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Get REAL

      

Real life doesn’t come equipped with background music. There’s no re-takes, no script, and no fast forward.

Yearn for a world of cunning deceptions, illicit romance and characters teetering on the brink of chaos? Nah, me neither. But, just tune in to shows like Housewives, Bachelors and Bridezillas, and you’ll get a hefty dose. Is getting ‘Married at First Sight” a remotely good idea or is ‘Amish Mafia’ a thing? Would anyone really want to ‘Swap Wives?’ The idea of being a ‘Survivor’ on a wild isle is difficult enough; maneuvering it naked, hell to the no. Maybe the sheer crazy of it all is reason enough to watch reality TV but in my offbeat experience, real life coughs up more than enough drama without adding technicolor crazy.

Reality shows let you experience life’s idiocyncrasies and dramas by osmosis, right from the comfort of your own couch. While they are often a bit redundant, bizarre antics of a celeb family can provoke emotions the daily grind fails to deliver. (thank goodness!) Once upon a time, media experts thought reality TV was a passing fad, now it dominates channel lineups.  Sure they’ve been criticized for dumbing down their audiences, but to many, it’s the recreational payoff that counts. To be fair, some might be educational, some even inspire, but hey, ‘Honey BooBoo’? Seriously?

Imagination and fiction make up three quarters of our real life. Simone Weil

While visiting another dimension that allows you zone out from real life for a half hour might be cool, I’m still kind of sketchy about how much they actually resemble ‘real’ life. Peeping into each mundane moment of people’s lives, albeit contrived, is a little too George Orwell for me. It also begs the question ‘why’? Disguised as entertainment, some of the worst values and personal qualities have been enshrined, things we teach our children every day not to do or be. Even the craziest show somehow doesn’t get ‘voted off the island’, along with any stalwart naked adventurers.  And it helps no one’s entrepreneurial initiative or spirit to be rewarded with a sneering ‘You’re fired’.

We all know where THAT’S gotten us. Continue reading “Get REAL”

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Everything Happens for a Reason . . . and other fairytales.

by Tori Morrison – UNSPLASH

Believing that nifty mantra wholesale can be hard to swallow sometimes, especially when ‘everything’ ain’t so pretty. We want to believe things happen for a reason simply because order seems a whole lot better than chaos, right? We tell ourselves and others, when we don’t see any other explanation for things that happen in life, that it’s part of a bigger picture in the karma universe. When lives are turned upside down. When our spouse, parent or child is gone in an unthinkable instant. When a sudden loss of job, income, or house leaves us upended and lost. Thinking it was all part of a greater plan might bring momentary comfort, but it can also leave us frustrated and stuck.

We look for reasons everywhere. We try to justify why the world, and the people in it, behaves as it does. We become scarred and scared by experiences that seem to happen for no reason whatsoever. Cancer. Alzheimers. Death. (Anything on that one? I’ll wait . . .) Oh sure, eventually we learn and grow from all the hard stuff. Done right, we even become better people from living through those times, but the ‘why’? That’s the million dollar question.

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. Megan Devine

Things can and do happen for no reason at all except one that’s universal – we are just human beings having a human experience (in other words, shit happens). In our bumbling search for answers, we forget that no one promised us a rose garden. So, we run in circles looking for cause because the effect often sucks. We look back on our choices, decisions, roads taken – and not taken. We might find a breadcrumb, a clue we hope will lead us to believable reasons. But when illness visits, loss completely ravages, we lose our livelihood or worse, someone we loved more than our own life, no facsimile of a reason will ever be good enough.

There’s no earthly way we can sugar coat the why of murder or child abuse, decimating tornadoes or the crushing grief of SIDS. As much as we yearn for any emotional or psychological balm, no matter how well meaning, any phrase du’jour about life events having a reason can’t take away real pain. In fact, it might make people feel even worse. As lousy as it sounds, feeling desolate when bad things happen is part and even necessary to the grieving process. There’s no easy out and attempting to explain it away with platitudes, just get in the way.

“Don’t try to fix me. Acknowledge me. Stand with me. Be with me.” Tim Lawrence

Continue reading “Everything Happens for a Reason . . . and other fairytales.”
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Grinch in Movie Wonderland

By the time the clock strikes Christmas Eve, most of us have watched more than our fair share of holiday movies. Thanksgiving weekend alone, the annual kickoff for all things merry, aired enough saccharine Christmas movies to replace the pecan pie. The year I binge-watched Hallmark Countdown to Christmas, I vowed to set limits on the sugary sweet flicks that populate the season like chocolate sprinkles on a sundae. There’s just so much of that stuff you can inhale before your sugar high propels you to la-la-land.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”  A Christmas Carol

When my kids were small, we nailed all the prerequisite family holiday movies from  Frosty the Snowman to A Charlie Brown Christmas, colorful animation to traditional Yuletide schmaltz. We cheered the Grinch’s change of heart and Rudolph’s blinking red badge of individuality. But, like anything else, an overdose of sugar can put your teeth on edge. Maybe Christmas movies come only once a year so you have time to regroup before getting your next fix of contrived holiday cheer.

But that’s just me.

When the kids flew the coop, movies like Santa is Coming to Town went with them. Grown-up shows rang in the season but didn’t always ring my bells. My house didn’t quite measure up to the mind-numbing holiday décor that draped over every Hallmark movie set. (and to be honest, eeew) My Christmas lights would never compare to Clark Griswold’s and my slowly morphing monochrome color schemed house (think coastal, remember?) would disappoint any self respecting North Pole resident. Truthfully, isn’t decorating perfection exhausting?

In my very empty nest, I let my not-so-inner graphic designer out, choosing ‘white space’ and a Pantone color palette to Santa’s workshop. Still, I’d watch those Hallmark movies with a certain amount of guilt — and curiosity. How DID that snow, that fell artfully on coats and hats, never melt? If MY hair was pelted with the white stuff while I was gleefully building a flawless snowman, I guarantee it would have that wilted, wet dog look not one ‘fresh from the salon’. And those dollhouse movie towns, bedecked in snow globe perfection? Has anyone ever seen one? They are all a little too blindingly bright, a little too magical for my taste. Any resemblance to the world I live in is purely coincidental.

“Welcome, Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Living in a less than picture perfect world is not a bad thing; it’s a real thing. Unlike a Hallmark holiday-wrapped movie, life isn’t perfect but it’s mostly good, even blessed at tomes. It’s not covered in fairy dust but cookie crumbs, crayon marks, dog hairs and milk (or wine) spills. People don’t always end up happily ever after but lose one another through misunderstandings, hurt and yes, death. Unlike the wistful happy endings in celluloid, they are often just the stuff of dreams.

Still, those Christmas movies, heartfelt or cheesy, come with something for everyone, including a good shot of holiday spirit. Forget the recycled plots and inexorably happy endings we know are the stuff of screenplays. It’s the life lessons, the timeless moral fables that sucker us back in each Christmas season.

If I have to pick a few favorites, one has to be the offbeat (more than a little) Christmas Carol remake, where Bill Murray plays the snarky, jaded Frank Cross. As unhappy and ruthless as his fabled predecessor, Scrooge, Frank Frank learns to “Keep Christmas in my heart” by living in the past, present AND future. He’s transformed into someone whose heart opens to suffering, and struggle. I can’t help but think this tale is even more timely, given these fraught last few years when we, like Frank, are all called to be aware and awake to the injustice and need around us. And, bonus, this Christmas Carol is also as hilarious as heck, populated by characters like a passive aggressive sugarplum fairy who smacks Frank in the head with a toaster. Ah, ya gotta like a woman with spunk!

“Seeing is believing but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”. The Polar Express

Who doesn’t love ELF? With all the reasons to be cynical, depressed about the state of the world and politics (don’t get me started), there are a lot of reasons it might be harder to jingle your bells this year. If you’ve lost someone, it’s even more difficult to experience the season of light without variations of darkness, too.  Buddy the Elf, takes us out of ourselves as he makes the best of every situation. Despite his challenges, he’s determined to spread cheer and positivity everywhere. When he says ‘Smiling is my favorite’, he invites us to do the same. And it’s good to remember that even just a smile can be a light in someone’s darkness.

Continue reading “Grinch in Movie Wonderland”

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What If . . .

. . . everyone on earth jumped at the same time?

. . . tomatoes didn’t exist (think pizza)

. . . Rome actually hadn’t fallen?

. . . our religion was each other?

. . . the 2016 election went another way (oops – rhetorical)?

. . . we could be anything or anyone we wanted to be?

What if’s are funny things. They can spark change or regret. They answer curiosity – with more questions. They can also allow us to let our imaginations run wild, which might be my favorite part.

But, aside from worrying about never being an Italian girl never having tried a tomato, ‘what if’ those words could jumpstart a change we hadn’t thought of. Whether we crave a change in thinking, ideas or behavior, asking ‘what if’ opens our mind to whatever it can conceive, and that can be a world of possibility. The answer to ‘what if’ is also a powerful declaration of intention that can empower us and ignite our imagination. The right question is a diving board we jump off into options and opportunity.

“What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”  Erin Hanson

On the other hand, ‘what if’ can also be a nifty way of keeping us stuck. Negative questions keep us stuck in the past, produce endless why’s and paralyzing regret. ‘What if I hadn’t changed jobs when I did?’ ‘What if I hadn’t gone on that first date?’ For months after my husband died suddenly, I tortured myself with questions like ‘What if I hadn’t left the house for that hour?’ ‘What if they hadn’t done that last procedure?’ ‘What if we made wrong decisions on treatments?’  No matter how I framed them, none of the answers would have changed what was ultimately not in our destiny. When we are pain, we look for anything to make it better but nothing there’s no answer will change the past and even if we could, that is not the best place to hang out.

Nobody’s got time for dat. Continue reading “What If . . .”

Copy that., Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

Refill, anyone?

HELLO . . . I’m __________.

Imagine those cheery little ID stickers with descriptors like “Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty Person” after our names. We’d be instantly busted as relentlessly cheerful or obsessively pessimistic. Awkward. Those who wander through life under a persistent gray cloud might be predisposed to resent endlessly cheery types. And the perennial blue-sky humans would really be unhappy if gloom ‘n doomers rained on their parade.

Me? I’m a happy/not-always-happy hybrid, and I suspect a lot of you can identify — depending on the day or period of life. Basically, I’m an optimist with varying shades of the ‘other shoe is gonna fall’ thrown in. (get it?)

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created.”  Einstein

Two people can see the same glass entirely differently. Though, given a choice, I’d choose half-full every time. Just because I hum Monte Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life”, doesn’t mean I have it nailed or that my glass is half-full of puppies and unicorns. Hey, I’m the girl, who came home, after an hour away, to find my husband dead, remember? That brand of lightening can really derail even the biggest optimist like a tsunami! But, whether you’re knee-capped by grief, have critical struggles with health or are broken, humbled or depressed by other stuff life throws at you, even a half empty glass can slowly be refilled.

Don’t feel like Pollyanna reincarnated? The reality is that pessimists stay stuck in the proverbial black cloud; optimists find the silver lining— eventually. Optimists are not always the happiest campers and pessimists aren’t consistently gloom and doom. On any given day, things can look positive or negative, good or bad. The best thing we can do is not to lounge around too long in the bottom of the glass. Continue reading “Refill, anyone?”

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Listen Up.

hand-to-ear-listening

“Are you listening?” That was a pretty reasonable question to ask my 94 year old father who hated his hearing aids.  But when that question is asked of you, it’s time to either check your hearing— or your interest. Not gonna lie – I’ve been guilty as charged many times of being a less than stellar listener, as my daughter would confirm. In my defense, I’m usually hypnotized by two crazy cute grandsons. Still, from time to time, listening is an art-form that we can all use a refresher course in.

Everyone has a story to tell. A story that’s unique and personal to each of us. Sometimes it takes the form of seemingly mundane rants about things that make up daily life. And sometimes it’s about what runs deep beneath the words. But when we express our fears, our confusion, our needs, those words can help us reach a new level of understanding — and entrance into someone’s emotional lock-box. Our reception of the words shows respect and support; the trust it confers in response is priceless.

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. G.K. Chesterton

Too often the daily detritus, those things that stroll around in your mind,  plop down, completely uninvited,  into the midst of a conversation. And it’s not pretty. One day, a few years ago, one of my besties called me on it. Busted. To be fair, I was in the midst of a design project when she called, but it was no excuse for being half-present to her. After apologizing, I proposed a fix that I’ve adhered to ever since; something that’s helped ensure our 40 year friendship. If I’m busy when she calls, I fess up and ask if I can call her back when I can give her my full attention. Both of us are heard; both of us are seen.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” M. Scott Peck

Really listening is one of the best gifts we can give each other.  When people really listen acutely to another, when you see their essence as well as what they are trying to convey, it is a powerful moment. And one that is priceless to every one of us humans. Continue reading “Listen Up.”

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I. See. You.

Eye1
whats-your-sign.com

Three little words – that speak everything. When that Pandora heroine in Avatar says to her human, “I see you” it’s a pretty ‘awwwwww’ moment. But, beyond warm and fuzzy, what do those words really mean? I’d like to think they are a personal text to your soul, assuring that “I know you exist, I see your essence and I get you.”  It says that someone sees us for who we are, what we can become, and that they have a backpack ready for whatever journey is on your horizon.

Such small words yet, what is more profound than feeling we are accepted, validated and embraced? The first time these words touched me was during dinner with a dear (much younger) friend of mine. We’ve shared a long friendship and a lot of life experiences, though each from our own different plane. Yet, I saw that night that the ability to understand, with such interest and caring, can forge a connection that transcends generation. That connection allows us to see, in one another, inner spirits that aren’t all that different.

Never confuse “I see you” with  “I hear ya’. Nope. That’s a whole other aspect of understanding, and a pretty casual one at that. Really ‘seeing’ someone x-rays the person beneath loneliness, grief, even the smiles we wear before the world. It sees beneath the MEH shrug about really hating our job, the emptiness of not being understood, or the pressure to keep up. It also bypasses feelings of not being good or pretty or rich enough. That kind of ‘seeing’ accepts our regrets, and fears, along with all the goodness we keep locked up, tight as a drum. Continue reading “I. See. You.”

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Baggage Claim

Everyone has baggage. Everyone. Some carry bags as small as coin purses; others the size of a dumpster. While I’d like to say mine is wallet size, given a long, complicated life, it’s probably more of a satchel. Of course, I’d have to count make-up, keys with fuzzy pom poms, and all the just-in-case stuff in there, too, but still.

Each piece that piles into our bags, each painful, awkward piece, built our lives one way or the other. Stuff you did – or stuff that was done to you. Unresolved emotional issues, traumas, hurts and habits from growing up or adult years, all shape and mold us. They also add up, if not tended to, and morph into pretty hefty knapsacks we lug around with straps cutting into our shoulders. The weight alone, let alone the memories, trip us into withdrawing, or holding back in relationships that just might expose what the heck we’re carrying. Sometimes, we can’t even remember what is stuffed in that bag — but it remembers us.

When you bring past baggage into the present, it might be a short trip.

If we choose our friends, based on how much baggage they bring to the table, there might be a short list on the invite list. Choosing our partners, based on the skeletons in their backpacks, can be a smart as well as sketchy since it allows us to either dodge a bullet or — a potentially wonderful relationship. Life has a habit of piling a lot of stuff into our humanoid valises and it’s up to us to know the amount of weight we can carry without breaking – as well as if we can help carry another’s.

When cancer decided to drop in before our marriage vows, it grew my husband’s baggage to industrial size proportions. That kind of load can break all the snaps and zippers of budding married life. Luckily, we both just grabbed an end — and kept moving forward. But, that doesn’t work in every situation – nor should it. Just like group travel tours, we’re each in charge of our own suitcase and we’re the ones who have to carry and unpack it. That’s why your tour guide cautions you to travel light.

Everyone has baggage, maybe we should help each other carry it.”  Rob Liano

How much does your life weigh? Now there’s a heavy question. Depending on all the ‘stuff’ we jam into it, our bag can be one damn heavy load, certainly too much for puny shoulders to carry for a lifetime. (and this is coming from a chick whose purse alone could use a rollaway wheels.) Unexpressed feelings, long held hurts and bad habits pile one on another. Past baggage weighs down our present.

Relationships can be the city dump of baggage. Sometimes you’ll get a widescreen, technicolor view of a potential partner’s heavy duty baggage; sometimes it’s the unsuspecting moving van of tattered boxes and bins that blindside you. But, then someone offers you an honest inventory of even the most difficult, messy baggage they’ve painfully carried, and it gets your attention — even your heart. When someone is able to identify, unpack, deal with and grow from all the ponderous stuff they’ve been lugging around, ah, that’s a person you can trust and open your heart to. When we’re able to introspectively shake out our own backpack of weighty history and evolve in the process, that’s a trifecta of happy. Continue reading “Baggage Claim”

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Book Junkie? Why, yes.

belle-weeee-library

My obsession is pretty harmless as compulsions go. I’ve been under its spell for as long as I can remember and I make no apologies. My adolescent self could rip through an entire pile of Nancy Drew mysteries within a few days and I frequently employed by under-the-covers flashlight after curfew. I kickstarted my kids’ obsessions for books with their own library card before they could even walk. And what DO people do on a beach without a book (or three)?

I confess. I’m a book junkie.

Through the years, my tastes may have changed but my addiction to the written word is still in full swing. When my super smart youngest daughter was still living at home, we craved our Barnes and Nobles Friday night soirees. Indulging our reading addiction was about as wild and crazy as we got. We’re just such badasses.

Every time the library called to tell me the book(s) I reserved were in and needed to be picked up, I’d do my happy dance.  My kids rolled their eyes. It might have had something to do with the Jenga pile of books in my bedroom still begging to be read. What might be (slightly) worse is that my book case holds many back-up, wanna-be-reads and possibilities, patiently bi their time in the sun that never seems to come.

You can find magic everywhere you look. Just sit down and read a book. Dr. Seuss

In all these years, I never joined a book club because, well, I’m just that much of a renegade. Plus I need my  freedom to choose. Don’t even get me started about going to a movie and comparing it to the book because the book usually wins. And how about when a really great story you haven’t been able to put down finally ends? What kind of author DOES that to people?

I like big books and I cannot lie.

Books wait for me to join them at the end of the day. They sit patiently, ready to both entertain — and put me to sleep. Some nights only few pages get read before sleep takes over; others, until I glance at the clock, I’d never know a hour and 8 chapters have passed Apparently, my eyes compete with my need to find out what happens next. I can’t count how many times my husband removed my glasses and said book from my sleeping form.

Can you admit to sighing with annoyance when someone asks a question at a critical part in the story? Does the word ‘bookaholic’ ring a happy bell? People who warn about the dangers of walking while you’re on the phone never saw someone book in their face. Now THAT’s scary. Continue reading “Book Junkie? Why, yes.”

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Beyond Words

WORDSYour memoir – in six words. What a concept! When I read “Not Quite What I Was Planning” a few years ago, I thought it was genius. The clever little nuggets spilling from that book were profound, odd, funny and powerful. I knew that those who wrote them, both famous and not-so-famous, were really onto something. Just imagine, an entire life compressed in succinct 6-word verbiage. I began to think of everything in the smallest set of words possible. Waiting on the phone through 10 degrees of voicemail, or sitting in traffic, I thought of everything in 6 word increments.

Condensing words to a powerful, precious few is hardly new. Centuries ago, Confucius, said, “One joy dispels a hundred cares” and people through the ages recognized that verbosity isn’t a requisite for memorable statements. As a copywriter, I’m used to compacting messages. I can stuff ten pounds of thought into a clever five-pound bag and transform a stiff company mission statement into a sharp tagline. But reading this book gave the process a whole new meaning. While more than a few of the ingenious memoirs made me laugh out loud, I realized that they were also terrific creative self-analysis. Super cool. Continue reading “Beyond Words”

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