body. Listen to your body. Respond when it talks to you! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's okay to be uncomfortable

I told my daughter the other day that people would be a lot better off in the world if they had the mantra: "It's okay to be uncomfortable." Since she's just going out into the world for real, so much of what she's encountering is new. As I listen to her take on various situations, it dawned on me that much of what happens in our daily lives is a little bit uncomfortable (and sometimes a lot uncomfortable). Life really is kinda challenging:
We have to meet new people.
We have to interact with people we don't like.
We have to sit in meetings and hear about things that we don't like to hear about.
We have to wait in traffic and on lines.
Sometimes we have to walk through puddles.
Our underwear might ride up all day, or our tights crawl down.
We have to learn to use technology that we are clueless about.
We have to work through lunch to meet deadlines.
We have to drop everything and take somebody somewhere.
We have students or clients or somebody that we simply have to grin and bear.
We have to balance our checkbooks, so we don't run out of money.
We have to eat the lunch from hell because we didn't have time to make it in advance.
We have to change our plans for the gazillionth time because somebody found out about something that changes everything.
We have to make speeches or read aloud to strangers.
We have to put ourselves out there.

I could go on forever. The thing about this realization is that it made me a bit more okay about the IDEA of being uncomfortable. It's like we can go through lives with this myth about getting comfortable. But that makes us long for something other than the experience that we're having.  And maybe a lot of comfort is happening for a lot of people. But for me, I'm REALLY confortable for about an hour or two everyday. That's about it. For the rest of the time, I'm stretching myself to make life work, and making mental adjustments for what just is......

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fear in all its irrational glory!

    Fear cripples us, increases our heart rates, and does all kinds of harm to our human experience. All I have to say is that many people actually survive and even thrive in the midst of war, with debilitating illnesses, after losing loved ones, while living in horrendous sanitary conditions, having to walk miles just to get a ration of water (By the way, megabusinesses are actually rerouting villages' waterways so their plants can bottle water for our consumption! See, and, (Once you read about it, you'll probably stop buying bottled water.)

But I digress......

I really just want to put it on record that I'm serious about living beyond the fears that render me less effective than I need to be. According to filmmaker Michael Moore, the American media pretty much scares us to death with its ads and news reports, so it's no wonder our bellies flutter like flags throughout the day. We're reminded of aging with its creams and procedures, of how much fun we're not having by all the fun people are having on TV, of what marriage should be according to TV love images, and how clean our house should be-- even if our careers keep us away from it 12 or 13 hours a day, and on and on. There is so much stuff in our heads to distract us from what could be (on most days) rather pleasurable journeys.

 So, I simply want to confront the feeling of fear when it happens, and truly consider how much worse things could be. That's how I'll start reprogramming myself. As I've said before, most days things are soooo much better than they could be. This really might be as good as it gets, so we might as well start enjoying it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I hear it all the time: “It is what it is.” All of a sudden, not only do I hear it all the time, I catch myself actually saying it. So when something is so contagious, there must be some sort of truth behind it. Of course I investigated (internally). This is what came to me: It’s sort of the “Que sera sera” of the ‘60s. (What will be will be..) That was a time that definitely had its challenges, but we’ve taken stress to a whole new level, and nobody can bring it down but us.
Since I’ve been reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, I’ve been trying to “drop into wordlessness.” That’s basically to stop thinking and trying to find words and labels for everything that we see, feel, encounter. Dropping into silence is not easy, and I’m not very good at it. What I realize is that there are probably some people who can get through their days and minutes without keeping a mental commentary. That's what I want to do. Because all that thinking and interpreting does little more than fuel our internal dramas. Even if we’re rerunning pleasant conversations, we’re setting ourselves up to juxtapose them to not so pleasant ones. We simply think too much. We stress ourselves out by following any lead our busy minds put in front of us.
There is a real peace that comes when I don’t try to figure out every little thing. I don’t have to keep my mind fixed on what every nuance means, wonder about how the weekend will turn out, or how the students will behave in class next period, or where my guests will want to go when they visit next week. There's a time for all of that, but it's just not all the time.
 I’m learning to sit and look a little vacant sometimes, or wait until something passes, or let a comment just dangle in the air. Because, probably, 9 times out of 10 it simply is what it is. So what’s to think about?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Life Well Lived

I went to a funeral yesterday, and I was inspired! The seventy-two-year-old wife, mother and grandmother was eulogized as a stilleto-wearing, convertible Mercedes driving, Saks Fifth Avenue shopping, world traveler who didn't care what people thought about her. She had many friends, and I expect just as many who wondered about her choices, her priorities. Probably because she broke from the mold to which they had relegated her. She was from a small town, moved to the north. I learned she worked in a care-giving related field, but had the kind of sense that allowed her to make much from little. She had the know-how to stretch her income (which was not large) to accommodate trips to Paris, Greece, Africa, England, India, and Caribbean Islands. She had the confidence to do all this traveling while her land-bound husband bowed out of these excursions. She followed her dream to see the world.

Of course her sons and grandchildren shed plenty of tears, but the funeral was so generally upbeat that it didn't elicit very many tears. Probably because it was so clear that she'd thoroughly enjoyed her journey. I was THRILLED! I don't want the life she had because if I never fly again, or never own a mink, I'll still die happy. But I want her courage to know who the hell I am, and live the way I want to live, and not give much of a damn about who wonders why I do the things I do. Hats off to you Bessie Williams-- a courageous woman who knew how to live her own life... in spite of.....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We're natural beings!

Now and then I feel out of sorts-- like this week. So I went to see my herbalist, Margie Mulholland ( Finding Margie was one of the most serendipitous events of my life because I feel like she's kept me alive. (If not alive, at least fully functioning.) What Margie teaches is that we are natural beings whose physical and emotional well-being is intimately tied to our natural environment.

So lately I'd been eating lots of fruit and salads and feeling just awful. Margie reminded me that if I go to the farmers' market, I won't find such things there. So that's not what my body needs right now. It's winter, and it's kidney season (Yes, our bodies have seasons. Liver season is next.) I need  warm things-- greens, squash, chard, beans, and soups, etc. I made the changes and started to feel better. (I'm at an artists' conference as I write.)

My point is that we have so many options in this age of instant everything. We have access to whatever we can afford-- from practically anywhere around the world. But just because we can have it doesn't mean we should have it. If we want good health, we have to learn as much about our bodies as we do about our all the other things we love. When we do, we can often generate our own healing.

                                                  Margie told me about the daikon radish. Now doesn't that look delicious?

 " It is also rich in enzymes that help in digesting fats and starchy foods.  There have been a few studies which indicate that Daikon may have some benefit in fighting or preventing cancer. Daikon is a good source of many of the same compounds that give broccoli its anti-cancer reputation.  And finally, it’s an excellent source of  phosphorus, potassium and vitamin C  – a great immune booster this time of year" (

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Living up to your own expectations

This weekend I met a milestone. For several years I've needed to update my website. I really NEEDED to do it, and whenever I thought about it, I'd have the disappointed feeling that I hadn't completed that task yet. I vascillated between hiring somebody to do it and tackling it myself. Then I'd get caught up in a Catch-22 thinking about how low-tech I am, and at the same time thinking how I only need a simple website-- no bells and whistles.

To make this story shorter.... Yesterday I sat down and did it. I woke up with the intention of making a link on one page work. When I shut down my laptop at 2:30 a.m., I'd actually revised all the pages to the extent that I don't have to cringe when I think of someone accessing the site. It's not perfect, but it's functional.

Grown daughter captured me with my brain in full web-building mode.

Months ago I mentioned how much we can actually accomplish for our jobs-- when somebody is paying us to do something that actually meets THEIR goals. What was so disappointing for me was knowing that when I really focus and give something my best shot, I can really get a job done and meet other people's expectations.

But I couldn't seem to harness that kind of energy to meet my own goal.

So after spending all those hours with technical support and taking notes and refreshing and downloading and linking and on and on..... I feel like I've reached some new place in my own development. I got in that zone that folks talk about when you know you're in flow and you're doing what you're supposed to. The Secret,  Wayne Dyer, Stuart Wilde, Deepak Chopra, and probably all the motivators make reference to it. And it was different from my writing zone-- because writing is something I really just love to do. But... (and here's my tip).... there are things that we don't actually love to do, but we want to accomplish them. We want very much to get to the other side of some gateway task that leads to more .... More what? More of something we want.. whatever that may be.

So I just want to encourage you to set the intention and stay in your (metaphorical) seat until you get it done. What a great feeling!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You can go home again.

Whenever I go back to the small town in which I spent nine childhood years, my heart swells from the feeling of connection. When I visit, I attend the same church I did with my grandmother. Back then-- decades and decades ago, the church was filled with her sisters and cousins and their families, and dozens of friends. Now their descendants-- nieces, nephews, grand- and  great-grand, even greatgreatgrand descendants-- are in the choir and among the congregation.
When I sat in the church today, I reflected on how much I know about these people. I've known them all my life. I always visit and catch up on what's going on with this one or that one. All of us have had smooth and bumpy spots. Some tragedies, some victories.

Today I understood that the connections are more important than the details. People in small communities can fall from grace under the watchful eyes of neighbors, relatives, friends. They can bounce back, and fall in step, and learn firsthand that life is about forgiveness, support, renewal, and humanity.

Those of us who have moved away from such tightknit communities of connection can forget that mistakes and bad choices are notches on our timeline, but they don't define us for long..... UNLESS we punish ourselves in our minds over and over and over. Holding on to our unhappy memories and judging ourselves will hold us prisoner long after the world has forgotten and moved on with the business of living.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Finding the Middle Way

I notice that young people speak in hyperbole a lot. “That is awesome!” or “I was so pissed off!” or "I can’t stand this!” or “I had this amazing .......!” or “It was #%!#*! awful!” Most times, what they’re talking about isn’t THAT big a deal.
If you’re young and reading this, my advice is to take it down a notch. Too much emotion is the stuff of which nervous breakdowns are made. I do believe that a lot of mood swings and depression are fueled by exaggeration at both ends.  Highs too high, and lows too low.
In your daily life, find the middle way. The middle way is about expecting life to have its ups and downs, and taking them in stride.  It’s accepting things for what they are without overemphasizing a lot of it. Realize that most of what goes on is just what life is all about. That way, when something truly amazing happens, you can appreciate it. And when something is truly devastating, it won’t take you out.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Eckhart Tolle: "The opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite."

Eckhart Tolle (by now you know he's one of my favorites) wrote, "The opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite."
I like that as a quote for starting my year. There are so many implications. I can go really really deep when it comes to energy and life cycles and such.
But I won't do that now. Too much said is usually too much said.
So on this second day of an exciting new year, I will accept this quote as a mandate to really live this life that I have. There's no diminishing of life as we age. We are simply having a life...the one we are making-- either consciously or unconsciously.
 That's my tip--  Let's be as conscious as possible about what we do with LIFE. Let's not drag through our days clinging to beliefs that we haven't examined for ages. Let's not assume that because something didn't work six months ago means that it won't work now. .Let's process our circumstances in ways that resonate with possibility and light-heartedness.
And let's raise our expectations and believe we can create the best, unique, most soul-satisfying lives we can. Not as dictated by society or tradition or the community or the culture, but as dictated by the tiny, vibrant place within that's counting on us to get the most out of this journey. 
I will continue to contemplate on "Life has no opposite."
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