Monday, July 27, 2020

Happy during a pandemic? What in the world?

Yesterday, my husband and I sat on the bank of the Roanoke River. In an instant, the breeze, the sun, the coffee hit me in just the right way, and I was BLISSFUL. In my heart, I was saying, It doesn’t get any better than this. Then an inner voice screeched: Wait a minute! There’s a pandemic! Race relations are horrific! And you’re this happy? What’s wrong with you?

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. I realized I already know the answer to those questions I asked myself. There’s nothing wrong with me except that I’m getting healthier. I’m walking the walk instead of talking the talk. For years I was a marathon journaler. I would go deep into mental masturbation about a troubling situation and come out on as many sides of it as I could fathom. In no time, anxiety itched again—first just a little, then  it grew until there I was scratching furiously in my journal once more. 

Now I know, trouble comes, bad things happen, and there are a dozen horrific things I can latch onto and feel lousy about. Mental health happened when I stopped latching onto those things. 

I no longer nurse wounds and worry myself silly. What I do now is acknowledge what’s going on. Yes, there’s a pandemic. I’m never without my masks. I listen to Dr. Fauci. I carry hand sanitizer in a grapefruit scent that makes me happy when I use it. 

And yes, there’s racial tension up the wazoo. But I’m mindful of kind people of all races, and I believe kindness spreads. I send good vibes to protesters, and I interact honestly with whomever it makes sense to engage with about the topics of race, racism, bias—about what I know about being Black in this society for decades, and about how I believe we can move to a new and better place.

With all that going on, I’m still happy because things can always get worse before they get better. But as the old folks and the religious have been known to say, I woke up in my right mind and breathing on my own. If that’s the baseline, then I’m thriving. So I’d best tap into that good fortune and enjoy it while it’s here. Whether it comes as a great walk or talk with my husband or daughter or family members or friends, or a great meal and a good glass of red wine, or that the bumblebees are just having a party in my oregano bush, I’m down for it.

Perspective is everything. Things haven’t been great every day of my life. Every relationship has its dark spells. Then there was that season when my mother went down hill fast. There was a year when I worked so hard and under so much pressure that I prayed daily not to have a stroke before I found a new situation. And there have been plenty more…..

I believe a commitment to mental health involves making the best of what’s happening right now. It helps if we’re expecting (with fingers crossed) that it’s liable to get better. But it really is (I’d bet dollars to doughnuts) about seeing something good right where you are.

So I’ll go back to that previous paragraph and tell you what “being okay right now” looks like when life’s not so great:
-       When my relationship was in that dark spell, I listened to all this motivational stuff about releasing the past and opening my heart. And it worked; I felt gung ho and motivated one day at a time.
-       When my mother was going down hill fast, I started my day with a magnificent cup of coffee from this particular little shop—because I knew that was going to be the highlight of my day, and everyday needs a highlight.
-       When I had all that self-employment job pressure, I put myself on a tight budget and delighted daily in how much I didn’t spend because I was setting myself up to make less money. 

So I’m all about being blissful—even during these harried times, and I’ll take every opportunity to find something delightful. And don’t you be afraid to give yourself over to delight. It simply makes life better. And that’s what it’s all about. Being alive. Making the most of it. Raising energy. One deep breath at a time.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Commit to your well-being

With an ongoing pandemic and an unsettling racial climate, staying grounded is more important than ever. My mind reels with conversations I'd like to have with everyone from careless socializers to panicking parents to Trump (I refuse to call him a president because he cusses in public and uses language that's barely fitting for a school boy.)

So today I recommit to meditate regularly. Not for a string of days until I feel more settled. But as a practice. Like brushing my teeth and washing dishes. Whenever I meditate, life works better for me. Insights come out of the blue. Interactions feel more harmonious. My Spirit settles peacefully into present moments throughout my day, and I'm happier. 

No matter what's going on in the world, you have to make YOURSELF strong enough to make it through. 

What practice benefits you and improves the quality of your life?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Power of Prioritizing Passion & Pleasure

This week I had a remarkable AHA! It was after a magical evening among local booksellers, and Harper Collins representatives and their authors showcasing new books. Wine flowed and conversations about writing and stories and inspiration charged the atmosphere. The night encapsulated this phase of my life which is focused primarily on creative writing.

For more than six months now, I've been finishing my novel, gardening, and cooking with abandon--all things I love. Though I've been a writer since my teens, it's the first time ever that creative writing is my only job. For more than a decade, I wrote grants for education agencies and underserved communities; that was rewarding, but it didn't satisfy my creativity itch.

As for my AHA...

My friends know me as an epic journaler. Over the years, my journey has been peppered heavily with all manner of turmoil. Since I was a child, I've regularly (nearly daily) scribed multiple pages to unpack and analyze the angst--all captured in a literal trunk full of journals that have seen me through stuff. 

But recent seasons have generated a single journal with few entries that rarely fill a page.

I now realize that the major cure for what has generally "ailed" me for decades, is to write much and write consistently. It's my passion. It's what my soul craves.

Full-time writing is a luxury, I know, and people's lives are busy and chaotic. But I want to whisper humbly in your ears (because it's hard to hear such advice when the demands are endless.) If there's something burning in your heart, find a space to do that thing. It will soothe you in ways that nothing else will. Whether cooking, sewing, drawing, singing, reading, running, building, crafting, cycling, nurturing, volunteering, workshopping, or whatever it is the makes your body smile, do it.

To paraphrase author Louise Erdrich, let the dust bunnies gather and the plants go unwatered. Author Zelda Lockhart said when her child was young, she wrote in 15 minute clips, in the car between errands. Poet Lenard Moore, mentor to many of us, is relentless about writing everyday despite a loooooong daily drive to his teaching job.

So heal what ails you by making your passion your priority. Your passion is ultimately what will sustain you as your best self. We often say there's no time. But it can be found. Start by borrowing some from tasks that won't matter to your happiness & well-being.

Try some of these:
  • Chat less. Let voicemail pick up.
  • Time social media engagement so it doesn't gobble up hours.
  • Skip shopping trips & useless meetings.
  • Be more efficient at work, so you can get out earlier. (I was a HUGE procrastinator while teaching--which meant extra hours at the end of the day. Which meant, of course, that I had to journal about overcoming procrastination.)

Trust me. Pursuing pleasure by engaging in your areas of passion--for even minutes everyday, will do you unimaginable good. 

Most recent basket of journals...


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reflecting on Lucille Clifton's "why people be mad at me sometimes"

Image result for lucille clifton

Lucille Clifton

why people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember 
their memories
and i keep remembering mine

Staying grounded requires remembering your own voice. For many many seasons of my life, I felt as if more legitimate "others" stood whispering in my ears. Telling me their stories about why I should do things a certain way, see circumstances from a particular point of view. I knew they were just opinions borne of their experiences in the world--their values, biases, tastes, fears. 

I wasn't strong enough to drown them out and consistently trust my own truths. 

Clifton’s poem reminded me of those times in my life when I contorted myself to fit into someone else's good graces, or earn a nod, or avoid raised brows or critical responses. Times when I turned against what I preferred, what comforted me, what made me feel whole, what I knew in my soul. 

Now it helps me to envision my soul as a strong and powerful warrior buried in my belly going absolutely ballistic when ignored. A warrior who doesn't care if people get mad at me.

Sometimes it's a challenge, but if I don't listen to me, who else will?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Staying Present Isn't Rocket Science

Today I had a minor epiphany about staying present. The concept has become a critical part of handling stress and achieving peace of mind. It suddenly became clear to me that being present is actually making ourselves tackle the things that need doing that are right in front of us.

We've evolved beyond having to feed the chickens to keep them alive and us from starving, or harvesting our crops so they don't go to seed. So now we fail to see the urgency of handling mundane tasks on a daily basis.

In an era of convenience and incredible amounts of leisure time, we often find ourselves doing nothing important for a large part of our days. When we're channel surfing, watching random YouTube videos, scrolling through Snapchat or Facebook, what we're really doing is vacating. Too much vacating (even a couple of hours), and we've actually set ourselves up for stress and all kinds of problems in the near future.

How? Why?

Because when we're vacating, time evaporates, and we're not taking care of what's in front of us that needs doing. Things like....
Washing dishes
Folding laundry
Grading papers
Paying bills
Playing with the kids
Communicating with other people in your environment
Working on a project

When we don't do these things as they arise, we screw things up because they pile up or suddenly should have BEEN done. Then we complain because we're all stressed out because:
the kitchen is now a wreck, and you don't have an hour to spend cleaning;
the laundry takes half a day or more;
the bills accrued late fees;
the health routine was blown eating cheap fast food;
the novel or article didn't get written;
the goal didn't get met;
the grading, shopping, reading, knitting, etc. didn't get done; and
the kids and spouse suddenly seem incredibly annoying.

What actually happened was we spent way too much time lost in TV land, cyberspace, or just farting around before we did the important stuff.

So staying present doesn't have to be as complicated as bringing our attention back to the moment and paying attention to our breath. It can start with looking around, getting up, and doing what needs doing. After that, we can vacate into cyberspace or TV land, and fart around as much as we like.

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......


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.