The politics of fear and a call for transformation

Picking a leader for our country is obviously not a simple process, but the fact that our choices narrowed down to someone many do not trust on one hand and a mercurial misogynist in love with fame and capitalism on the other boldly highlights that something is very very wrong.  So why did this happen and what do we who fight for fairness and equality and that vision of America we refuse to let go of do now? We are baffled and worried and we are searching for a path toward healing.

Our Administration and Congress are meant to be a reflection of the People.  It’s a bottom-up system just as much as it is top-down.  Thus, our new “leader” is reflective of the enlightenment and transformation we desperately need.  He is an indication that we are suffering as a nation and need to turn things around.  Every vague speech he makes that says not much of anything, every inappropriate Cabinet pick, every utterance that contradicts his last is pointing us, practically begging us, toward change.  I don’t know where that “tipping point” of recognition is, but I hope we’re getting there sooner rather than later.

We shouldn’t need a money-worshipping tv personality from Queens who has been married thrice and sued countless times to make it apparent to us that our values have been seriously derailed.

How is it that we live in a place of such varied beauty and such a sense of promise, yet there are many among us who lack a secure home life or access to healthy food and have little sense of belonging or hope for the future? People whose entire life has been spent running from single parent to step-parent, dodging drugs, violence or hunger.

Those who are in this kind of pain have few resources at their disposal.  It is such an uphill battle… societal stigmas, lack of opportunity, being unseen and unheard, little past success and few role models. 

Of course the problems are “those other people”… those who commit the plethora of hate crimes we hear of every day lately, those who keep their head down and do not speak out against unfairness or injustice, and those who make poor choices.  These people are not us.  They must be from other places and they should be sent back there immediately! They are adversaries, ultimately work for other people – think-tanks and politicians – to figure out what to do with.

What’s going on all of a sudden? These voiceless and unseen people are angry.  Their anger breeds even more anger.  There is such overwhelming need that is not being met that a cycle has been created that is almost impossible to escape.  Yet there are misperceptions underneath their actions.  There are reasons for all their struggles.

When one part of our culture is so distraught that they feel unheard and angry, the entire culture is affected.

Lack of hope or belonging, born of pain, can of course lead toward violence and acts of hate.  When you despair, do you not (wrongly) try to find someone else to blame for your struggles? These are things that our government most likely cannot change.  These need to come from us.  We have to learn how to trust one another.  We must learn to recognize the suffering in another rather than immediately jump to rage and violence.

It’s almost impossible to believe we are part of the problem, but we must, all of us, set down our anger.  Anger stems from deep pain.  It rises from insecurities, fear, distress, lack of opportunity, injustice, and hopelessness just as much as it arises from disappointment and the loss of an ideal.  We are, all of us, in pain.

Why are we ok going to sleep in our cozy homes when there are those among us who go to sleep under bridges without dinner? Why do we allow such abundance to go to waste when there are many who need what we have? Why do we blame their circumstances on misinformed and unfortunate past choices and hurry away blindly?

I don’t know how to fix it all.  In this “rise from your bootstraps” land of opportunity, where self is king and our new leader is greed personified, we don’t have much of an example henceforth for how to reach deep inside and reach out to others.  In the past, we have dismissed such disparity and uncertainty and patched together temporary solutions.

We are going to have to process our fears, hold space for grief, honor the imperfections among each one of us.  If we are going to cultivate common ground and move forward, we are going to have to be vulnerable, lose the sense indignation and hatred, the us v. them race we are on.

I don’t know what to make of those among us who shake our heads on Facebook at how ludicrous politics in our country has become.  Perhaps that is yet another way of seeking a sense of belonging and affirmation that there are others who also see this downward spiral and feel outrage and hopelessness? Pointing out unethical acts may feel like doing something, but it creates a separation between you and “those people” who think or act that way.   Highlighting the unlimited foolishness and corrupt behavior in our elected “CEO in chief” is almost like pointing a finger at ourselves and announcing that we don’t get it yet.  Sure, we should allow Comedy Central to help us laugh at the senselessness of it all, but the more adamant or righteous we become, the less we are ultimately understanding the current situation.

We do not need new walls; we must build bridges.

I don’t suggest we sit back and let it all fall apart… but I think more effort to understand is called for.  As we all grow frustrated and impatient with lack of progress or change, we can all-too-quickly turn to anger or profound sadness.  We need to honor each and every individual as a piece of the divine.  No one of us is better than any other.  We are, all of us, deserving of respect.  We are brothers and sisters and we need to start acting like we believe it.

All of what we are seeing is the outcome of so many different problems that I wouldn’t know where to begin.  I do know that denouncing violence is not the same as promoting peace, honor, and understanding.  Recognizing that someone’s actions must stem from suffering and mistreatment, however, is a beginning.

What comes next? I think there is reason to hope.  We must come together with strangers seeking together healing and hope.  Until all of us reach deep into society and help one another as if we were all brothers and sisters, as if we have a large stake in each individual’s success in life, until we take responsibility for helping those who struggle to make better choices, eat healthy foods, put in effort at school or work until they can see their own future sitting bright and attractive in front of them, until we feel the pain that they themselves feel every single day, there is little hope that things will change much.

Yes, there is pain, but there is potential as well.  It’s hard to see how a transformation could ever come about, but obviously there are pieces of our whole that we had no idea were in such straights.  Just as a body cannot function well without a healthy liver or a working heart, our nation must heal itself before it can become great again.  It’s only been some 250 years that we have been the U.S. of A, but for thousands of years before that, people have lived on this land in relative peace. We must pause, take deep breaths, and listen to the divisions among us even if we do not understand them.

In order to become “a nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” united in action, admired by the rest of the world because we care about that world, we have to think of the highest good for everyone.  Our founding parents hoped that we would be a shining example of leadership, guidance, and goodness.  We cannot let them down.

There is much good among us already.  Let’s find common ground with each other.  Let uncertainty be the birthplace of goodness.  Let the injustices that shake us lead us to inspired action.  Let us keep compassion in our hearts and be conscious of how we treat those who we don’t understand… in our homes and extended families, in our communities, and with those we come into contact with anywhere.  Let us show up and help. Let us share our joys and our sorrows and forge new connections.  Let us focus on what’s possible rather than what divides us.  Let us heal each other.  Let us find and lead a better way.

I Am America is an audio and video statement that America can only be what we make it. We can’t afford to be complacent. We must actively pursue justice and equality for all Americans. Share the song and the message…we are America!

Produced by Michael Parnell & Craig Taubman
Written by Jason Chu, Michael Parnell, Stuart K Robinson, & Craig Taubman
Mixed and Recorded by Michael Parnell, Andrew Schwartz & Tom Weir at Studio City Sound by
Video Edit by Stuart K Robinson
Posted in Kindness, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

House redo: living room – part 2

It’s funny to me that I did all this house redecorating last summer but 6 months later I still haven’t shown it all to you! We’re getting there.  Since we covered the main room in Part 1, I only need to show you the shelves in our living room.  I saved them for a separate post since there are several new items.

Please forgive the messy countertops.

These handmade birthday karmagraph creations are mine and my daughter’s.  Theresa custom makes ‘color portraits’ based on your date of birth and each color symbolizes the way we relate to other people and what our life journey is about.  Go to her website to find out more.  The glass tile comes from Ben’s Garden.  He makes all sorts of glass custom gifts.

These agate bookends are from Z Gallerie.This Mona Vase is by DwellStudio, spray painted maroon.  The heart glass is hand-made by an artist in St. Paul de Vence.  I adore it.

The mother-of-pearl picture frames are from Z Gallerie.  That illustration of our family was made by mylittlebuffalo on Etsy.  I printed it onto an 8×8 black standout via mpix.

The beautiful basket was handmade by my mother.  The painting print was also a gift from my parents.  I think they got it on a cruise.

I got this polystone hands sculpture on Joss & Main.  They came in bronze but I sponge painted them with Pebeo Gilding Wax in silver.  To me, they symbolize family, support, love, and doing our own thing while maintaining a connection.

Clock from zulilly.  Vase was a wedding gift long ago.  Picture from from Z Gallerie.

This painting is of poppies, my fave.  I got it from Wayfair I think.  Custom play dough creations by SG.

The little faux plant here was black and I spray painted it.  The Journey art I created a few years ago.  The matching Libra vases by Cyan here and below are from Joss & Main.

Ta da! Let’s see what the next room on the tour will be… I think we will move to the back of the house so SG’s room is next.

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Let’s do some good!

“If you want to lift yourself up, life up someone else.” ~ Booker T. Washington

We were facing 18 days of uninterrupted Sweet Girl time with not much planned… aka, I was very afraid.  I needed structure! So I first set some goals of what I wanted to get out of this time, what I wanted SG to get from this time, and how we were going to best spend it. We made a calendar. I can’t say it was frustration-free, but we did it.  I hate to sound ungrateful for getting to spend time with this delicious little person, but too much of anything can be… well, too much! She definitely does not understand mamma’s need for space.  Add in two separate bouts of illness, some whining, lots of kids movies, and you get the idea.

One goal I had was to do something good for someone every day.  I wanted to show SG some other perspectives by way of volunteering for some local charities and do some good together.  I wanted to show her that it doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference and that she can be helpful too.  As a bonus, I hoped that even though it was Chanukah, a time when she receives lots of gifts, she can also give to others and feel compassion toward others as well.  I also hoped she would feel extra grateful for the blessings she has in terms of family who love her, ample food in the house, and a closet full of clothes.

Project 1: Donate Target gift cards to needy families.  She picked the designs and we both helped the check out person bend and fold them to be able to scan the bar codes.  When SG handed them over to the place we donated them and got lots of kudos, I could tell by her face that she felt good about doing it.

Project 2: Make a stack of encouraging cards for guests at a Star of Hope homeless shelter. For this project, SG asked a lot of questions about how the people got there, why they might need encouragement, and if they like stickers.

Project 3: Review several requests for donations and decided which to give to.

I collected about 3 months of requests for giving that came in the mail and we opened two envelopes each night of Chanukah right after lighting the candles (before gifts).  We talked about each one and set it aside.  Our goal was to give $100 to one or two of them.

On the last night of Chanukah, we put the organizations on the board and talked about our favorites.  We kept narrowing it down until we had 4 organizations that we gave $25 each.  SG filled out the forms.  We all loved doing this and will definitely do it again next year.

Project 4: Deliver Meals on Wheels.  We volunteered to help with a route where someone was on vacation.  SG told me the address, we went there, and she helped get the meals together from the supplies we put in the trunk.  I think it was good for her to see the way some of the people live.

At one home, a cheery young nurse answered the door.  SG said, “She doesn’t seem old or like she needs food.” So we talked about that!

Project 5: Help with clothing inventory at Emergency Aid Coalition.  We spent about 2 hours on a rainy day counting pieces of clothing and marking the number on an inventory sheet.  SG eventually got bored but I hope it was a good experience.  On the way home, I said something about how we think nothing of buying new clothes at the mall, but some people have to go there and take other people’s donations and they are so grateful for them.

And we survived! We went to Utah for part of the trip.  And then school resumed… finally.

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Reluctantly, I signed up for Life Book 2017… and it’s awesome!

Do you remember that I participated in Life Book in 2013? I don’t know how it’s been that long ago, honestly.  I thought maybe I skipped a year… not 3! Well, here’s why I decided to dive in head first for 2017.

I am committed to getting back into the art room in January.  Yesterday, when I went to look at my desk, I couldn’t tell what I would actually begin working on first.  There are several unfinished canvas boards on my desk that I was working on a year ago.  And I also want to make two large canvases for my bedroom.  I even have a little easel stand on the wall now.  Otherwise, my desks are messy.  I’ve been running in to toss something on the desk or under it for months now.

It seems the thing to do is just begin.  No thinking or planning… and I am not that good at doing that.  So I think following a program with video instruction accompaniment will be good for me.  I swear to myself and all of you that I am not going to be rigid about it this time.  If I skip a lesson or two, who cares? It’s not a big financial commitment; mostly time.  I won’t even get to begin until January 4 when SG returns to school.  I don’t like being behind but I’m going to think of it a different way.

I think the volunteer commitments that are going to take the most of my time this spring will be Sisterhood and Girl Scouts.  For Sisterhood, I’ve been doing all the PR newsletters and we have some large programs coming up that I want to make sure are successful.  For Brownies, it’s cookie time, which is a lot of work.

In case you’d like to join me on my Life Book adventure… , DO!!

I am enrollee #1252. Goodness, there are a lot of us!

I think the thing I like most about it is that it’s about the heart as much as it is about art. Each person is encouraged to pour themselves into what they create.  It is healing and freeing and fun, all at the same time.  It is a group who encourages each other as much as it is a personal adventure.  I still treasure my book from a few years ago because I put so much of myself into that art.  It’s about kindness, community, and learning to be compassionate with yourself.  That sounds pretty good right now!

So I’ve made myself excited just by writing about it! I couldn’t wait to begin…

This is our first lesson. She’s called Star Girl.  She contains all our successes and regrets form 2016 and everything we’d like to call forward in 2017.  Here she is!

I’ll keep you posted on more lessons, friends! And please join me if you want.

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December snuggled reading

In the Unlikely Event: A Novel by Judy Blume

It may be semi-illegal to dislike a Judy Blume book.  Who does that??? Well, then I will whisper to you really quickly.  (I didn’t care for this one.) What? Hmm? I didn’t say anything! When a book starts with a cast of characters, in sections, a la Vanity Fair (or was it War and Peace?), you know you’re in trouble.  I simply could not keep up with who was who! Skip it.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society: A Novelby Joy Callaway

I got caught up in this story of love, family, and a writer’s determination to be published  when not many women were.  This story reminded me in many ways of Little Women… 4 girls loved and yet rather poor, interested in artistic pursuits, going in and out of relationships.  The entire thing was utterly enjoyable.  Recommend.

“Perhaps it was a vain and foolish ambition, but the desire for someone to read and cherish my stories as I cherished Irving’s swelled in my chest. I closed my eyes and ran my hand over the worn cover, imagining it as a threadbare hardback on the dresser of a girl I would never know. That possibility eclipsed the hole in my heart with a strange new sense of purpose, and I knew that the feeling alone was worth whatever would come next. I would make something of this manuscript—somehow. I would find a way to learn what it would take to transform my scattered words into something of worth.”

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church

“I began to feel as if I weren’t truly married, not in the sense of any marriage I’d ever seen.  I told myself that other women lived alone while their husbands were fighting overseas, and I suspected they didn’t receive regular letters, either.  Still, no matter how much I rationalized the situation, tried to talk myself out of a funk over Alden’s relative silence or berated myself for being selfish, the truth was that I felt sorry for myself.”

A promising ornithology student meets a brilliant physicist in 1940, marries him, and eventually gives up her own career to follow him to New Mexico, where he is secretly working on the atomic bomb.  She lives a lonely life with him, as he does not understand what she has given up to follow him.  She begins to study a local community of crows over the next 30-40 years, meets someone she deeply identifies with, and has to decide how much of herself to sacrifice to commitment.  This book highlights the restrictive role women played in traditional 1950s society and how some challenged convention to slowly change the world.  Church’s characters are realistic, both admirably loving as well as disappointingly human.  I loved this book!

Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions by Paul Citrin

This is an anthology of essays by 39 Reform rabbis. Each rabbi has chosen to respond to questions under one of three categories: (1) On God, (2) On Our Humanity, (3) On the Jewish People. The essays are meaningful and personal.  This was rather dense material to work through, but I found many concepts helpful in better understanding ritual, interfaith dialogue, prayer, and more.

“More than just the stamp of a common humanity, we are stamped with the image of God. Every human being shares this commonality, yet in God’s image we are each unique, completely different from anyone who has ever lived or who ever will live. We each exist as one of a kind, experiencing God’s world, and contributing to it, in our own way. This is God’s promise to us, the spark of the Holy One within us, and it lends us the overwhelming sense of the precious nature of our lives. Humanity becomes the vessel through which Echad is projected into this world. Our task is to live with this awareness and conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of this image.” ~ Rabbi Micah Citrin

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

This one was immediately a delightful shock and an absorbing read.  I think Danler has that kind of talent that doesn’t manifest in too many writers in a generation.  It’s sort of telling that I didn’t even know the main character’s name until page 216… it’s not really the things that go on at the surface that are important in this novel.  Danler is fresh, ascerbic, and very good at describing emotional contradictions.  I wish I could quote every other passage in this one for you.  Recommend for a 40s and under reader.

I guess this is sort of a rags-to-riches story, only we don’t get to see the riches part and it’s probably not money but rather self-assurance and self-knowledge that she’s gained.  We learn about the entirely-unto-itself world of a famous upscale restaurant, about New York City after midnight, and about wine, relationships, and coming-of-age.  I can’t say enough about this one.  It’s shocking sometimes in it’s language but the writing is superb.

Life on Earth: Understanding Who We Are, How We Got Here, and What May Lie Ahead by Mike Dooley

The basic premise: thoughts become things.  Visualize your happiness, take baby steps toward it, try lots of new things.  Your actions are your thoughts in motion, so start with your thoughts.  My favorite part is when Dooley says that happiness is a choice and we always have a choice.  “Just as you can choose perspectives that will yield anger, guilt, excitement, or fear, so must this be true of happiness. That no matter what may be going on in your life, you can choose perspectives that will be optimistic, favorable, loving, accepting, and ultimately happy.” If you are not happy, it’s because you choose not to be.  You decide what emotions most serve you.  I LOVE THAT!!! What freedom! Why do we let anything tap into the happiness we could have?

Always you choose, directly or indirectly. And by seeing this, you finally realize you can choose otherwise, and your power begins to return. It’s safe for many people not to be happy, otherwise their lightheartedness may give the appearance that they’re OK with any disappointments in their life. By being depressed, heartbroken, jealous, regretful, unhappy, it’s as if you’re saying to others, “Please, this is so not my choice! I’m powerless to these awful circumstances and crazy people! I’m vulnerable! Can you blame me? I’d be so much more successful if it weren’t for all these idiots. This is what I have to deal with!… just as you can’t blame someone else for what’s happening in your life, neither can you blame them for how you feel about it.

Also this:

“If you’re breathing, you’re now filling that one sacred, special niche that no one else could ever fill. Your eyes see what no others will ever see, your ears hear what no others will ever hear, and your perspective and feelings will never, ever be duplicated. Without you, the Universe would be less. This is your highest offering. Being “you” is a sacred role that no one else could ever fill. And so if you’re here, you’re doing it. Your “purpose” has no more to do with your profession or calling than the color of your socks or what you had for breakfast. It’s not what you do or don’t do, whether you love it or hate it or change it a hundred times. As long as you’re here, you’re filling that niche—being who no one else has ever been.”

The Girl from The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

A rags-to-riches historical tale of Dolly, a maid now yet a dreamer of much more for herself.  This book has so many elements I love… yearning and succeeding, romance, glitz and glamor, a historical post-WWI setting, and choices between past and future.  I recommend for an easy but heart-tugging read.

Look at me. I’m as dull as a muddy puddle. When I watch those girls on the stage, I want to be there with them. I want silk stockings on my legs and silver Rayne’s dance shoes on my feet. I want Chanel dresses against my skin. I want to cut my hair and rouge my cheeks, not flinch every time I hear footsteps following me down the back stairs. I want to be appreciated, not discarded like a filthy rag. I feel like a stuck gramophone record, going round and round, playing the same notes of the same song over and over. I want to dance to a different tune.

Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years by Catherine Newman

Maybe you’ve read Waiting for Birdy about the early childhood craziness? This one was just as entertaining and enlightening, but about raising kids ages 4-14.  It covers all kinds of topics with a sort of pre-nostalgia for the days when these will be over.  A parent’s fears, a child’s fears, how we put a happy face on tough moments, the funny things kids say, the annoying things they do.  I found it completely reassuring that the years seem to get better and better for her.  The things she and her family discuss seem so interesting and gives me hope for a dinner conversation beyond “what’s your favorite memory of today” and more about interesting words or imaginative questions and scenarios.  Of course, when you are a parent, your heart is always on the line, but one of her main points is that we are quite fortunate to have so much to lose.

With chapter titles like “How to Throw Another Tantrum” and “How to Make Do with Abundance,” how can you not be interested? If I had to compare Newman to someone, I’d say she is similar to Anne Lamott… maybe her younger sister or something.  I’m pretty sure I used to read Newman’s blog and articles before she wrote her first book or started writing for Real Simple.  But who can remember? I like her comic wit, her perspective, and her down-to-earth way of looking at things.

“I live in anticipation of my own broken heart, and I’m trying to learn how to move through the world like that, with fears fluttering after me like streamers.  I’m trying to believe that I won’t be punished for my happiness – that we aren’t jinxed by the very fact of our healthy, joyful lives.”

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I really wanted to like this book! Honestly I’m not sure where Semple was headed with this one.  I forced myself to get through it, mostly out of loyalty to Bernadette, her previous heroine.  The antics of and thought-stream of the main character are just odd.  I didn’t particularly care for her or her actions.  I loved her son and her husband, but as far as main characters go, I prefer to be on their side, not wondering if they are sane.

“If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week: worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride. I don’t necessarily need to make the world a better place, mind you.”

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New Years resolutions and other impossible standards

My 2016 accomplishments:

Nothing earth-shattering, it’s true.  I wish I’d helped more people, displayed more patience with my loved ones, and connected with my friends more.  For the world, it’s been a lot of ups and downs.  It would be easy to fall into cynicism and defeat, but I am hopeful that every setback will be a catalyst for positive change and awakening.

What’s the point of measuring what we’re NOT? Let’s focus on how much we’ve all grown over the past 365 days and move on. Maybe I didn’t do enough… or maybe I did.  Who is to judge?

I don’t feel shiny-and-new right now, though I can say that I truly lived every day of the year and focused on what I could contribute rather than what was going wrong.  I made new friends, learned a great deal, and am happy with where I am.

Don’t like something? Change your focus, dream up new circumstances, move on and find your power.  Maximize your happiness and let the rest go.

Each of us has tried to find meaning in the people and events of our life.  We’ve focused on what brings us joy and reflected that back into the world.  We are all growing toward the light and toward the potential within us.

Let’s focus our thoughts, words, and actions toward shaping new and desirable experiences.  Let’s enjoy the time and years we are here together.  May this new year spark courage, creativity, and meaning for all of us.

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Posted in Mindfulness | Tagged | 4 Comments