A Few Words on Compassion

October 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

You may have seen Monica Lewinsky’s speech by now, recently presented at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. I remember well her being a target of some pretty vicious emotional attack. Depending on your age you will too. It was The Big Scandalous News. Can’t imagine the road she’s traveled back to some degree of “normalcy”, but I’m happy to see her turn it around, use her high profile to aim that experience towards something potentially good. And she does so very genuinely. My applause, Monica; big and loud applause.

And I hope she strikes a chord. She struck a chord with me ~ which is, quite frankly, what the hell is wrong with people? I’ve never understood “meanness”. I understand anger, and I understand wrongful things said and done, I even understand rage. I understand people have this incredibly wide range of emotions that run the gamut from joy to grief, love to hate, forgiveness to resentment, appreciation to bitterness, pride to shame. But unless you’ve got a mental illness as the root cause, being outright rude, being thoughtlessly and openly mean is incomprehensible to me.

I also understand that for some reason, kids in particular can be very mean to one another. There’ve always been mean kids, mean people, mean situations. Not that that’s “okay”, it just “is”. But the continuing rise in cyber-bullying brings all this to a whole new and deeply disturbing level, because it can be anonymous or feel “safely barricaded”. The culprits hawk their slurs behind the closed doors of digital gadgets and screen names – like a video game, it’s almost like it’s not real. But it’s real, alright, and I simply can’t get my head around this growing culture of “mean.” This sort of human indifference. The opposite of compassion.

(And it’s not just kids. Hello grown-ups. Hello news outlets. What’s wrong here? A need to be right? Feel powerful? Be the first to know? A mass gossip gene?)

In the old days it hurt well enough if someone picked on the fat kid, or the slow kid, or the geeky boy the clumsy girl. I’m not sure it if was a good or a bad thing to know who your taunter was, but maybe you had it out in the playground, or maybe you grew up to be a wild success and it no longer mattered. But you knew who to steer clear of. And more than likely, the person doing the damage knew it was wrong. I have to wonder, are we cultivating a society where right and wrong aren’t recognized? Who’s teaching what to whom these days?

Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me. We were taught this growing up, and there’s truth there. But it can hurt, some people more than others, and while I think we need to develop self-esteem and thicker skins and not shrivel into a ball when someone is less than kind, those tools aren’t always built-in, they take time.

Think before you speak. Think before you act. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Pretty darn simple.

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The 5 Minute Whine

October 19, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Okay, just for the record, I think this is a dumb rule. Yes, even I, Miss Positive Pants, Miss Live Your Dreams, Miss Make Lemonade From Lemons, Miss Outrageous Happiness, Miss I Can Do This ~ even I sometimes feel the need to whine, and I’ve decided that it’s okay. It might even be healthy. It might be good for you! We all have “those days”, and sometimes ya just need to get it out, let it rip, blow a smallish gasket. Vent. Complain, if you will. Maybe there oughta be a 1-800-WHINE number to call.

Sometimes the act of whining even gives you a fresh perspective. Once it’s over, it somehow clears the air to feeling more appreciative of what you do have, of what’s right in your world, instead of what’s not.

But you only get 5 minutes. And you only get to whine occasionally. Then you have to put your head back on straight, cheer up and move on. Otherwise you become your whining. And that’s just not cool. Because, you know, we are what we think, and any prolonged attention usually produces a state of mind for the better or for the worse. I choose for the better.

But first, I may have to have a good 5 minute whine. Don’t mind if I do. And I certainly won’t mind if you do. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, we’re good. Then we can get back to this more inspiring, less-strict-but-still-firm version of the no whining rule. Who’s in?

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Fun With Apples

October 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Fruits may very well be one of the most universally painted subjects. Fruits, flowers, landscapes, portraits – all very classic.  But fruits in particular, ah … they’re full of delicious secrets, hidden like magic beneath their splendid curves, their dappled, imperfect skins protecting succulent juices dripping with nutrients, new life at their very core. They are marvels. God’s candy. Delivered fresh every season. And to the artist’s eye, something entirely pleasing, century after century.

For me, it’s always been pears and apples. Grapes are nice. Peaches, too. But apples and pears are my favorites. So I delighted in some apple-picking last weekend, and pulling out my handy-dandy iPhone for some on-the-spot shots. And since I’m now an expert, I share with you how to have fun with apples:

First, you go to the farm and walk to the apple orchards. You see your favorite variety (SunCrisps), and just because it’s a beautiful day, stop and take a few pictures. Then you start picking.

Next you take a selfie with your daughter (< insert your own favorite person) (well, she takes the selfie); pick a few more apples, put ‘em in the basket, take ‘em home.

Then you notice the afternoon sun streaming in lovely ribbons through the kitchen window, grab your camera and shoot a few  more shots of your freshly picked produce. Added bonus: you get to eat your prize. All in all, a pretty sweet way to spend an October day. Costs little, inspires much.

But it didn’t end there, because I thought I’d share some apple art into the mix here too. for a real apple fest. Enjoy! :  )

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Outrageous Happiness #10: Traffic Magic

October 1, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Sitting out in the sunshine this past weekend, with a book, a cup of tea, taking in the joy of late-September’s gloriousness, looking up at the first real sparks of color in the changing leaves against a clear cobalt sky, I think to myself: I sure am glad I’m not sitting in traffic right now. Why traffic would pop into my mind at a moment like this, I cannot say. Of course, yes, I also think how beautiful it all is. I’m glad I’m here. Not in traffic. And I’m reminded of the time…

My daughter and I were driving back from a wedding. Cruising the 8 hour stretch from Ohio across the Pennsylvania heartland. We may have been singing “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” to pass the time.

We were super tired. Anxious to be off the road, home and near our pillows, when an hour and a half before “home” we come to a grinding halt. Cars lined up for miles. You know the drill. No where to go, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you’re just there. I begin to fume. Steam shoots from my ears. Shrill words come from my mouth. Hand bangs against the steering wheel.  My daughter chimes in. We sit. And we sit. The car doesn’t move more than a foot at a time. We’re miserable humans stuck at the tail-end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a bunch of other miserable humans. 

It was then that a touch of insanity arrived. I snapped. “You know what, sweetie? This is great. No, I mean this is SO great. This is so great I can hardly believe it! This is exactly where we’re supposed to be, and sitting here, trapped on this highway, is absolutely WONDERFUL! This is FANTASTIC!”

Utterance from the back seat: “Mom, are you okay?”

“YESSSS!”, I shout with delight. “I’m GREAT!”

“Mom?”

“No, really. This is perfect. Don’t you see? This is the best place we could possibly be right now. Sitting here. In our car. Miles from home in a super-sized traffic jam. It’s perfect! I’m so happy we’re here. Aren’t you? I mean, who knows why, but this is where we’re meant to be, so why not embrace that? It’s crazy but it’s true! I’m loving it. Loving the traffic. Loving the road! Loving the other cars with all the other miserable humans inside feeling their miserable thoughts! If only they knew. This is so awesome, hun!”

“O-kaaaay…?”

“Really. It’s more than okay. And pretty soon, the traffic is gonna move and we’re gonna move and then we’ll be on our way and before you know it, we’ll be home near our pillows. We’re gonna travel safely and smoothly. Everyone here’s gonna travel smoothly and safely! The traffic’s gonna move, just you watch. It’ll move exactly at the right time. I can feel it. I just know it. It’s all so right. This is GREAT!!! Smoothly and safely. It’s all gonna move. It’s all good. It’s just as it’s mean to be. And pretty soon….”

And don’t you know, the traffic started to move. Smoothly and safely.

Coincidence, sure …. but it had me convinced that magic had indeed transpired. Nor would it be the first nor the last time that “traffic magic” cast a good spell.

Ah well. Wizardry or not, it was still pretty fine to be enjoying the cloudless sky and shimmering color and warmth of the sun on my skin, instead of aimlessly burning fossil fuel on a highway somewhere.  And all these little joys shone through… The last ripe pepper on the vine, the fully-pumped tires on my bike, butterflies dining on zinnia’s. A cup of tea, a good book. And right then, that was exactly where I was meant to be.

Isn’t it the truth; sometimes the simplest things are the most outrageously uplifting.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

Friday Night Book Club: Devouring Words

September 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

A more delicious work of writing in recent months, I have not read. Anthony Doerr’s latest novel is a shining star.

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from “All the Light We Cannot See”, a stunning novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

We’ve read quite a few books since I last wrote about our Friday Night Book Club ~ many of them noteworthy ~ but All The Light We Cannot See was, to me, the most notably delicious. It’s storytelling at its best, woven with a scrumptious use of language. Doerr marries prose with bold emotion and stark realism, the offspring being sentence after readable, captivating sentence.

And yes, the characters! Always the characters – you have to “care” about them, and we do.

This novel passes my “what makes a book really worthwhile” test with flying colors: It’s got to be purely great storytelling. That means brilliant writing. Personable, intriguing characters. Interesting plots, invisibly rich details. You’re immersed. You’re engaged. You care.

I’ll also add that I like to feel I’m learning something. And here, in All the Light We Cannot See, I learned about a different side of World War II (a subject I seem to be perennially fascinated by), primarily taking place in France and seen through the eyes of two intriguing children. But learning alone is not enough. I wanna be grabbed by the belt, taken on a voyage, filled with wonder. All The Light We Cannot See does all that. It’s one of those books that makes your life feel richer for having read it.

………….

For you book lovers out there, we gather on the first Friday of each month, if you want to read along virtually. Other Book Club Books read since my last Friday Night Book Club posting are The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (loved), The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (loved), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (really loved), and Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (liked).

I also have a really long list of books on my GoodReads author page if anyone wants to connect over there.

Peace, love, happy reading.

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What Poetry Tastes Like

September 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Outrageous Happiness #9: Behaving Badly

September 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

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I had a pretty happy childhood. Excluding my brothers’ taunts, of course, about my report cards and the shape of my feet. Although, these latter attacks were counteracted: “Indian feet” my Uncle Paul told me, with arches so high and feet slightly pigeon-toed, he said it made me walk soundlessly and properly, the way an Indian would. Being the eternal optimist I chose to believe my Uncle’s version.

(But I jest, brothers… for the record, you’ve been just right.)

In any event, back to the childhood. I have many fond memories, but one that randomly popped out today is laughing in church with my Aunt Gina. (no relation to Uncle Paul, in case you were wondering.) What made this such a wonderful experience is that a.) my Aunt was one of the sweetest people ever to walk this earth, with never an unkind word and always erring to the polite and “right” thing to do and b.) this was not the “right” thing to do.

I have no recollection as to what set us off, except that I’m positive it was a particularly somber, serious moment, which made it all so wrong when I felt my shoulders bob with stifled giggles, only to glance over at my Aunt who was clearly tight-lipped trying to contain her own, and then she looked at me looking at her and it took every, I mean, every, ounce of restraint from each of us not to snort and cackle for the whole crowd to hear. Which, naturally, made our giggles exponentially worse. (No doubt many of you have had a similar experience.) I was sure the bench was shaking. Oh the dread! An out and out laughing fit right then and there. In church. Completely inappropriate. Devilishly fun. I can still laugh thinking of it. Shared joy in our behaving badly.

What this is all leading me to, though, is not memory lane as much as the idea of breaking rules. The whole “life is short” scenario. Making sure to have some fun along the way, which sometimes involves rule-bending. (of course, never, ever, involving harm to others.)

Maybe it’s a food fight. Maybe it’s the hot fudge sundaes my daughter and I sometimes have for breakfast on Sunday (makes sense to me!). Maybe it’s taking a sick day to go fishing or rock climbing or to sit and read a book on the beach. It’s the spontaneous trip to Arizona that lasts two seasons. It’s jumping in the pool with your clothes on. Off the high dive. Taking a left turn instead of a right. Owning a convertible at least once in your life. Staying up late, getting up early, sleeping in the afternoon. Eating the damn cupcake just because you want to. Being the first one on the dance floor. Laughing in church with someone you love.

Be just a little outrageous. Break a rule or two while you’re here; for happiness’ sake.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

Why a Good Book is a Secret Door (TED Talks)

September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Pure joy. Watch, listen and smile…

Trusting

September 16, 2014 § 14 Comments

I’ve found it hard to post my usual posts lately, the ones about creating happiness, about the joys of art, writing and such, knowing, as we all do, about the pain, anguish and atrocities going on out there in the world. So I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge. These are severe times in many ways. Talking about painting seems somehow trite.

Yet we go back to our Facebook pages and homework and poetry writing and “what’s for dinner” because what’s out there is all too ugly to mentally sustain ~ and what the hell would we do anyway? Aren’t there Leaders to handle this kind of thing? Sadly, I see no leaders…. and then a troubling cycle of thought threatens to ensue, poised on all the madness.

The thing is, when it comes to the Really Big Stuff in the world, it’s as though I simply can’t process it fully. I can feel horrified. I can feel disgust. I can feel really, really disturbed. But I can’t fully engage. Maybe it’s a form of self-preservation – as if to think on it too hard and long, to dwell, is too intense an exercise. A debilitating merry-go-round of worry and fear. Contemplating ruined lives and sabotaged events is too heavy a weight.

Is it my artistic temperament? My sensitivity that can’t handle it? I’ll think, “but am I turning the other cheek?” Am I uncaring, or selfishly absorbed in “my own little world”? “Shouldn’t I be doing something?” Is it some kind of cosmic guilt, a tripped-up compassionate pulse that I should enjoy a good meal while thousands of people across the globe struggle in unthinkable situations? That I landed where I did in this life, and they did not?

But I always come back to 2 things: 1.)  an eternal optimism I seem to have been born with (or maybe it was nurtured in, or both) and 2.) maybe I can do something and maybe I am doing something, even if it’s not measurably touching the great mass of humanity… by taking care of my corner, and spread light there. Because that’s what I feel I can do.

I was raised to believe (and I do believe) that it really does matter what you do in your own little corner of the world. (And this belief, you may already know, was the basis of my 52 Weeks of Peace book / series. It’s about what we can do as individuals, right here and right now. And if we all did…)

Fretting and stewing about world events, the disgraces of humanity that exist, the evil-doers, the lies and deceit and manipulation, is unproductive for me personally; nor does it serve anyone. It’s way bigger than me, and to go there with too much prolonged fervor only makes me feel powerless to help, filling a space with negativity and projecting dread where there could be light ~ and I operate SO MUCH BETTER from a place of light.

And God knows we need more light in this world.

When it comes to fretting and stewing about my own place in the world, or how the bills get paid and other earthly challenges we all face at one time or another, the same thing applies – I operate SO MUCH BETTER from a place of light.

Oh believe me, (and I know I’ve said this before and probably will again) I can worry like the best of them, but at some point I return to some sort of peace ~ because I have to. As if I’m wired that way. To have faith. In life. In love. In light. It’s my call to arms.

After years of practice, it’s almost become a type of daily surrender. Trusting. And so far, unless I’m deluding myself, it feels like the right course of action. We’ll see how it goes…  Yes, I’ll continue to write and paint and share thoughts on happiness, because what is life without upliftment? ~ but in the meantime, for what it’s worth, my heart sends waves of hope to those in far greater need.

September 11: Hope and Remembrance

September 11, 2014 § 4 Comments

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At 9:00 a.m. on 9/11/01, I’d just come back from dropping my daughter at kindergarten. The sky was robin-egg blue, the air a perfect September calm. A neighbor screamed to me from her car, and the rest of the day was sheer horror. I will never forget. Shock. Agony. Grief.

Forty minutes away. Too close. Much too close.

That night we all gathered on my front lawn, a circle of candles and hearts and prayers.

You just don’t forget.

If anything good came from that awful day, it was that for at least a brief time we were one United States of America. We were all Americans. We all felt a pain in the pits of our stomachs, the lurching of our hearts, the constriction in our throats and tears in our eyes. We loved our neighbor, near and far, from cities to remote little towns, black, brown, white, yellow, red, gay, straight, male, female. We were family, a wounded family, and we grieved as one. Red, white and blue became the new black. We were proud, we were strong, we were one, honoring the brave and the lost and the taken. They were us, we were them.

Our hearts may have softened towards each other, but I also think how sad that we couldn’t sustain that sense of pride and family. Things calmed down, we went about our routines. Fell back into old patterns. Terror still threatens this world of ours, and yet we fight our own small fights, our petty snits, our egos drowned in the latest trend, the latest news, the latest gossip, the latest celebrity sighting. As if we can’t sustain loving our neighbor without tragedy to bring it about. Oh, but that’s human nature. Weddings and funerals. Drama brings people together.

We argue on the right, on the left, and we suffer the idiocy of politicians. I hear a lot of talk that doesn’t walk. I hear each news cycle replacing the last. Like some strange reality show, yesterday’s unanswered wrong overrun by today’s, and today’s by tomorrow’s. We numb. We stay medicated on electronics. Opinions aren’t debated, they’re spewed. We don’t listen. We don’t really see. The world is in shambles.  We seem very divided. Something is wrong here.

But for one day, maybe just an hour, maybe only 10 minutes ~ we’ll remember 9/11 and that flood of love and hope and “don’t you dare” will fill us up. We’ll be a family for 10 minutes. We’ll remember why we love this place and the people in it. But maybe, just maybe, we can nurture that love and hope and integrity a little longer? Might the foundational idea that we are a free people nourish and inspire us, just a little longer? That it’s worth fighting for?

Can we recognize that there is light and that yes, there is also some very ugly, very dark scary shit in the world and it’s up to each one of us to know the difference and take up the torch right where we are with a battle cry to spread a little more light, a little more love, a little more courage?

There are some amazing people in this world, and I’m lucky to know several who take up that torch every day with all their hearts. We all know them. They are sincere. Let’s all be more sincere. Let’s honor the brave, the lost and taken with some blessings. Be the blessing in someone’s day. Be present. Be good.

And I had no idea this piece of writing was going to go the way it did, but I hope we can use this memory to remember that at the end of the day we’re all in this together. At the base of the fallen towers let’s plant hope, and water it well.

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