Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today's reality is this:

There is no greater punishment for a writer than the knowledge that true freedom lies buried in words who refuse to rise to the surface. ~~ Hasky

(Because the only thing I can write these days are one-liners about not being able to write anything)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Pageant Touchdown (Revised)

For the past three years, The Arts Center of the Capitol Region in Troy, NY has supported a program called BookMarks as part of its ongoing Memoir Project.  Once a month, from November through April, writers are invited to submit a piece on an assigned topic (often within a specific word limit) to be curated by a professional writer and (hopefully) presented to the commnity at an Arts Center reading. I recently submitted a piece on "Family at the Holidays," curated by memoirist and teacher Marion Roach Smith. Tonight, I was privledged to share my work alongside several incredibly talented local writers at the community reading. 

The piece I submitted was a substantially revised humorous personal essay titled "Christmas Pageant Touchdown."   I appreciated, among other things, that Marion restricted the word count  to 750 - a challenge for me, since I am naturally wordy to a fault. And because my original piece totalled 1,650 words. And  because I struggle to eliminate words once I have obsessively edited them into place.  Word cutting feels a bit like extracting the teeth of my work before finding the perfect prosthetic bridge to conceal the vacancies - and who wants to practice dentistry when there is already so little time for writing?

Since I didn't believe I could actually accomplish this piece in 750 words, I accepted the challenge.  I opened my original 1,650 word piece and began eliminating small, unnecessary tag lines and redundancies. Then I moved on to bigger concepts that could be pared down, stated more succincltly, and, in some cases, cut altogether without damaging the integrity of the piece. (Though I can't say the same for my writer's ego - that part of me that still believes that every single letter I write is necessary and deep and absolutely critical to the meaning of my work.  And Life itself.  You can pretend this doesn't sound familiar - I won't judge.)   Ultimately, I found that I could, indeed, splice and dice my work from 1,650 down to a tight 750 with a little effort, a lot of ego stroking, and a moderate amount of self-doubt.  As always, I kept my longer version, where it continues to live in one of my word files, but I actually prefer this shorter piece now, and am grateful for the lesson in word economy -- it is a lesson I intend to keep forcing myself to learn.  And practice.

If you're interested, the 750-word version of "Christmas Pageant Touchdown" is below. I hope you enjoy it.  And I hope that if you find yourself in "elimination mode" during this holiday season, that smiles, music, joy, and laughter remain at the center of your story where they belong.
~~ Hasky

Christmas Pageant Touchdown

Through the pine scented church air, a familiar melody cascaded over the choir loft before crawling down the altar’s green stairs. As the glorious tones travelled toward lemon scented pews bowing under the weight of mothers and fathers, children and grandparents, neighbors and friends, a deep, collective breath drew and held itself in momentary pause. Then all at once, voices and organ landed together on the downbeat of the entrance hymn’s opening verse.
Absorbed in their song of peace and good will, the congregation barely noticed the projectile object suddenly soaring high above.
But I noticed. 
At that point, all I could do was stand inside my coveted Virgin Mary costume, paralyzed by fearshamepanic, while gently, almost gracefully, a thin white swaddle cloth floated to the floor before landing in a pile of gauze and safety pins.  And then, as the final cacophonous verse of Silent Night fell around me, Jesus Christ’s naked Betsy Wetsy stunt double, draped in nothing but Christmas vigil candlelight, crashed to Earth.
Trapped in a moment I could neither escape nor rewind, I absorbed the appalling reality: I, the mother of Jesus Christ, had just heaved the infant Savior up the center aisle of St. Mary’s of the Lake church. As the music faded, I watched Betsy Wetsy Jesus roll toward the rows of hand-painted, cardboard cattle cutouts and asymmetrical cotton-ball sheep.
My glare of condemnation immediately landed on Tommy Lovell, who stood with the other alter boys in giggling, white-robed oblivion, whipping one another with ragged red rope belts. While he half-listened for his cue, Tommy amused himself with his weapon of destruction: the incense-filled ball he had converted into an irreverent yo-yo.  Not until my eyes struck him did he realize what he had done.  Reluctantly, he followed my gaze to his own hand, where the source of my Hell smoldered:  Incense!  The thick cloud of evidence billowed like a holy barbeque.
Tommy had earned the sacred responsibility of holding the censor this year.  Father Berg had explained that Tommy was to keep the ball completely still, so the vapor could rise gently toward God and purify our spirits. But the moment Father Berg walked away, Tommy’s arm began to windmill. He moved slowly at first, gradually speeding up until his shoulder swiveled all the way around its socket and the fog machine pumped its scent into my notoriously sensitive sinuses. The smell invaded my lungs, my nostrils, my eyes.
When I realized what was happening, I prayed:
God, please don’t let me ….
Start sneezing!
Amen …
I braced my final eruption with a squeeze that launched Jesus into orbit.
And just like that, I ruined the 1984 Christmas pageant.
I shattered the illusion.
I revealed, to hundreds of people, that the baby Jesus lying face down in a pile of cotton was conceived in a factory and purchased at the local Kmart.
Hundreds of huddled heads turned toward me; human window blinds unfolding slat by slat, revealing horror and disbelief. And the faces of my disappointed, only slightly surprised parents.
When time and my heart restarted, I proceeded toward the plywood Bethlehem just as Mrs. Douglass, the pageant director, had instructed. 
Step right, together. Left, together. Right, together. Left, together.
The fourth time my left foot stepped forward, I spotted the crumpled swaddle cloth and remembered Mrs. Douglas’ warnings about breaking character:
“No matter what happens, once the organ starts, you mustn’t stop.”
Yet in an uncharacteristic moment of instinctive spontaneity, I stopped to scoop the swaddle cloth before continuing toward the glue-covered clump of paper-mâché camels.  A few steps later, I came upon the naked mound of Betsy Wetsy Jesus.  This time, I stopped to retrieve and re-swaddled the baby.
With the Savior in my arms once again, I continued toward the aluminum-foil North Star, careful not to demolish the lopsided tower of GoldFrankincenseMyrrh the three not-so-Wise People had stacked in front of the stable’s entrance.
At last, I placed the resilient baby into the wicker crib.
Triumph. This was what joy felt like.
I glanced at Betsy Wetsy Jesus one last time before pivoting to face the people.
To my surprise, they were smiling. All of them.  Even my parents.
The smiles of Christmas.
Together, we drew a deep breath before landing on the downbeat of the closing hymn: 
“Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”
And in spite of myself, I had managed to deliver him.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Santa isn't coming this year!

Last year at this time, life was very much the same as it is today: It was just before Christmas. Red and green decorations erupted all over stores and offices and front lawns while lyrics intended to make me smile and glow (i.e. "Born in a stable" and "I am a poor boy, too") generated tears of sorrow and angst rather than celebratory smiles and endless joy.  They always do.  I'm not sure why, exactly.

I should probably clarify right away that, overall, I am not anti-Christmas.  I even love the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, not because he is an angry, nasty little miser, but because he eventually sees the beauty of humanity that often comes alive at this time of year - and more importantly, he realizes his own capacity for growth and compassion in the process.  I love that, despite the anger and hatred that often seem to permeate our world on a daily basis, this time of year inspires people to give  -- and not just material gifts, but time, and service, and genuine human connection.

But last year at this time, something out of the ordinary did happen, and I have found myself thinking about it over the last week or so, amidst all the twinkling and sparking and jingling.  I was in Plattsburgh visiting my family a few days before Christmas, and while my parents were at work and my brother was busy, I sat at Panera enjoying a hot coffee, an internet connection (much faster than my parents' dial-up), and a two-hour block of time to write.  The restaurant was packed, but I had been fortunate enough to find a corner table by an electrical outlet - my own little pre-Christmas miracle.  And since I was trapped in a writer's nightmare - time to write and nothing to write about - I was happy to watch groups of people parade by with their packages and their soup/salad combos and their animated conversations.  Something would give birth to an idea if I just sat.  And sipped.  And observed.  Patiently.

At about 2pm, a frazzled mother walked by with two very young, very tired children.  While the little boy screamed and cried, the little girl pulled on her mother and threw herself into chairs and tables to relieve the indescribable stress of childhood. Suddenly, without a word, the children switched roles - the little boy began slapping himself and falling into walls and garbage cans while the little girl started screaming and pleading for toys and cookies and princess shoes.  And then there was mom - loaded down with bags and soup bowls and sippy cups and a very large, ergonomically destructive purse.  She threatened to topple as she lumbered past me, and she almost seemed to prefer lying face down on a Panera floor to dealing with her very normal-for-their-age-and-situation kids. 

As a childless woman of 37, I sympathized with the mom on some level, even as I wondered what would possess anyone to trek around town on the Friday before Christmas with two little ones who should have eaten lunch (and probably taken a nap) hours ago.  But I get it - daycare isn't always an option.  And isn't this, at least theoretically, supposed to be part of the seasonal joy?  Shopping and lunching with one's children, surrounded by the splendid wonder of Christmas tidings and lightly falling snow?

I'll save you some time on this one: The answer is No

But I didn't realize it before that moment. Not really.  Let me be clear here  - I am generally not a "grass is greener" kind of person - only because I have found that, from afar, weeds tend to be greener than grass. It isn't til you are up close and personal with the lovely shade of "greener" that you realize it's non-grass, often covered in fertilizer, or waiting to be plucked and discarded from someone's carefully manicured lawn.  That being said, I do have a habit of romanticizing parenthood.  I've often wondered whether I made a mistake by choosing not to have children.  And then, something like this plays out in front of me and reminds me of the reality: Children are wonderful, beautiful miracles - a good thing since they are exhausting, and expensive, and an unending litany of needs and demands and anxiety-provoking behaviors.  They are, after all, human beings.

Of course, none of this logic hit me at that moment.  I was too caught up in the scene unfolding, the mother's eyes beginning to water, the children exploding in a cacophony of wails, the eyerolls and speedy exits of the other diners whose "tsk tsk" nods further condemned the already defeated mother as she plopped first the boy, then the girl into red, plastic booster seats and shoved them as close to the table as possible.  I didn't think things could possibly get worse, until I watched the little girl pick up her mother's bowl of soup and turn it over on top of the table. 

Time stopped.  Noodles and chicken hit the floor, landing in puddles of their own broth.  The green ceramic bowl sat, inverted, in front of the victorious little girl whose Grinch-like grin curled her mouth upward and forced her eyebrows into a sinister arch.  I couldn't move.  I didn't know whether to help or look away or leave.  And shamefully, I admit, I was most curious to see how mom intended to handle a maneuver that would have paralyzed me.

And that was when it happened.  Mom yanked her little girl's arm, looked directly into the child's face, and screamed through the tears leaping two at a time out of her eyes: "SANTA ISN'T COMING THIS YEAR!"

All I could do was join in the collective gasp as everyone in the restaurant (who hadn't already retreated to the quiet parking lot) recoiled and immediately slapped a "Worst Mother of the Year" label on this woman's soul.  How could a mother say such a thing?  How would these children ever enjoy Christmas now?  What about a simple "Time Out" or going to bed without dessert?  Or what about feeding these children lunch at a decent hour and navigating the crowds with two children in tow a little more strategically?

But as I sat in judgment, another thought arrived, replacing the all-too-familiar critical voice of a non-parent:  This woman, this tired, overwhelmed, vilified woman, was Santa.  And she didn't get to go away to a toy shop and hang out with elves and show up once a year to be adored and idolized.  She was Santa every day.  Unless she was busy playing the role of Tooth Fairy.  Or Easter Bunny.  Or Nurse/Taxi/Chef/Coach/Teacher/Housekeeper/All-knowing, Never-sleeping, Rarely-eating ... Mom.

For a moment, I met her eyes and tried to tell her, with the nonverbal glance of a non-mom who would never speak her language, that I understood.  Not her situation, of course.  But her defeat.  And her desire to give up.  She glared at me as if to scream "What the hell do you know about my life?!" and she was, of course, very right.  I knew enough to know that I knew nothing. Not about her life, anyway.

At that moment, a Panera employee showed up with a broom and a pile of napkins - he could have been a knight on a white horse for all the fuss this mother made. She wept and thanked him and apologized over and over while she helped him clean her messy life off the table and floors.  Her children simply watched in silence.

It took me a year to write about this  - probably becase I felt some sense of voyeuristic shame as I watched it happen, refusing to look away, unable to walk away.  But as the holiday season continues to envelop us day by day, I am reminded that the spirit of Christmas is really what we make it.  Some of us play Santa.  Some of us play Scrooge.  Some of us bake and shop and wrap.  Some of us sing and party and travel.  But no matter what our roles and regardless of our beliefs, we all want Santa to show up with gifts.  And it is my hope that whether you are a four year old child in need of a nap, or a forty year old mother in need of a break, or even a kid from 1 to 92, that your Santa Claus knows where to find you.  My guess is, your gifts have already arrived, you just haven't gone looking for them yet.

May your holidays and your new year ahead be filled with happiness and peace ... and perhaps a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Love, Hasky

Friday, December 9, 2011

Exposing *Sybil Exposed* (Or: Throwing Down With Debbie Nathan)

Today opened like every other day: I woke at 4am. I pulled on my workout clothes.  I grabbed my water bottle and towel.  I drove to the gym.  I hopped on my elliptical machine because, yes, I am a rigidly unchanging, territorial, "this is my gym equipment" person.  In fact, I function on auto-pilot until 9am every day, unless something unusual happens to interrupt the trance. 

But this morning, as I enjoyed my 5am, daily dose of Dr. Drew Pinsky on CNN (always a replay from the night before), the unusual happened.  And the trance broke.  Dr. Drew was interviewing Debbie Nathan, the author of Sybil Exposed.  I'm probably not the only person who immediately thinks "Sally Field" and "Multiple Personality Disorder" whenever the word "Sybil" enters a conversation, and I am always intrigued and somewhat frightened by the Sybil story.  Even so, I was not entirely sure, at first, that Dr. Drew was talking about the title character of Flore Rheta Scheriber's 1973 book until I began reading the subtitles marching across the bottom of the television screen.  But sure enough, Ms. Nathan's raison d'etre, at least today, was exactly what I assumed:  her book-promoting attempt to discredit Ms. Schreiber's account of Shirley Ardell Mason, who suffered from dissociative identity disorder, and was known to the world, very simply, as Sybil. 

Now, maybe it's because I am in the process of writing a memoir as I battle my own versions and expressions of truth, or maybe it's because Flore Rheta Scheriber died in 1988 and can not defend the allegations against her, or maybe it's simply because I take exception to anyone jumping into the mental illness arena to offer nothing but criticism and negativity, but I felt an immediate, intense dislike for Ms. Nathan.  And the longer she talked, the more I disliked her. Instead of redeeming herself, she shed doubt on her own legitimacy, offering neither fact-based arguments nor productive solutions to what she alleges is a dishonest portrayal of the first documented account of a woman with sixteen identifiable personalities.  What she did offer was her alleged discovery of several boxes of clinical notes at the New York Public Library filled with "proof" that Ms. Scheriber fabricated her book for the sake of sensationalizing a serious, debilitating, terrifying condition.

And who better than Ms. Nathan to provide unsolicited expertise in how to sensationalize a non-truth in order to sell a book?  Perhaps she would be better suited to a 10-Step Guide on How To Profit By Exploiting the Deceased and the Vulnerable.

Over the years, I have heard the term "Sybil" used as a generic insult lobbed at anyone who appeared moody, depressed, or angry. And (in the case of women in particular) assertive.  I have listened to people confuse and conflate dissociative personality disorder with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia.  And I have been on the receiving end of the name-calling during times of anxiety or depression, when the only support offered was a snide "Oh come on, Sybil.  Snap out of it."  Discrimination against the mentally ill is one of the few remaining, socially condoned forms of abuse, and I believe that Ms. Nathan's book is an attempt to garner support for her own position (and her lucrative book deal) with no regard or respect for the true experts  - the mentally ill population, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, treated or untreated, acknowledged or in denial.

Don't get me wrong - there was a time in my life when I preferred to write about other people's writing, too.  I was nineteen years old and majoring in English Literature, where I took pride in my ability to critique Shakespeare, and examine the gaps in Yeats, and expose the inconsistencies in Dickinson.  I was youthful speculation mixed with arrogant pontification.  I was nineteen, after all.  And I thought I knew everything.  About everything.

Until I realized that the only thing I knew for sure was that I knew nothing.  Because nothing was consistent.  Nothing was infallible.  Nothing was definite, or absolute. So why not just write my own words, then?

And that is what I have decided to do. I know, as a writer, that there will be critics and naysayers of my work.  There have already been plenty.  But I welcome them with the knowledge that their legitimacy lies in my mistakes.  In fact, I almost feel sorry enough for the Debbie Nathans of the world to take a few intentional missteps in their direction, to give them an opening. A voice.  A purpose.  I almost want to give them that artificial gift  Almost.

I wondered, this morning, what Ms. Nathan may have contributed to this world if she had written her own words, shared her own ideas, provided an alternative to a problem, rather than devoting herself to (and distracting herself with) a problem of her own creation.  But I guess if Ms. Nathan is happy with the outcome of all her hard work (and I believe that she is), then I have no business criticizing her. After all, I don't want to play on her team, anyway.  I prefer enjoying the organic purity of my own homemade words and ideas, rather than indulging in someone else's toxic leftovers, especially when I didn't even enjoy their flavor first time around.

Monday, December 5, 2011

No dog necessary. No permission required.

At one time in my life, I prayed for the endless "When are you getting married?" interrogations to stop.  It seemed like everywhere I went, people pummeled me with questions and judgments, as if I were a prairie woman or a British Royal in danger of spinsterhood at age 25.

Why wasn't I yet "betrothed." 
What were my plans? 

Essentially: What was wrong with me? 

And then I got married.

Cue the unsolicited input about parenthood - when I should procreate, how I should discipline, why I should want nothing more than to reproduce myself even though the current "me" was far from functional.

"You don't want to wait to long."
"You should start having kids now so you can space them far enough apart."
"You have to read the parenting books and magazines as soon as possible!"

Truth was, I didn't want children.  And I sucked at marriage.  But I was a hell of a people pleaser who lacked an alternative plan, so I decided to do "the right things" at "the right times" in the hopes that others would think I knew what I was doing.  Or at least get off my back. After all, if I was "just like everyone else," then everyone else would be happy.  And that would make me happy.  Right?

But that was when it hit me: If I didn't have a clue about how to define, much less live a normal, happy life, and I was simply copying everyone around me who seemed normal and happy, then maybe no one around me had a clue either.  In fact, maybe their recruitment initiative was inspired by a desire to surround themselves with people like me - people who would justify and confirm their choices, and commiserate with them when those choices left them bitter and bored and filled with misery just waiting for its company to arrive.

So, I spent the next few years making a series of unpopular decisions. I said "no" to children.  I said "yes" to divorce.  I moved away from my childhood home.  I walked away from a teaching career and into a political one.  I made a few friends.  I devoted myself to exercise.  And I craved my privacy and personal space as if they were the last bites of a delicious meal that I didn't want to share with anyone.

And when the conversations about marriage and children and "normalcy" finally changed (as I had once prayed they would), I actually found myself longing for them once again while I faced their replacements:

"You must feel so isolated."
"You're not getting any younger,  ya know."
"You must be panicked at the thought of being old and alone."

The difference now, of course, was that these comments didn't come from other people.  They came from me. Or from the version of me that constantly challenged and successfully sabotaged the youthful, risk-taking, life-loving, life-living Hasky.  These were the lies I told myself. Caution became my default approach to life, and the fear of illness and injury was enough to send me running from any challenge, every risk, and all forms of personal interaction that threatened to go beyond a cup of coffee or a business meeting. 

People certainly saw (and frequently commented on) my desire for a unique blend of personal space and total engulfment that often left me wondering whether I felt abandoned or suffocated.  I had no idea what I wanted, I was pretty clear about what I didn't want, and I was veering dangerously close to condemning anyone who refused to jump on my Self-Pity Express.  Every time someone got engaged, or had a baby, or bought a dream house, my reaction was the same: An eye roll.  A snide comment about "selling out." Or "being lame." Or about "the clueless following the clueless" down the rabbit hole of convention. I had become one of the "You should do" and "You should want" people who used to annoy the hell out of me.  And I don't know about you, but whenever I start a sentence with "You should ..." I am really suggesting that I have the answers to someone else's questions -- even as I strategically avoid facing the answers to my own.

Over the years, the judgments and the conversations about my life choices have pretty much subsided. Or maybe they're still there and I just notice them less.  Who knows?  Occasionally, a stray "Don't you think you'll ever want a family?" floats past me, and I pop it with a razor sharp comeback like "As much as you want to be tactful."  But for the most part, I think I have made myself clear: Sharing my life with many people is much more rewarding than sharing it with just one.  At least for now.  That may change again some day.  And as I trace the path my life has taken so far, my guess is it certainly will.  The good news is, I am allowed to reassess any time I want.  And I am allowed to change. No permission required. 

This post was inspired by my recent adoption of a rescue dog, who has not only drained my energy, eaten all my dish towels, ignited my intense fear of failure, and challenged my germophobia beyond what I ever thought possible, but who has reminded me of the most hurtful comment I can recall from years ago, when I was feeling very isolated and hopelessly alone and blindly following the scripted, clueless masses:

"You don't wanna turn into that 'crazy old lady' whose only companion is a mangy dog, do you?"

And I certainly didn't want that.  So I convinced myself that I couldn't adopt a dog, not because I didn't want one, and not because I didn't think I could "handle" it, but because I didn't want to become the stereotype of resignation and desperation that, truth be told, I had already become.  No dog necessary.  

I am glad I waited to adopt this little guy, despite his apparent (though previously undisclosed) medical and behavioral needs, because now I am ready, and confident, and honored to have him in my care. He is not a child, and I have to keep reminding myself that he is a resilient animal built to withstand my mistakes and missteps and "learning as I go" approach to life.  But he is certainly not mangy either, which means I am neither crazy nor old.  On the contrary, I am mindful, and thoughtful, and organized (sometimes to a fault).  So what harm can a little risk taking do when I have thirty-eight years of survival to brace my inevitable trips and my eventual falls?   After all, nothing is worse than tiptoeing through a borrowed existence with your eyes closed and waiting for someone else to catch you. Life is so much richer once you become your own safety net.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Meditations on The Grinch

As I indulged in my annual viewing of Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas the other night, I watched it from a different perspective than ever before.  Perhaps because I have done so much work on myself in the last few months, I started to see the Grinch less as a misshapen, green cartoon character and more a symbol of the isolated, angry, frightened sabateur in all of us.  Something of a universal inner child, really. Sure, the Grinch threw a Who-wrench into Christmas morning.  In fact, he left the Whos without ribbons.  He left them without tags. He left them without packages, boxes or bags.  But, as everyone knows, Chrismas in Whoville could not be stopped. Christmas, as always, "came, just the same." 

As a child, I was hanuted by how seemingly unaware the Whos were when they awoke to the dark and empty Christmas morning.  Their ritualistic singing circle and vacant smiles scared rather than inspired me.  They seemed lifeless as they joined hands and swayed to lyrics I couldn't understand.  How do you explain such apparent contentment in the absence of gifts?  Why would these people unite in oblivion after such an un-merry violation of their town, their streets, their homes?  Yet so many of the things that once scared, and disturbed, and confused me live within a broader context now;  I aim for compassion rather than falling mindlessly into judgement.  I value integrity over possessions.  And, for the most part, the things I cherish most cannot be stolen from me.  Not without my permission.

In the interest of compassion and understanding and appreciating the broader context, I'd like to look beyond human behavior and into the human condition.  And I'd like to suggest that the Grinch didn't set out to steal anything. Rather, he was merely trying to cope with unresolved issues through various means of self sabotage.  Certainly, his was an exercise in futility, but a valuable lesson learned.  If only life could  always sort itself out in 25 commercial-free minutes.

So, here's the challenge: The next time you watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, practice compassion.  Understanding. Maybe even a little appreciation.  Can you see the Grinch as protagonist rather than antagonist?  Is it possible to see him as both?  Is it ever possible to only see one without the other?

  • The fact that the Grinch's heart grew three sizes in one day substantiates the correlation between congestive heart failure and a negative outlook. 
  • As an "apple" with excessive abdominal girth, the Grinch is most certainly a stroke risk battling metabolic syndrome and unstable insulin levels.
  • The Grinch's talent with a needle and thread (Exhibit A: Max the Dog's reindeer costume) suggests an unrealized artistic talent that inevitably leads to his physical and emotional displacement on top of a mountain, removed from all Whoman contact.

In other words, give the guy a break, already.  Your inner child will thank you.

Just in case you missed it this week - enjoy How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll see a different version this time around.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lightening Up ... at the holidays

It's not even Thanksgiving yet and I am already on sensory overload from the way-too-early Christmas music and holiday sales and red and green decorations dripping from store windows.  And, of course, I've already subjected myself to the traditional Festival of Bitching that always begins with an annoyed acquaintance's "I can not BELLLLLIEVE they already have Christmas decorations out!  I'd like to enjoy my Thanksgiving!" 

Yeah, wouldn't we all.

The thing is, regardless of an arbitrary calendar date, I'm no fan of the holidays.  Whether it's October 11th or December 21st, nothing about a front lawn covered in inflatable santas and blow-up snowmen makes me feel jolly. (Though this is fair warning to anyone whose lawn ornaments always insist on leaning just slightly to the left:  If you find me in your front yard some wintry morning straightening your reindeer and tipping your manger folk ever so slightly to the right, I won't hate you for triggering my OCD if you promise not to have me charged with trespassing.).  

Add to the premature, decorative gaudiness the fact that the holiday party chatter has started to permeate the groups and organizations to which I belong, and the result is an avoidant, annoyed, wake-me-when-it's-over Hasky.  Incidentally, as far as the parties go, I have signed up, once again, to bring paper products.  And my holiday Rice Krispie Treats.  Because nothing screams "Get off my back, I've got problems of my own" quite like a package of napkins and a no-bake, M&M-filled, cereal-based dessert.  Hassle-free is how I roll.

Here's the problem:  I would like to enjoy the holidays.  And I believe that such enjoyment can be a learned behavior, like kindness.  And patience.  And sublimating one's rage with copious amounts of coffee.  On the whole, I think there is something joyous and blessed about this time of year, and not because I was conditioned from infancy to give praise for Jesus and Santa.  But because the kindness of others, even if it only emerges a few weeks out of the year, is something I would genuinely like to appreciate, rather than scoff at.  I know many people who spend this season volunteering their time to various causes and charities.  Some donate money and goods while others pray for the suffering and spend time with those who are ill, or lonely, or in need of companionship.  And compassion.

For most of my adult life, I have made it my holiday tradition to avoid the whole scene as much as possible.  And generally, I don't stop to think about it.  Or feel anything about it.  My seasonal gratitude usually sets in around January 3, when everyone else has started their destined-to-fail resolution diets, and life as I know it has begun to settle back into itself - quiet, alone, no expectations, no interactions.  Ahhhh ... the sweet sounds of normalcy.

Right? (She asked, rhetorically.)

I'm beginning to think the holidays are, like everything else, what you make them. For yourself.  They can be miserable and depressing with very little effort on your part.  Because, despite what the miserable and depressed may say (and I have lived inside this world which, from time to time, I still visit on occassion), misery is the easy way out.  It's the default that requries no movement. No growth. No effort.  In fact, it is generally defined by what is lacking: Happiness.  Love.  Connectedness.  Hope.  Spirit.   I have decided that it is possible, not easy, but possible, to inject something positive into an otherwise difficult time of year.  It's not about "contradicting" one's feelings.  Or replacing them with a gingerbread-scented slice of faux happiness.  It's merely about choosing to shake it up a bit.  To let go of the boredom that comes with negativity and cynicism. To genuinely wish someone a "Happy Holidays" and mean it.  Or to anonymously write a check or donate a baked good to someone in need and ask for nothing (including recognition and undying praise) in return.  Maybe it's even about driving by a random house on November 5th and not criticizing the lawnful of sleighs and reindeer and glowing 6-foot elves, but instead glancing out the car window and genuinely appreciating the effort and the time someone else took to add a little more light to the world, instead of embracing the darkness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Here's what I believe ...

I believe that what we need comes to us when we need it.  Whether we are open to receiving it is another matter.  Often I am resistant to the solutions and inspirations in front of me because I spend my time seeking support for my bad mood, or proof that the world really is out to get me.  Such that when I do trip and fall (both literally, and as a metaphor for any number of personal and work-related disasters), I almost revel in the victory of being right.  See, I AM a miserable failure!

This journey I often take down Cynicism Lane is nothing more than an enormous cul-de-sac filled with left-hand turns and multiple dead ends.  Hence the default, spin cycle journey from Point A to Point A that inevitably ensues when I simply put myself on autopilot rather than mindfulness mode.  And even though mindfulness is a blessing, it has taken me almost 38 years to understand it and to occasionally, for just a second, tap into it.

So this morning, as I was wading through an Inbox of endless (mostly insignificant) emails, I found an email from one of my MFA instructors that described the new graduate course titled Mindfulness Communication.  Even though I don't think I can actually take the course, since it requires attendance on campus, two hours away from where I live and work, the professor's reading list provided some valuable new (to me) resources, and her narrative presented an interesting approach to integrating mindfulness into writing.  And reading.  And creating. 

I quickly (as if the email were threatening to vanish) wrote down every book and author and idea the professor suggested in the hopes that I would find some key to unlocking an even deeper artistry inside myself.  Finding missing puzzle pieces of my self is always invigorating ... and a little overwhelming.  Which is why it is most helpful to connect the outside pieces first; the insides will eventually match up once I build the frame.  Or so I am told.

All of this gets me to the real point of my post - and that is the quote that sat at the bottom of the Mindfulness Communication professor's email.  It read:  

Concentrate on what you do now,
just here and now.
And quite naturally,
you will find the way.

~~ Zen Master Rinzai

I realized, in that moment, that if I do, indeed, have a religion, a faith, a spirituality - a system of beliefs that can be categorized and packed into a label -  then the overarching theme is Mindfulness.  Rather ironic, since I often actively avoid mindfulness. At times I fear it. I judge it. I hide it and I hide from it. 

But ... and this is all that matters, I think ... I am aware of it.  I finally know what it means.  And I finally appreciate what it is.  That doesn't mean I can explain it today any better than I could a year ago, because it is still in its "essence" stage for me - it is a feeling and a presence and an awareness.  But it is there, even when I dodge it and try to manipulate it away.

I have been exploring the connections and differences between "religion" and "belief" lately, and feeling rather orphaned in both areas. I was born and raised Catholic, and I still struggle with inviting any new faith-based ideas into the part of me that feels compelled to do business as usual.  And no, I am not an anti-Catholic.  Or a "recovering" Catholic.  I was raised with a solid religious foundation and don't see any value in condemning an entire faith.

That being said, I am a questioning Catholic.  And sometimes that is just as sinful. 

For example, I believe that every person should be allowed to make decisions regarding his/her body. This applies to a man’s right to refuse medical care as much as it does a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.  I also believe that every human being should have the right to marry (even as I simultaneously wonder who the hell would ever want to.)  Neither of these personal perspectives gels with the belief system of my childhood, however.  And that often feels a little like abandonment ... if I am not 100% in, am I faithless?  I used to think so. 

But now I realize that tapping into the disconnect has proven an essential exercise in self awareness. With age, and time, and experience I have not abandoned my learned beliefs, but have instead expanded them, added to them, fine tuned them into a more personalized collection of Heatherisms. 

Since my feelings and challenges with this issue are nothing particularly new, I'm not sure what led me to write this today. Maybe it's because with the approaching "holidays" comes my struggle with the awkwardness of wishing people a "Merry Christmas" only to unintentionally offend them.  Maybe it's because I have had a rough week of feeling more drained and less supported than usual. Or maybe it's simply because I decided to respond to a reaction I had in a single moment, as I read Zen Master Rinzai's quote, embedded in a professor's email. 

All I know for sure is that beliefs need not be fixed or finite.  They need not fit neatly into a single category or meet the strict criteria of someone else's label.  I think the only way to truly locate oneself is to do the work (sometimes rewarding, sometimes painful) of concentrating on the "here and now." Because I believe that some day, when someone asks me "Who is your guru?" I will be able to answer, simply and honestly: "I am."

Winners never quit. Or do they?

My local radio station has been running another one of their gimmicky contests, and this one was actually quite cool, I thought. 

The ChallengeIdentify the six celebrities whose garbled voices are embedded in an audio recording.
The Reward: An all-expenses-paid trip for 2 to the American Music Awards this weekend.
The Winner: A very excited woman who plans to take her 11 year old daughter with her for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The Problem (at least for me):  The mother admitted, on the local radio station, that her daughter (and co-traveller) has the lead in the local school play this weekend.  Mom's close-to-exact words were: "She's playing the role of Pinnochio in Pinnochio. Oh well, I guess they'll have to find an understudy."

I'm just going to let you sit with that for a minute.  Because maybe I rushed to judgment on this one.  So take a sec.  Grab some coffee.  Check an email.  Make a phone call.  I'll wait ...

Ok, so now that you've sat with it for a little longer than I did at the traffic light, is it more palatable with a little time lag? Or does this still reek of irresponsible mother? Ungrateful child?  Total lack of accountability and committment? 

Yes, I'm labelling.  Harshly. 

Because I have been doing theater most of my life, and I know a few things about how this child was probably cast in the coveted lead role.  Especially at such a young age:
  • No doubt there were tears - because nobody loves drama more than artists. 
  • There were ass-kissings -- because nobody can kiss ass better than a person with a wish. 
  • There was merciless gossip (among parents and children) about the other kids who tried out - because the saying "the best way to make yourself feel better is to make someone else feel bad" came from somewhere.  And I'm wagering a bet it actually came from a theater audition.
  • And, as I know from every play I have ever done, there was certainly a "Date Conflicts" sheet provided to all auditioners.  Let's be clear: most directors base a significant amount of their casting decision on the information provided under the "Please list all date conflicts here" section.  Generally, an unavoidable conflict during any major rehearsal, tech and orchestra run-through, and/or Hell Week means one of three things: 
    1. No hard feelings but you're out of the running,
    2. You still stand a chance if you are related to the director, or
    3. You are so unbelievably gifted, so incredibly made for the part, that it wouldn't be possible, in fact it would be insane, to even consider casting another person in the role. So no worries. The part is yours. 
No, I can't say for sure that this particular local theater passed around a "Date Conflicts" sheet.  But it would be unusual if they didn't.  And it would be highly unusal for a director to be ok with the student he/she cast in the lead role missing not a rehearsal, not a run-through, but the Saturday night performance, with no advance warning, because "something better came up."  Community theater is gruelling.  It requires a lot of work and full committment, and the added pressure of knowing, especially as a lead in the show, that a lot of people and money and community resources are depending on your 110%.

There's no arguing that this is a total bummer of a situation. An all-expenses-paid trip to the American Music Awards is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  But guess what?  So is the lead role in a local play when you're eleven years old and performing in front of hundreds of people.  My guess is, months ago, during the Pinnochio audition process, this child would have given anything, absolutely anything (because you know how eleven year olds love their hyperbole) to be cast in the lead.  And as most dedicated and supportive parents do, my guess is that her parents drove her to the auditions and coached her at home and got swept up in the possibility of their child becoming a local star, too.  In fact, I truly hope that happened ... because every child should feel like a star at some point in her life.

But now, what could have been a harsh life lesson, an invalable teachable moment about honoring committment and consideration of others has become this ... this "something better came up" situation with mom literally announcing to the whole Capital Region that the theater would need to find an understudy.  It almost sounded too close to a "not my problem" kind of dismissal.  And yes, her daughter was sitting right there, absorbing everything with her impressionable, eleven year old ears.

I make it my policy to never give parenting advice.  I also try to make it my policy not to criticize parents, but sometimes I choose to override that one in favor of sharing an opinion that is stronger than my belief that I should probably butt out.  But even as I write this, I don't quite know how I feel.  I don't know that I want to "criticize" this woman, per se.  But I do want her to explain to her daughter why it is not possible to bail on a committment (any committment, but certainly not a committment in which a lot of people have invested a lot of time and money).

So is this one of those "You have to be a parent to understand" moments?  I must confess, I am a little sick of humoring parents through those moments, as if somehow fertilization has baptized them with super human knowledge or special powers that I couldn't possibly possess.  Or understand.

This seems to me to be about integrity, and nothing more.  And integrity begins with modelling. I believe it.  I have experienced it.  And for you cerebral types out there, I can produce a few compelling domestic/family violence studies that corroborate it.

Maybe I'm wrong.  But it makes me kind of sad to know that this little girl who should be walking out onto a stage of her own Saturday night, standing in her own light, taking her own curtain call, will be settling for an anonymous seat in an ocean of people who won't even glance twice at her.  She will watch the stage instead of taking the stage.  She won't have the commaraderie of the post-show get together or the pictures of her shining moment to last her a lifetime.  She may create a memory at the Awards show, but it will certainly fade much quicker than her spotlight would have. And I guarantee that her castmates and her community will remember her decision long after the red carpet has rolled itself up and the bright lights of Hollywood have gone dark.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Porn Star Reads to Children ... nothing more.

What do all of the following have in common?
  • A Catholic priest.
  • A little league coach. 
  • A scout leader. 
  • A teacher. 
  • A bus driver. 
  • A doctor.
  • A police officer. 
  • A politician. 
  • A celebrity.
If you answered:
They all work in "helping" professions, you are correct. 
They all demand a certain degree of power and authority, you are correct. 
They are all capable of abusing children, you are correct. 

Now, Let's take a closer look at that list again:
  • Father Carl Urban.
  • Coach David Hartshorn. 
  • Scout Leader Shannon Sourmail
  •  Ms. Jenifer Stitzel
  •  Mr.William J. Tappy
  • Dr. Zahid Nazir
  • Officer Paul D. Pierce
  • Mr. Chris Ortloff
  • John Philips.
Every one of them has been accused, and most of them found guilty, of child sexual abuse. 

I'd like to say that this post (a momentary but necessary deviation from my "Lighten Up" theme) was inspired by the recent Penn State situation - an unspeakable case of decades-long, institutionally condoned, community supported child sexual abuse.  In this case, former (thankfully!) Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky was supported and encouraged in his abuse of multiple child victims over a period of decades.  When his superiors became aware of his criminal behavior, they continued to provide him with keys to the men's locker room - a silent but clear message that they accepted his behavior and were willing to provide him with the unfettered access that would ensure its continuation.  No questions asked.  No accountability imposed.  And I certainly share the global nausea that most of us (minus a few thousand Penn State students) feel at the mere mention of Penn State these days - the images, the horror stories, the children who should have been spared, protected, saved. Or at least believed and rehabilitated.  The criminals who should have been punished. The professionals who should have been removed from their positions of authority long before now.

But what moves me to action today is something that disturbs me even more than the Penn State case.  And that is the story of a young woman named Sasha Grey.  In a recent interview, Ms. Grey stated: "I am an actor. I am an artist. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a partner."  And, in addition, (and perhaps most important to the parents of the Emerson Elementary community), Ms. Grey is a former porn star "who outraged Los Angeles-area elementary school parents after she was invited to read to students last week." 

I get it.  Porn is not for children.  And I am perfectly ok admitting that porn is not for me, either.  But neither is eating meat.  Or consuming alcohol.  Or worshipping in a synagogue.  Or becoming a parent.  I have preferences about how I live my life today, and like most of us, I have both regrets and pride in how I have lived my life up to this point.  I have held jobs that have filled me with gratitude and positive energy, and jobs that have left me feeling defeated and ashamed at the end of the day.  The same goes for the people with whom I have associated, the places I have lived, the things I have done.  Like everyone, I am a hybrid, an amalgamation trying to avoid life's black-and-white categorization obesession.  I am neither "all good" nor "all bad." I am not my job.  I am not my associates.  I am not my possessions.  I am simply myself.

And herein lies my anger over the Sasha Grey attack - she is open about her past.  She is not putting on a suit or an official uniform.  She is not masking predatory behavior with a special license or certification.  She is not camoflaged by celebrity status.  She is not hiding behind morality or spirituality or empty promises of redemption.  She is saying "I have a past that some people may not agree with, but it does not define who I am. I will not live in fear of it.”  And she is also saying something that should motivate our under-educated, underachieving, unproductive country to appreciation when she insistes that literacy is “an effort that is close to [her] heart."

Ms. Grey, by virture of her very public past profession, is not likely to be left alone with children in a classroom.  Her honesty has alerted an entire community of parents.  The same parents who are sending their children to Sunday school.  And putting them on little league buses.  And sending them on scouting trips.  And turning them over to the guidance and supervision of their teachers. The same parents who turn to doctors for help and who expose their children to celebrity scandal without considering its impact.

I leave you with two bits of research and a little bit of data: 
All I'm suggesting is that perhaps focusing all our anger and judgement on a woman we may consider "unacceptable" by our own personal moral standards is distracting us from educating our children and truly keeping them safe. And I ask you to consider whether it is possible that, while you are lashing out at the former porn star who is reading to your child in a monitored, supervised classroom, you should be paying more attention to the local "pillar of the community" who may be nothing more than a predator in nice clothing. Or a winning football coach in a Penn State uniform.

Full article:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Today's random thought ...

Holding a grudge is like putting your anger on layaway. 

(And refusing to pay it off.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Public restrooms: Not so restful

I frequently find myself trapped inside socially awkward situations struggling to breathe, it takes a lot to make me blush these days. I've pretty much done it all - toilet paper tucked into (and flapping wildly from) my waistband, essential buttons missing from my shirt without my knowledge, completely overlooked pants zippers, and (no I am not exaggerating for effect here) forgotten Velcro rollers stuck to the back of my head an hour or more into my workday.

I guess my point is - I am a heavyweight when it comes to potentially embarrassing situations. For me, embarrassment is relative: if I haven't already lived through it, I've probably lived through worse. Unless it involves ... a public restroom. Nothing disarms me quite like this communal experience every time I find myself reduced to pitiful displays of pathological germophobia and social inadequacy that only a shared stall can inflict.

First, you should know that I don't particularly enjoy "bathroom talk." I'm not a fan of body function humor, and I almost resent the necessity of having to subject my shy bladder to countless strangers on a daily basis. On top of that, nothing disgusts me more than the women's public restroom. In fact, I am willing to wager a hefty bet that the men's public restroom is generally cleaner than its estrogen-beckoning counterpart. Probably because men, in general, just take care of business without turning every experience into a social event. Women, on the other hand, turn the bathroom into their own personal playground, so that every time I try to sneak in and out in record time, I am forced through the following process:

1.    The Hunting Expedition. Why is it that most days, in a 5-stall bathroom, I'm lucky to find ONE stall that doesn't require a Haz Mat label and an Anthrax suit?

2.    The Radio City Rockette High Kick. This is a big shout out to the nonhygenic of my gender: Thanks ladies! Thanks for requiring me to do everything with my FOOT! Hitting the Flusher. Turning the sink handles. And you know that hunting expedition from number 1 above? Yeah, how many doors have you had to kick open today?

3.    The Streamers. Look, I know budget cuts have necessitated scaling back on luxuries like expensive soaps. Complimentary lotions. Toilet paper that actually gives up more than a single, one-ply square at a time. But may I ask where all the shredded toilet paper streamers are coming from? Was there a celebration I didn't know about? If so, congratulations! If not, please pick up your sandpaper confetti so I don't have to wade through it before kicking my way into and out of stall number five.

4.    The Extended Primp. I get it: you're washing your hands. You look up. Mirror alert. You smooth that one flyaway hair, and another hair pops up. Then you notice that eyeliner streak. And suddenly, what's this? A pimple? And oh lord, where are those tweezers? Before you know it, you're lost in your own personal spa day while those of us who hold our breath with the ultimate goal of escaping as quickly as possible stand quietly behind you. Waiting. For those of you who put people like me through this kind of torture, I should tell you that I'm proposing pay-by-the-minute public restrooms. And you're the reason.

5.    The Phone booth. Yes, I know. I know. We're multitaskers who never get a break. As a single non-parent who rents an overpriced "townhouse," I guess most of my multitasking occurs in the form of self-induced anxiety about things that will never happen, rather than tangibles that actually require my energy. Even so, I understand the necessity of personal calls and I sympathize with the "lack of time" phenomenon - you gotta do what you gotta do when you have time to do it. But here's the thing: Cell phone calls in a public bathroom lead to unwanted responses from those of us who assume your questions are directed at ... us. So unless you want your own personal bathroom version of Single White Female, either hold your calls or hold your bladder. Because I was raised to politely answer "I'm doing fine, thanks" when you ask "How's it goin'?" It doesn't matter whether your question is intended for me, a complete stranger on the other side of a bathroom stall, or the person in your cell phone that I am apparently (and unknowingly) interrupting.

Above all, please remember this: civilized society does not stop at the bathroom door. Be courteous. Be polite. And please, for the love of all that is holy, be quiet and be quick. Life is too short to be wasted in the bathroom.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

OCCUPY ... this.

This whole OCCUPY movement has got me thinking about a few things, not the least of which is that whole "strength in numbers" concept.  Group mentality has long been a source of inspiration, motivation, momentum, and of course debate.  And the OCCUPY situation is no different.

As with most things, it took me awhile to catch on to what this was all about.  I remember seeing some "OCCUPY Wall Street" message all over Facebook one day, and thinking ... Why?  Who would want to do that?  Then, true to form, I started researching and reading and talking to people, and I figured out what was going on.  What the overarching point seemed to be. According to The Forum, the Occupy Movement is "a collective of members representing the “99 Percent,” or the vast majority of Americans who are not considered “rich” and feel their voice has been underrepresented"  (

Excellent.  I'm in!  A club without an application process.  A club without membership dues.  A club based on the requirements that I be less-than-wealthy and consistently muted.  Not since I pocketed my new Sam's Club card have I felt such a sense of access and belonging, despite how unfamiliar I am with the inner workings and the minute behind-the-scenes details.  And yet, as I learn more and more about this movement, as I watch it branching out from its orginal Wall Street origin into smaller local communities nationwide, I am tempted to jump on the OCCUPY-go-round and propose a few OCCUPlans of my own. 

1.  OCCUPY Common Sense.  This is a hard one, since those already in possession of common sense require no elaboration, and those lacking it will be hard pressed to understand even the most basic explanation.  Even so, the march is underway. And ongoing.  I urge everyone to join in - and bring banners.

2.  OCCUPY Compassion.  This is challenging because I can count on one hand the instances where I truly see human compassion at work these days.  Most of the time, I am shocked by the sheer lack of interest, awareness, and concern that exists between people.  And I'm not talking about the annual holiday charity donations or the public displays of gift giving - I'm talking about those small, private actions we take to make someone else's life (or their day) a little better, a little more pleasant, a little more connected to the larger community -- all without asking for gratitude or recognition in return.  Incidentally, if you find this one helpful, no need to thank me.

3.  OCCUPY REAL Food. What the hell is with all the fake foods?!  Honestly, are we so fat-obsessed, so body-panicked, that a piece of white bread is the thing that can bring us crashing to Earth?  As a newly-diagnosed food intolerant (to pretty much every major food group), there is nothing I regret more than my first diet at 11 years of age.  It started with a spoonful of lowfat blueberry yogurt and a promise to be perfect.  But let's face it, food is meant to be eaten, and the body is meant to be fed.  So for goodness sakes EAT.  Enjoy.  Live.   And remember Hasky's two food rules to live by: (A) if you wouldn't bathe your outsides in it, you shouldn't be bathing your insides in it and (B) If you can't prounouce it, it doesn't belong in  your body.

4.  OCCUPY Talking. I think this one speaks for itself, so I'll leave you with this - Life is too short to spend endless hours trying to decipher a text or an email or a Facebook message. Call me.  Or (and this is a little progressive) come see me.  And for the love of all that is holy, do not walk by me only to send me an email 5 minutes later.  Not if you want me to take you seriously. 

5.  OCCUPY Happiness.  Misery is easy.  I guess that one explains itself in a nutshell.

6.  OCCUPY Grammar.  I know we all learned "there/their/they're" in school, people.  I used to teach English.  I've seen the New York State English curriculum.  No amount of stress or anxiety should relieve you of basic human literacy requirements.  The comma, the semi-colon, and proper sentence structure are your responsibility.  And while you're at it, hit up Spellcheck every now and then, and stop dangling your participles - they're blocking my view.

7.  OCCUPY  Action.  Yup, it would be great if that new idea were implemented.  And it would totally rock if that water bottle got changed.  I would love to see that food provided.  This, my friends, is what we call passive language.  And it has a function - it is used by passive people to indicate passive action.  And yes, there is such a thing.  At least in my world.  Passive action exists when, in the absence of actually DOING anything, people offer great ideas and then wait for them to get done.  Keep waiting ...

8.  OCCUPY Individuality.  Trends.  Fads.  Group mentality. No one seems to exist anymore.  We move as a collective.  We think as a collective.  And this is why public restrooms have officially become the least comfortable place on Earth.

9.  OCCUPY Belts.  As someone close to me frequently points out, "belt loops are not a suggestion."  Buckle yourself into that message, my friends.

10.  OCCUPY Hope.  Because even when we struggle, there is something propelling us forward into the next day. The next hour.  The next moment. Don't embrace the idea of hope, imagine what it means for you, and then pursue it.  And if you are blessed enough to find it, for goodness sakes share it as widely as you can.  The world needs hope more than it needs marches and banners.  The world needs hope more than it needs slogans.  The world needs hope more than it needs just about anything.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yoga for Weight Loss? No thanks.

I receive all kinds of generic emails on a daily basis (i.e."Redeem your free Ipad now"; "You're invited to dinner with John McCain"; "I'd like to give you a million dollars from my overseas account.").  But when I glanced down the subject headings in my Inbox this morning and saw "Yoga for Weight Loss" listed among my spam-tastic collection of items just wating to be deleted, I couldn't help but double click and open it. 

And this is what I found:

Yoga for Weight Loss – Bring awareness to our eating habits and learn how to eat healthy and feel good from the inside out. Through work with body, mind and spirit; acknowledge the healthy, beautiful person you are meant to be. You will work with a yoga instructor and nutritionist in this four week workshop. Personal instruction and direction will be given to each participant. Please check class schedule (under workshops) for workshop date and time.

Lately, I've been struggling to accept that most things are neither "all bad" nor "all good" (And, in fact, I probably shouldn't use judgement words like "bad" or "good" at all,  but they work toward making my larger point here, so let's give my Zen a break on this one.) That being said, I am making a concerted effort to imagine that everything and everyone I encounter is a unique amalgamation of qualities I would like to invite into my life, and qualities that do nothing to serve me and are best avoided. 

Using this logic, there are a couple things about this Yoga for Weight Loss situation that I can actually appreciate.  Words like "awareness" and "healthy" and "body, mind, and spirit" appeal to me.  I also believe that working with a nutritionist is as key to developing healthy eating habits as is working with a yoga instructor to enhance mindfulness.  So, on its surface, this class not only makes sense, but is actually structured in a way that would seem to promote success and achievement as long as participants follow the "personal instruction and direction" provided.

And therein lies my problem with the whole thing: I am a yoga snob.  I actually have conditions under which I will and will not "practice"  - and goal setting, weight loss, and measures of success simply do not factor in to my yogic path.  I'm not thrilled with this part of myself, especially as I work toward a life of acceptance, detachment, and open-heartedness.  But there it is anyway.  I don't think yoga as a weight loss method is "real yoga," and I wish I could dedicate my life (or at least an afternoon) to coming up with another, more suitable name for this class.  Peaceful Dieting? Zenrobics?  Ohm Pump? 

It took me a long time to really feel the point of yoga - which is, really, that there is no "point" beyond the present experience.  For me, yoga is a goal-free space to honor the body and connect with the mind, wherever that may be at a given moment.  So how do you set this as a goal or measure it in terms of achievement?  In fact, the pressure of "haves" and "shoulds" and "need to's" is one of the things that led me to yoga in the first place - with my only goal being: To have no goals.  For at least an hour.  And with my mat as my anchor, I have finally, officially managed to declare my practice a goal-free zone. 

There's no arguing that a healthier body and a calmer mind will naturally lead to an optimum self.  There's also no arguing that most regularly practicing yogis and yoginis do have a "look" - that long, lean build.  That strong, balanced posture.  I guess it's possible that some of them set "the look" as their primary goal. But my guess (and my experience) has been that "the look" naturally emerges, over time, and is more an outward reflection of an internal presence. 

Don't get me wrong - in this world of nonstop moving and working and planning and worrying, I probably would take advantage of the ability to spot reduce my psyche by banishing my emotional love handles or firming up my psychological cellulite in 10 minutes or less.  If it were possible. Which is why I am grateful that such corner cutting isn't an option in yoga. Because sometimes the only thing that gets me to my mat and propels me through my practice is this single reality: The moment is not something I can truly appreciate unless I stay in it.  And if I leave it for even a second, it will be lost to me forever.

With all the stressors in my day, the bathroom scale has always been a particularly challenging, inconsistent, often sadistic opponent.   Throughout my life, I have existed at a relatively happy 155 pounds and a miserably sick and unhappy 85 pounds - and everything in between.  And I have learned that if you are seeking happiness in a number, you will probably be busy searching for something you cannot find when happiness actually passes you by. 

So sign up for that yoga class.  Enlist the help of that nutritionist.  Do what's right and healthy and enjoyable for your body, mind and spirit.  But do so with the awareness that living in the future will rob you of all you really need: the beauty of this unique, irreplacable, fleeting moment.

And I leave you with this - a picture of the most peaceful, most enlightened being I "know."  I wonder how he would feel about Yoga for Weight Loss. I suspect he might say lose the pain, lose the anger, lose the emotional and physical toxins, lose the self-imposed limitations and the negative self talk, lose the hatred, lose the numbness ... those are the things that truly weigh us down.

Or, he might just say "Namaste, my friend. And welcome to this moment."
10" Sitting Hotei Happy Buddha Statue

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top Ten Reasons I Long For the Rotary Phone of My Childhood (Or, Why the Cell Phone Sucks)

1.)  You know how you always call me when you're doing the dishes, so we can chat while you have a free moment?  Yeah, well, that dainty stream of water trickling out of your faucet sounds like Old Faithful on my end.  Call me back when you can talk to me without your kitchen sink geyser erupting into the phone and slamming against my eardrum.

2.) The Bluetooth.  It has been around forever. If you want to pretend to think I'm talking to myself when I have mine in, go right ahead.  But the next time you stick your hand in my face to "shh" me because you are talking into yours, we're gonna rumble.

3.) The dropped call.  I am putting you and the world of potential callers on notice: I'm barely interested in my stories the first time I tell them.  Should we lose the call, I refuse to re-tell said story. Also, I refuse to spend the 20 minutes after we reconnect debating whose phone actually lost the call. (Incidentally, it was probably your phone.  Just sayin)

4.) Choose your ringback tones wisely.  If we are friends, chances are you're over 35.  If Rihanna's *S&M* starts playing into my ear while I wait for you to answer, chances are we're not friends anymore.  Because what starts with Rihanna ends with a belly shirt -- and I refuse to stand by and watch as you become a midlife crisis casulty.

5.) The dead battery.  I don't understand how that happens on a regular basis.  How does a cell battery constantly die without your knowledge?  I'm guessing you're also one of the Christmas "victims" stuck at the mall on December 24 at 8:50pm complaining about how the holidays always sneak up on you.

6.) Apps.  But this one is more about my irritation with people who refuse to use complete words.  Is "Applications" so time consuming?  Or exhausting?  And also, I don't want to be part of your secret abbreviation society anyway, so the joke's on  you.

7.)  Text messaging.  What's to like about this feature? Initially designed to serve as a quick, succinct "call me when you can," it has replaced talking and has made illiteracy trendy:  FYI, LOL if I m rite.

8.)  Walking and talking.  Let's face it  - mobility is utility.  And the ability to take a call while moving through the world is the whole point of the cell phone. But not unlike the gentle stream of water on your end, your simple right-together/left-together/right-together/left-together sounds like an angry Clydesdale  mauling a herd of mad cattle on my end.  Lose the heels.  Or better yet, call me only when you're seated.

9.) If you are on your cell phone and I am standing in front of you, I don't plan to stick around while you finish your call.  Not unless you can produce satisfactory documentation proving that your call was a life-and-death situation.  And I take this stand on behalf of all salespeople, wait staff, and public servants in general:   Finish your oh-so-important call, then get in line and use my time wisely.

10.) The "new and shocking data" that hits the news circuits at least once a month, threatening us all with various forms of radiation-induced illness.  After 38 years of xrays, CAT scans, MRIs, and excessive sun exposure, I'm looking for something a little more solution-oriented than a "You are so screwed, America!" from the Mayo Clinic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ten Common "Fixes" That Don't Really Fix Anything (Or: Even if it IS broke, sometimes you just shouldn't try to fix it.)

1.) "Patches" for quitting everything from smoking to eating to ovulating.  All I see happening here is a Patch addiction.  And where's the patch for that?!

2.)  Fad diets. Although, if you buy into enough of them, they will certainly kill you.  And I have never seen a fat corpse.  So maybe there is a loophole to my theory on this one. Still, if you find yourself eating a slab of meat topped with cheese and butter even as you eschew the whole grain in the name of a smaller dress size, question your approach to life.

3.) Everything you see on HGTV, for two reasons: First, they have unlimited money and time. Second, they get a different family every single week.  So of course Home = happy.

4.) Magazine quizzes.  Who among us hasn't wanted to know which celebrity we most resemble in the fashion department, or which of the four love languages we speak?  All I'm saying is, don't throw away your wardrobe or your marriage based on advice sandwiched between a perfume sample and a Kardashian family update.

5.) "Sugar Free" candies and baked goods.  And don't try to sell me on the diabetes angle, either.  Not unless you can cure my asthma with oxygen-free air.

6.) Web MD.  Originally intended to provide information and resources, this has become the hypochondriac's downfall.  My recent attempts to avoid a doctor's appointment by Googling dehydration symptoms led me to Urgicare in a self-diagnosed malaria panic.

7.) The "add a little more flour" concept. You're baking a cake. The batter is too moist. You add a little more flour. Oops, too thick.  You add a little more water. Oops, too moist again.  A little more flour. Oops.  A little more water.  Oops.  A little more flour. Pasteball Cake, anyone?

8.) Clear nail polish to remedy a pantyhose rip.  Great idea in the middle of a work day. Not so great when you're peeling and stripping said pantyhose (and your epidermis) off your leg ten hours later.

9.) The common problem: bad hair day. The common fix: the Scrunchie.  I don't think I need to elaborate.

10.) Screaming louder and slower as a language translation technique.  We've all done it.  If I couldn't hear or understand the "How are you doing?" then the only thing the "HOW ARE YOU DOING?" has fixed is my once-wavering opinion that you may actually be smarter than you look.