Mon. May 20, 2019: Inner Peace in Times of Adversity #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, May 20, 2019
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde

Hey, when you have a handle on today’s topic, share, will you?

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with this. I had an unexpected car repair, and I had to ask for help, including starting a Go Fund Me. I was worried I couldn’t get the car back on the road, or that it wouldn’t survive long if I did, and I didn’t know what to do.

If it wasn’t for my daily yoga and meditation practice, I would have had a complete breakdown.

I came pretty darn close, as it was.

But every time I was sure I would lose my grip on “the edge of the verge” as a theatre colleague used to say, I would go to the mat or I’d go to the zafu and try to find a few minutes of peace. Those few minutes of either movement or stillness helped me steady. Helped me refocus. Helped me think clearly, so I could do what was necessary to take action and make decisions to deal with the situation.

I still had sleepless nights.

I still had days when I fell into bed early, because I couldn’t function any more.

There were tears and fears.

But, with the help of friends and colleagues, and the help of my daily yoga and meditation practices, I survived.

It clarified a few harsh realities of my life, and means the upcoming changes for this year may need to happen sooner rather than later.

I wouldn’t say I found “inner peace” — but I found a few moments of reprieve, and those helped me cope.

How do you cope when life throws adversity your way? How do you try to achieve “inner peace?”

 

Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:32 am  Comments (1)  
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Mon. May 13, 2019: Inner Peace – Detachment #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, May 13, 2019
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde

I promised you a post about detachment and inner peace, so I’m delivering.

One of the frustrating aspects of studying meditation and different paths is when the instructors and meditators talk about the need for “detachment.” Or, sometimes, it’s phrased as “non-attachment.”

I don’t believe that artists can approach the world with detachment. Our work doesn’t resonate unless it’s passionate. Unless it’s created with passion and life and juice and emotion.

So when these instructors talk about living a life of “non-attachment,” I admit I want to smack them upside the head with the Frying Pan of Creation.

I think one of the reasons we’re in a societal and humanitarian crisis, locally and globally, is because we’ve removed the humanity from interaction. Computers make arbitrary decisions on hiring, firing, insurance claims, bank loans. Employees hide behind “company policy” in order to get away with debasing and harming their fellow humans.

That’s what “non-attachment” encourages. Yes, whenever I bring that up in a class or a session, I get a lecture filled with psycho-babble terms claiming that’s not what “detachment” or “non-attachment” mean at all. But look at how it’s actually practiced. Look at what happens when we detach from each other as human beings. De-humanization, which leads to the classification of those inconvenient “others” that leads to the fascism and authoritarianism we currently face. To sit on our mats chanting “non-attachment” or to put our hands over our ears and sing, “la-la-la, I don’t do politics” — if we want to stay alive and to have a world in which our children can live, that is not an option.

Especially for artists.

Artists have the capacity, and, more importantly, the responsibility to change the world. While entertaining. Those are not mutually exclusive. The best art entertains AND informs. Art can be lighthearted and fun and brain candy and still relevant. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s too relevant and so heavy-handed that it shuts the audience down instead of opening them up. That’s where craft is necessary.

Artists can build buffers between themselves and many of the demands of daily life because they need a type of sacred space to create. At the same time, daily life keeps artists connected. Things like cooking and doing laundry soothe me and give me a chance to clear my head. Physical tasks balance mental tasks. But artists cannot and should not detach from passion, emotion, complexity, and a wide range of experience, or their art will become soulless.

At the same time, once the first flush of creation is done, be it the first draft or a rendering or whatever form, the artist DOES have to step back, take a breath. Take a break, so that it can be approached and improved from the point of view as though someone else created it.

Finishing your draft and starting edits an minute later, an hour later, even a day later — you don’t have the distance and objectivity to see what doesn’t work. You need to detach from the first flush of creation in order to layer in craft and make it the best it can be. You practice “non-attachment” to every word in the draft, but you are not detached from the craft in the creative process that allows it to engage and enchant your audience. You do not detach from the meld of art and craft that allows an audience to experience something new to them. To change their frame of reference. To see the world through different eyes.

What do you is shift your perspective in order to elevate your creation to the next level. Cut out what doesn’t work. Polish what does. That takes investment, commitment, and a different type of passion.

You detach from the belief that every word in a draft is inviolate and can’t be improved. But you are committed to making the draft better. And the next one even more so.

You balance the frenzy with creation with the steady progress of craft. So that when you release it into the world, it has the ability to fly.

Every person who interacts will do so from their own frame of reference. There will be as many gradations of response as there are individuals who interact with it. That’s beautiful.

But it comes from a deep sense of connection to the world, not detachment.

I detach from toxic individuals and situations. Not everyone wishes us well. A bad review? Sure, it hurts. It’s disappointing. At the same time, ask yourself, “Who is this person in my life? Why should this opinion matter beyond this moment?” Sometimes, it will. Other times, it is a single opinion that can give you information, but don’t let it bully you.

There are books or articles I read that don’t work for me. There are situations when it is my job to state what doesn’t work and why. I don’t wish to harm the individual, and my opinion is a single opinion. It may matter to some people — to people who trust my recommendations or the publication in which they appear. It won’t matter to plenty of others. I try to be specific. I try not to be cruel. I focus on the work.

There’s a wide variety of art and literature, for a wide variety of tastes. We like what we like. Hopefully, we’re receptive enough to explore outside our comfort zones. Sometimes, it will open new directions for us; other times, it’s not for us. We can find something unsuitable without attacking those who enjoy it (provided it doesn’t cause harm, danger, or abuse to others).

There are plenty of pleasures other people like that I don’t. But I can still enjoy their enjoyment. Their enthusiasm makes me smile. I’m happy they found something that makes them happy, even if I don’t share in the experience.

Because we are not detached. We are connected. That doesn’t mean we deny ourselves solitude or quiet when we need it. We can be connected within our stillness. In my weekly meditation group, we are all within ourselves, yet connected by sharing the experience of quiet and focus. In my daily meditations, I am alone, yet often feel more connected to others than I do going about my day. Strengthening those connections, rather than isolating ourselves further, makes a huge difference.

I don’t find inner peace by an ambiguous “detachment” or “non-attachment.” I detach from specifics at specific times, and work on my deeper connections. Because that is what feeds my passion, and, ultimately, my art.

 

Mon. May 6, 2019: Inner Peace – What Does That Mean? #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, May 6, 2019
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde

I’m interested in exploring this topic with you over the month. Because I’m stymied.

“Inner Peace” is something amorphous to me. We hear a lot about it, but what does it feel like?

I honestly can think of moments when I felt it. When I felt content and calm, and happy to be in that moment.

But then life continued, and that “inner peace” fled.

I’ve read dozens of books on how to achieve it. None of them worked. Most of them were so far removed from the realities of my life that they left me more unsettled than when I started.

My conclusion from this is that I’m going to have to come up with both my own definition, and find ways to attempt it. If any of my attempts help you, I’m glad of it. If you have suggestions, feel free to drop a comment. I’m happy to hear them.

My idea of Inner Peace is to find that place in my core where I can meet the world with grace and serenity, even when I’m battened by exterior forces on all sides.

Yeah, I don’t see achieving that any time soon.

The moments I can feel it and recognize it are valuable, though. But how do I get there?

I realize that the world is not all about me. But, quite frankly, I sometimes feel that not enough of it IS about me. Constant demands are made on me to accommodate everyone around me, yet too often, they are not willing to offer me even a fraction of the same.

It’s something I’ve found increasingly frustrating over the past few years. Non-reciprocity.

No interaction will be exactly even, because we each have our own value system. But when things get too far out of balance, it causes distress, illness, and unhappiness.

There has to be at least some reciprocity, be it tangible or emotional.

Far too many people intone, in sonorous voices, about detachment and lowering expectations. I’m going to write an entire post on detachment. We will get to that. But lowering expectations? That’s part of the reason we’re in such a global societal mess in the first place. We’ve devalued intelligence and lowered expectations. The bar for basic decency is so low that it’s buried.

It’s important to remember that, whenever possible, you need to disengage from the toxic. I’m more pro-active about that now on social media. Every time I unfollow or block someone toxic, I feel like a burden has been lifted. Not just from my shoulders, but my heart.

Disengaging from toxic emotional vampires helps with inner peace.

I think of “peace” as being a quiet place, whereas “happiness” is more active.

But in order to find peace, I have to define what makes me happy.

Sometimes that means recognizing that people, situations, things I assumed were givens make me unhappy, and doing what I can to eliminate or change them. Sometimes, I don’t even realize that something or someone made me unhappy until that thing or person is no longer part of my life.

So for me, the first steps to inner peace mean recognizing what makes me happy. Naming those things and deciding how to appreciate them more in the moment, and give myself more moments with them.

Being aware of those moments of happiness while I’m IN those moments, taking what I call an “emotional snapshot” and holding the moment with gratitude makes me more aware of when they come up, and they give me a sense memory to draw on in more difficult times –and in my writing.

Writing makes me happy, even on the tough days. For me, when I need to come to center, to where it all starts for me, it always takes me back to the writing. It’s how I make sense of the world. How I make sense of myself.

For me, inner peace starts with a steady writing schedule, and a constant creation process. It starts with not allowing anyone to sabotage that process (including myself). It starts with recognizing that I am a writer to my bones and my soul, and working forward from there.

 

Mon. April 22, 2019: Make The World a Better Place — Community #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, April 22, 2019
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde

This week, we talk about making the world a better place by building community and participating in your community.

What, exactly, does “building community” mean?

Different things to different people. To some, it means reaching out to those who don’t like to participate, and to encourage them so to do. That’s great for extroverts, but as an introvert who is forced into extroversion far too often and gets resentful, I build it in different ways. Ways that don’t force me to pretend to be something I’m not.

I consider what I’m interested in, and where my skills might be an asset. Then, I see which organizations could use those skills. I do my research, I attend open houses or events to see if we’d be a good fit. If what I do matches what they need, we discuss ways for me to volunteer.

One of my biggest mistakes when I moved here was downplaying some of my skills and doing tasks with which I was uncomfortable under the adage of “being a good sport.” Around here, too many people are hostile to people with New York skills, citing, “This isn’t New York.” No, it’s not. The only place that’s New York is actually New York. But some of the skills that are successful there can be successful anywhere, and dismissing skills because they worked in New York is a stupid reason not to use them.

Having learned the hard way, I’m done with that.

I’ve also learned to put my foot down when the organization demands something I don’t do, with the claim, “well that’s what we need” — ESPECIALLY when I told them, early on, what tasks I was uncomfortable with and would not do. Too many organizations just want bodies to deploy and aren’t honest about the work that needs doing. It’s one thing if there’s a crunch time to say, “We could really use an extra pair of hands for this.” Hey, no problem, glad to help. It’s quite another to send multiple emails every week demanding I do things I said I wouldn’t do.

It means I’ll leave the organization. Especially as a volunteer, I am not going to spend my rare time off, unpaid, doing things that make me miserable. It makes MY world a worse place, and it doesn’t help further the organization’s mission.

In volunteering, honesty on both sides and firm boundaries are vital for the volunteer-organization relationship to work. The more specific and honest the initial conversation, the better the overall relationship, and the better everyone works for the betterment of all.

Another way to make the world a better place in your community is to look around and see what needs to be done. Does an elderly neighbor need help with yard work or grocery shopping or someone to help walk the dog? Is a neighbor sick and could use a few meals they can just heat up? Is a fundraiser looking for someone to staff a table or write invitations or do something you enjoy doing?

The local library is an information center. They often have a community board, and their website carries information on programs, talks, community events.

If you have an area of expertise, ask your local library if they’d like you to give a talk on it. Partner with them. Attend other events they host. Funding is cut if people don’t attend. When I worked for a library, those who couldn’t be bothered to attend the free programs were always the ones who moaned that there weren’t enough programs offered. If you want events to exist, you have to make the effort to attend them when they do, or they will cease. If there’s no reciprocity, they stop.

Attend local theatre productions and art openings and wine tastings, if you’re interested in any of that. These programs have no reason to exist if people don’t attend. We’re all tired after a long day at work, but if you make an effort once or twice a week, it improves your community.

The Chamber of Commerce is another organization that makes the community a better place. Attend an open house. Get to know other businesses. See if it makes sense to become a member. As a freelancer, in most places I’ve lived, the Chamber of Commerce is one of the best resources for networking, community building, business building, and laughter around.

When you go to these events, smile. Introduce yourself. Talk to people. Make the effort, even if you’re shy. Look around for the person who is quiet and doesn’t know anyone else, either, and say hello. Be the inclusion you want. Don’t wait for other people to do it.

Create what you’re looking for, instead of expecting others to do it. When you create what you want and need and love, you attract those seeking the same. That’s how you find your tribe.

Mon. April 15, 2019: Make the World a Better Place #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, April 15, 2019
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Tax Day
Patriot’s Day in MA

 

Yeah, Jupiter Retrograde on Tax Day. Isn’t that fun? We already know anyone who actually works for a living is getting screwed out of a refund, while the richest get yet another break.

Week 3 of our month about “Make the World a Better Place” focuses on how to do so at work.

Many of us, as writers, work on our own or remotely. We started making our home a better place last week; this week, we make our work a better place, even if we work from home.

Others of us work outside of the home in whatever fields we work in when we’re not writing.

Work situations can be toxic, especially if we’re in a position where we can’t immediately leave a bad situation. Also, remember that everyone has bad days. Sometimes people are thoughtless or exhausted or overwhelmed and lash out. WE all need to practice a certain amount of forgiveness and give each other some breathing room. When it becomes a detrimental pattern, then you have to choose which action you take further, but remember that you will have bad days, and your co-workers have bad days, so try to approach the work situation with compassion.

So, how do you make wherever you work a better place?

Here are some things I have found that help. Try them or don’t, as you please:

Come in with a smile and a cheerful greeting. It makes a difference. People will start associating you with a pleasant start to the day.
Answer the phone sounding cheerful. Again, that makes a difference. It can also diffuse a tense situation if the other person has a gripe.
Have a small item you can put in your workspace that personalizes it. Some places don’t want you to personalize your workspace. Unless it’s a safety issue, I suggest finding another job as soon as possible, because, in my experience, it means they are trying to dehumanize their employees. But a small stone or shell or photo or mug or something that is uniquely YOU that you can put in your space when you arrive and then tuck back in your bag when you leave also ritualizes the work day. You put it down, and it helps indicate you’re starting work. You put it away, and this portion of your day is finished. Even if you work at home, entering the space where you work and performing a specific action to start and end your day makes a big difference.
Listen to your co-workers and learn about them. Pay attention. REMEMBER what is said in conversations. I worked with someone who, whether it was personal or work-related, would constantly say, “You can’t expect me to remember that.” Yes, I can. If I relay information you need for your task, remembering it or writing it down so you can refer to it later is called being professional. If it’s something personal, then it’s called being a decent human being. (Note: I no longer interact with this person at ALL, thank goodness).
Know what’s going on in your field. Read internal newsletters and reports. Read external information about the profession. Know what’s happening, what’s changing, what’s phased out. Be that valuable reference who knows the pulse of your profession. Relay appropriate information where it will do the most good.
Communicate with clarity and precision. Take good notes, especially in phone conversations. Send a summary of the phone conversation by email immediately after, stating that you will proceed on your understanding of the next steps based on this summary, unless you hear otherwise within one business day. Documentation is vital, and accurate documentation saves a lot of agony down the line.
Avoid passive aggressive behavior in yourself and call it out in others. You can say, “If something is bothering you, please let me know instead of expecting me to guess.” If it continues to be a problem, go to a supervisor for a discussion. In my experience, more sabotage and harm on both personal and professional levels is done through passive aggressive behavior than through direct attack.
Be honest without being cruel. If you disagree with something, or you find something unethical or unacceptable, calmly and clearly speak up using a positive language as possible. Don’t let an aggressor trap you into an argument. Remember that you can say “no” without a qualifier. “No” means “no.” If challenged, you have the option to say, “Because my answer is no.”
Be kind whenever possible. As we discussed in our work on kindness a few weeks ago, kindness is not weakness. It’s the opposite. As mentioned above, everyone has bad days. When a co-worker is struggling, sometimes even a kind word makes all the difference.

We spend so much time with our co-workers; even remote workers have to deal with people more often than we sometimes wish!

But when we remember that every word and every action has an impact on our co-workers, when we take that extra beat to think before we speak, we can make a positive difference.

Published in: on April 15, 2019 at 6:50 am  Comments (1)  
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Mon. April 8, 2019: Make the World a Better Place — At Home — #UpbeatAuthors

spring-2955582_1920

Monday, April 8, 2019
Waxing Moon

There’s an old saying about “charity starts at home.”

Many things start at home, actually. That includes making the world a better place. Last week, we worked on ourselves. This week, we expand to our home.

It’s not selfish to have a lovely, calm sanctuary. When you have a refuge, it helps you recharge and take your best qualities out into the world, which, by extension, then makes the world a better place.

It also doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It’s fun to buy something new for the house. Sometimes, you need it to be brand new, and not just brand new to you. But sometimes, it can be a great find at a thrift shop, or something you got off craigslist and restored or repainted and made uniquely yours. It’s not so fun when you have to buy something big to replace something broken.

A few months ago, I rearranged my writing room. It was originally the dining room of the house I’m renting, and has lovely molding on the walls, and a built-in. Most of the walls have floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I have a computer desk and a desk where I write longhand. I have a reading chair.

But it had gotten messy and I stopped working in there unless I had to.

I took everything out, and set down a new-to-me carpet with padding under it. It’s a light creamy yellow, a color I normally wouldn’t use (having a black cat and a tortoiseshell cat). But it brightened and warmed the room. I put things back, organizing. I culled or put in a different place things that had drifted into the office and melted into disorganized heaps. I set up a worktable, and set up a new-to-me Encyclopedia on it.

Now, I want to be there. I spend a few minutes in there first thing in the morning, with my coffee, before yoga and meditation. I think about what I will write first that day, my first 1K of the day. And figure out a loose structure for the rest of it.

After my yoga, meditation, and shower, I’m delighted to get to the desk and get down to work.

When I come back from client meetings, or errands, I spend some time there. I read more often there.

As it gets warmer, some of that will move out onto the deck. We have a great covered deck and yard, and when the weather is nice, I spend a lot of time there. (And I have a lot of work to do in the yard to get it ready this year).

But rearranging and tidying that one room made a huge difference.

I WANT to be there now, and I’m more productive when I’m there. It feels better.

It cost me time and effort. The carpet was given to me; the encyclopedia set was from craigslist. The different curtains are from the 1940’s, that an aunt of mine made. In May, when I switch out the winter curtains to the lace panels, I will put up different ones for even more light.

I’m more attuned to putting things away instead of letting piles accumulate.

I’m about to turn that attention to trouble spots in the rest of the house.

When I’m happy in my house, I leave it with a stronger sense of purpose, and I’m calmer, happier, and more effective when I go out into the world.

Theatre is transient, so I learned to carry home within me and create home wherever I was. Now that I’ve been in a more stable situation, I’m learning how to maintain that sense of home over time.

Which then gives me the foundation to make a positive difference in the world.

Published in: on April 8, 2019 at 6:13 am  Comments Off on Mon. April 8, 2019: Make the World a Better Place — At Home — #UpbeatAuthors  
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Mon. April 1, 2019: A Month of Making the World a Better Place: Start With the Self & Skip the Cruelty #UpbeatAuthors

joker-161416_1280

Monday, April 1, 2019
Waning Moon
April Fool’s Day

 

It’s interesting that April Fool’s Day falls on the first Monday we talk about making the world a better place.

If you’re interested in the history of April Fool’s Day, The History Channel has some interesting information here.

I’m not a big fan of the day, because too often, the pranks and jokes are cruel. When you push back on the cruelty, you’re told to “lighten up” and “get a sense of humor.”

Humor differs from person to person. Satire can be incisive. Humor is a great tool to point out flaws.

But few are clever enough not to cross over into cruelty.

April’s theme for Upbeat Authors is making the world a better place. We have to start with the self – treat people better every day. Don’t be a doormat, but start from a position of basic human decency and courtesy, and work from there.

So on this first day of a new month that’s about making the world a better place, start with yourself and skip the cruelty. Speak out when you witness it. Don’t be an accomplice.

 

Published in: on April 1, 2019 at 6:08 am  Comments Off on Mon. April 1, 2019: A Month of Making the World a Better Place: Start With the Self & Skip the Cruelty #UpbeatAuthors  
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Mon. March 18, 2018: Kindness is not Weakness #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, March 18, 2019
Waxing Moon
Mercury Retrograde

 

In light of the New Zealand terrorist attack, I thought it was important to talk about how kindness is not weakness.

Often, when someone is kind, it is misinterpreted as weak. Part of the premise of my not-quite-cozy Nautical Namaste mystery series (under the Ava Dunne name) hinges on the fact that my protagonist, Sophie, is mistaken for weak when in reality she is kind. She walks her talk. She does her best to live the yogic path she teaches. Part of that path is meeting the world with kindness.

That does not mean she doesn’t fight back when someone tries to hurt her or hurt someone about whom she cares. Quite the contrary. She’s strong. She can be tough without being hard.

But she is also kind. She does her best to make everyone in class feel good about where they are at that moment. It’s one of the tenets practiced at Kripalu that I admire most, and I wanted to fold that in as part of the series.

You are fine where you are. From where you are, you work for positive change to change what you know needs to change.

Offering a helping hand instead of a striking blow is not weakness.

It is something we must start practicing as individuals. If the current poison of hatred can spread the way it has, it can and must be countered with an antidote of kindness in strength.

Take a look at the Strength card in your favorite tarot deck. (If you don’t have a favorite tarot deck yet, I recommend the Robin Wood Deck or the Everyday Witch Tarot or the Steampunk Tarot). Look at the image on the Strength card. There is strength, integrity, purpose. And kindness.

We can’t change the greater world until we change our own part of it. By practicing kindness in strength, we can create a ripple effect that counters the wave of hatred that’s been the long game since the Reagan years, which is now coming into full flower.

We can stop this. We can change this. But only if we don’t turn away, pretend it doesn’t exist, and pretend that our daily interactions either enable it or counter it.

Be strong. Be kind. Make the world a better place.

 

Published in: on March 18, 2019 at 5:18 am  Comments Off on Mon. March 18, 2018: Kindness is not Weakness #UpbeatAuthors  
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Mon. March 11, 2019: Kindness to Self – #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, March 11, 2019
Waxing Moon
Mercury Retrograde
My birthday

Today is my birthday, which is always a mixed day. I want to have a happy day, but it’s hard not to beat myself up about not getting everything done in the previous year that I wished.

So, today, I have to be kind to myself.

That doesn’t mean lowering my standards or letting myself off the hook. But it means giving myself today as a personal holiday, and enjoying the day without bringing in unnecessary baggage.

Personal holidays are important. These are days that have nothing to do with anyone else’s calendar or traditional holidays. They are days you take for yourself, just because the day has meaning, and you get to do whatever you want. August 1 is one such day for me. I’m resolving to turn my birthday into another.

So, today, I resolve not to get caught up in other people’s drama. I’m just going to nod and smile and move on. I resolve not to focus on the half-empty, but the half-full.

On a practical level, I will write today. I will spend a few hours onsite with a client. Then, I’m going out to lunch, and then to meditation group, and then have a nice dinner and a quiet evening doing what I want with whom I want.

My kindness to myself.

How will you be kind to yourself this week?

 

Mon. February 18, 2019: Love of Country #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, February 18, 2019
Almost Full Moon
Presidents’ Day

We survived Valentine’s Day. We all deserve a prize.

On this President’s Day, on a month of essays about love, it’s appropriate to talk about love of country.

This is a contentious issue right now in the US, with two factions with opposite ideas of the definition of “love of country.”

I can’t think of any country whose history hasn’t been built on blood and pain. We keep hoping culture and society evolve into a better form of humanity. Sometimes it moves forward for a few years, and then back for a few hundred.

Too often, we don’t know actual history, just propagandized bits of history. Although it’s painfully obvious we don’t learn from it.

What inspires love of country?

For me, it is a set of ideals about humanity, justice, education, art, compassion, and inclusion that I see the country in which I currently live abandoning. Ideals that were set out by the Founding Fathers, and built on by our Founding Mothers and children, and all the rest of the anonymous people who actually did the work. There are always people devoted to their country who are willing to fight for it — be it joining the military or working on various fronts at home. But a country survives and thrives by its citizens holding a shared vision of what that country stands for, and everyone working to bring that vision into reality for ALL its members.

One can learn a great deal by re-reading documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — and then reading diaries and letters of regular people who actually lived through those times.

One of my favorite experiences was a discovery I made in the Philadelphia Archives. I was there to research Betsy Ross, for a project for which I’m still trying to find the proper form.

By accident, I saw a diary by a Dr. James Allen. I’d gone to elementary school with a nice guy named Jamie Allen, and I thought it might be fun to read about this Dr. James Allen. So I asked for the diary, which arrived, written in absolutely gorgeous penmanship.

Dr. Allen was a medical doctor. Well educated, well read, with a strong sense of justice. He was there, at Independence Hall, listening to the original public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It shook him, transformed him. He ended up joining the Army and serving under General George Washington. He was part of that Delaware Crossing.

I read his diary, knowing how it all comes out in the end, but, of course, he didn’t as he wrote it. His concerns, the times his patience and his integrity were tested — I wish I could get a grant to transcribe the diary, research his history, and publish a book about him!

I learned more from reading this man’s diary than I did from any history book.

It also reminded me how much more complex actual history is than a line in a textbook or a tweet or a sound byte.

Skipping ahead in history a bit, Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two of the reasons I became a writer. I admired both their work and their lives so much. As an aside, as much as I admire Emerson and Thoreau, I’m always reminded that there they were, talking and studying and writing and walking in the woods, while the practicalities of daily life were handled by the WOMEN around them. This frustration was reinforced by Susan Cheever’s terrific book, AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY (which I highly recommend).

I re-read Louisa’s diaries regularly when I get tired and discouraged.

Harriet is best known for UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. There’s plenty to discuss about that book on so many levels, both positive and negative, which could take up an entire college semester. But Harriet wrote plenty of other books, too, many of them domestic comedies. Some of her writing is very, very funny. She came from a large, lively, intellectual, daring, engaged, and flawed family. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher’s scandal when he led a church in Brooklyn, and, again, how the woman in the scandal was the one thrown under the bus, is detailed in Barbara Goldsmith’s wonderful social history, OTHER POWERS.

Both Harriet and Louisa were considered “difficult women” and
ahead of their time.” Reading their letters, their diaries, their books, one sees how they were both ahead of their time and PART of their time (and prejudices, although they were far more progressive than many of their contemporaries). We hope we’ve evolved in our understanding of humanity, although too often it feels like we’re going backwards.

History is made up of people and their messy, beautiful, terrifying lives. Societies are too often built on breaking the individuals that actually do the work to build the society. Where can you give someone room for individuality? Where does someone going too far become a threat to someone else’s basic human rights and dignity? What are basic social constructs that allow people with vastly different beliefs and points of view to co-exist in peace and dignity and prosperity for all? How does one teach people that having enough for all doesn’t necessarily mean taking away from anyone, but that everyone must contribute fairly? How can we craft laws that have more to do with justice, and less to do with religion, which, in my opinion, has been used as a tool of oppression ever since it was invented?

All of that feeds into our “love of country.”

It’s not an easy issue. Especially when competing factors have vastly different ideas of what the society that inhabits the defined “country” should believe, live, and build.

As a writer, of course, all this is fascinating. But living it (and we are all living history, every moment), can often be exhausting.

We supposedly live in a democracy (which is under serious threat), that is set up as a republic. Therefore, as part of our love of country, it is an obligation to keep up with the news (actual news, not propaganda feeds), to stay informed about upcoming legislation (you can read the text of past, present, and proposed bills on Congress.gov), and to interact with our elected officials, on local, state, and federal levels. It takes time, but the alternative is to lose our country. So it’s worth it. We need to vote. We need to serve on jury duty when called. We, as individuals and collectively, need to speak out when human rights are denied, and stop it.

This President’s Day, think about what you love about your country. Think about what you believe needs to be changed. And then take action. Because history is built by people.

Be a History Builder.

 

Mon. Jan. 14, 2019: Self-Care in Community #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, January 14, 2019
Waxing Moon

Since January is the Self-Care month for our group, let’s talk about self-care in community.

So often, we’re desperate for some quiet time, alone time, that we forget there can be power in self-care together.

That’s not as much of a paradox as it sounds.

My yoga instructor mentioned it last week, when a group of us began a season of Monday afternoon meditations together. This is in addition to my daily meditation practice in solitude. Once a week, a group of us get together to be quiet in company.

Fellow writers, you know how, during Nano, the write-ins are great, because you’re sitting in a group of other writers, doing your own thing, but being together?

That can work with self-care, too, in some situations.

Many of us in this meditation group were part of a 12-week session last summer of Savaskana/Savasana for 90 minutes, once a week. It was great to lie in a room with fellow mindful practitioners and not have any expectations. My yoga studio also does regular “sound baths” — where participants lie down in restorative positions while a variety of sound washes over us for an hour. As someone with extreme sound sensitivity, this is wonderful.

As much as alone time is vital to creative well-being, try something in company. Walk with a friend. Join a class in something you enjoy, or you think you might enjoy.

Care in company can play a wonderful part in healing and balance.

Namaste!

Published in: on January 14, 2019 at 6:12 am  Comments Off on Mon. Jan. 14, 2019: Self-Care in Community #UpbeatAuthors  
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Monday, Dec. 10, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors Holiday Decor With Personal History

Monday, Dec. 10, 2018
Waxing Moon
Uranus Retrograde

I admit it. I’m addicted to Victoria magazine, especially the holiday issue.

But when I do my own decorating, I need it to be more personal. Creating the environment I want doesn’t have to cost a lot.

But it does need patience.

I have an entire closet of Yuletide ornaments, collected over the years. Every year, I buy one or two pieces (often during the year at a thrift shop or yard sale). Or people give me ornaments as gifts. Every ornament has a story.

As we decorate each year, we tell and re-tell the stories. We relive and remember our family (meaning friends that are chosen family) history.

Nothing is there because a decorator told us to put it there. It’s there because we want it there.

When I lived in a NYC apartment, everything only fit one way. Now that I live in a house on Cape Cod, I rearrange things as I wish.

I have accumulated collections of nutcrackers, Santas, angels, snowmen, carolers, reindeer. They move around, rarely in the same place two years in a row.

Here are some other thrifty ideas that give us lots of pleasure.

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Fabric
I’ve picked up an assortment of fabric in an assortment of lengths throughout the year. Novelty holiday prints; velvets; solid colors, glittery fabric. I mix and match them, and I use them to cover tables, end tables, coffee tables, and any other surface that needs brightening up. Organza or silk or glittery strips can be used to swag around curtains or the tops of windows or door. I change out the fabric for all the holidays; it’s amazing how much difference it makes.

Most fabric I’ve picked up on sale or as remnants.

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Ribbon
Ribbon goes on sale throughout the year, and I grab it whenever I see it. We hang lengths of red velveteen ribbon along the sides of our doors and windows, topped with ornaments or found pine cones we attach to the top with florist twine.

Along the door ribbons, we tape our cards. We can look up and enjoy the holiday cards all season.

We also put holiday ribbon on any stuffed animals that are sitting around, or any of our carved or ceramic animals.

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Natural objects
You don’t have to go to the store to buy cones and shells. I gather cones in the card, or get shells, sand dollars, etc. on the beach. I clean everything, of course. Some of it, I keep in its natural state (or maybe spray with clear varnish). Some I spray with gold or silver or copper or bronze paint, so they sparkle.

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Rather than buying a wreath made by someone else, I’ll buy a plain wreath or different greens at the garden center or the library’s green sale or on the Audubon Society’s holly walk and make my own. That way, each year’s is unique and personal.

Of course, you CAN spend a lot of money on any or all of this. But the items I tend to gravitate toward are usually the vintage, the ones I find at odd little sales, or from individual crafters. Or I find bits and pieces and put it together on my own.

To me, the process of decorating is part of the magic of the season. It makes me happy. It fulfills something in my spirit.

Whether it was the year I bought a 50 cent garland of musical instruments at Woolworth’s to hang up in my college dorm room (which I still have and use every year) or the Angel Tree Advent calendar I bought at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it all has personal meaning. And that makes it magical for me.

Published in: on December 10, 2018 at 6:33 am  Comments Off on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors Holiday Decor With Personal History  
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Mon. Dec. 3, 2018: The Infamous Cookie Platters #Upbeatauthors

Monday, December 3, 2018
Waning Moon
Uranus Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde

#upbeatauthors — Thriftiness — The Infamous Cookie Platters

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Some people look at thriftiness as being cheap, or not valuing the person on the receiving end of that thrift. Far too many people believe that the value of a relationship can be measured by the financial value of gifts exchanged.

I disagree. I would rather receive a gift given from the heart with some thought to it of a lesser monetary value, but a greater “heart value” than something expensive.

As a freelancer with a budget, I have to be careful with my holiday budget. Well, with any budget, but the holidays always put a special stress on it.

I’m a big holiday card person. I believe in writing and mailing cards. I don’t do a typed letter that I print out and stuff in; I handwrite notes on each cards. I’ve had years, when I worked on numerous shows in numerous locations, where I wrote and mailed nearly 500 cards; in the last few years, it’s closer to 75.

I love receiving cards, too. Our family tradition is to hang red velveteen ribbons around the doorways and windows in our house. (To be thrifty, I buy the ribbons on sale in bulk at an art supply store when they’re on sale, cut them to fit, take them down and wind them on marked spools for “doors” and “windows” so I can re-use them for years). We then fasten the cards we receive to the ribbons around the doorways. It’s lovely to look up from wherever we sit and have a reminder of friends and loved ones.

But what I’m known for, around the holidays, are my cookie platters. Every season, I bake about 1000 cookies and several dozen small cakes or cupcakes, and put them together in large platters that I deliver to neighbors, clients, the firehouse, the library, the guys at the transfer station, the yoga studio, postal workers, etc., etc.

This is actually a thrifty way to show these individuals that they matter to me (handmade, baked from scratch goodies) while not breaking the bank.

How do I do it?

I’m organized.

I decide, over the summer, which cookies I’ll make. There are either four or five varieties, and they have to be the kind that don’t go bad after three days (although, to be fair, once the platters are delivered, they are devoured pretty quickly).

Thanksgiving weekend, I sit down with the recipes, paper and pen, and make a list. How many platters do I need? It’s usually between 18-24. How many batches of each type of cookie does that need? Instead of doubling or tripling the recipes themselves, I make batches — the quality is better.

I sit down with the recipes and figure out how much of each ingredient I need. I usually start stock piling staples in autumn, and purchase the eggs, milk, butter, etc., as I need it. I start stockpiling parchment paper and wax paper in autumn, too.

I set aside several days, and bake one type of cookie each day, starting with the cookie that keeps best. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a variety of excellent tins in which to store the cookies; they are cleaned and sterilized at the end of each season, and then, again, before I start baking.

Before I start each batch, I check to make sure I have all the ingredients I need. If not, I run out to the store and get them. There were too many years where I ran out of something in the middle of the recipe and had to run out, leaving partial batter in a bowl!

The last thing I make are the small cakes or cupcakes. I make them either the night before delivery, or the day of delivery.

Everything is baked, stored, marked.

Now, I create the assembly line for the platters. I usually prep 3 platters at a time, using the oval Chinet-thickness platters. I put the cakes in the middle, and arrange the different types of cookies around them.

Then, I slide the platter into a large cookie bag (or I use cellophane, the type used for florists and gift baskets). I’m in the process of designing a more eco-friendly type of bag with my own designs on it, but haven’t yet perfected it. I close it with a twist tie, then add a gift tag with a thin ribbon. The gift tag either lists the cookies, or I have a cheat sheet with photos of each type of cookie that I include. I don’t use nuts in any of the cookies I give as gifts, and I make sure to say so. Once the tag is fastened, I use a yard of organza ribbon in either red or green to tie a large, flowing bow, and add a candy cane to the bow.

I plot my route for deliveries. I usually do two or three sets of deliveries. I walk the platters over to the neighbors. My favorite thing to do is to leave it at the door, so they find a treat when they come home; however, I’ve lived here long enough that they start watching for me, so they can invite me in!

I do my deliveries, and I’m done! Time for eggnog, with a good dose of rum in it. Except for the postal carriers who come to the house. We’re a weird little set of streets, and different carriers hit us on different days. So I make small packets, tucked into holiday-themed Chinese-food style containers, and give them out from the Solstice through New Year’s, whenever we have a different one.

I make sure to have enough cookies left over in case we need to put together another platter, or we are invited to a party and bring something, and so we can enjoy some ourselves! In other words, I usually make at least one batch more than I believe I’ll need.

By October, people start asking if I’m doing the cookie platters again this year, and what will be in them. I keep several of the old favorites, like tollhouse and molasses spice, but change up the other types.

By keeping my eyes open for sales on ribbon, platters, paper, etc., all year, and then stockpiling as certain items that hold freshness go on sale, I can create the platters on a budget, and still let the recipients know they are valued.

Published in: on December 3, 2018 at 6:56 am  Comments (1)  
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