Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FACTS: Guns in America


FACTS:

FACT: There are more than 58,000 gunshops in this country. There are fewer than 20,000 Starbucks in the whole world. - Kai Rysdall, NPR 

FACT: The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world — an average of 88 per 100 people. 60 percent of U.S. homicides occur using a firearm. Washington Post

FACT: The gun-homicide rate per capita in the U.S. is 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India and four times that of Switzerland.
- TIME
 
FACT: With only 5% of the world’s population, America owns nearly 50% of the world’s guns.

FACT: Last year on Black Friday, over 280,000 guns were purchased. (Merry Christmas)
- CBS Sunday Morning

FACT: On the same day as the Sandy Hook mass murder, a deranged man in China went on a rampage and attacked 22 schoolchildren with a knife. There were ZERO FATALITIES. 

MOST IMPORTANT FACT:
FACT: Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. 
 

ISSUES

MEDIA:  Yes, the media is a problem. Like our politicians, they are owned by corporations greedily chasing after the mighty buck, putting ratings before journalism with integrity. But did the media kill 26 people on Friday? No. Is there any reason to suspect this shooter was doing this for media attention? No.
Next issue.

MENTAL ILLNESS: Only half of the mass killings reported worldwide involved a person with mental illness. Yes, mental illness is a problem, but it has existed since the beginning of time. No psychiatrist or neurologist knows exactly why it happens, how to stop it nor how to effectively treat it. We understand very little about the human brain. Very little. We need to do better, and when we know how, we will. But right now we can’t stop people from being crazy. And as for the talk of Aspergers- that is not a mental illness. Aspergers has produced some of the world’s greatest thinkers, inventors and artists. I know many young people with Aspergers – they are smart, funny and kind.
Next issue.

SECOND AMENDMENT: Let’s talk about the second amendment. It was created during a time of horses and bayonettes. Nobody could have imagined a semi-automatic the likes of the Bushman, its bullets found in the bodies of the children who were massacred. The second amendment does not entitle citizens to weapons of mass destruction.

ASSAULT WEAPONS: If you feel you need a pistol for self-protection, okay. If you are a hunter and need your hunting rifles, okay. No civilian needs an assault weapon. PERIOD. And if you really think you need one, well then, that’s the exact reason you shouldn’t have one. 



Sign the White House petition for tighter gun control legislation: WHITE HOUSE
Click here to read my blog on how my family was shattered by gun violence : A Single Bullet

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Single Bullet




In the summer of 1978, my seven-year old brother Christopher was shot in the head by a teenaged neighbor, playing with his father's gun. Christopher was a first grader, a skinny little tow-headed boy missing his front teeth. I held him, bleeding in my arms, as my mother drove maniacally to the ER. His eyes fluttered, rolling back in his head as he lost consciousness. His little body twitched violently from the brain damage. I begged him to hold on. My arms were covered in blood. I was fourteen years old.

My brother survived. With multiple brain surgeries and a year of physical therapy, he learned how to use a fork and walk without dragging his leg, and talk normally again. He learned to write with his left hand, as he lost all fine motor skills on his right side. He had to attend school wearing a helmet. He became an outsider. His young body was able to heal much of the brain damage, but the emotional damage continues to take its toll. He has struggled with drug addiction all his life. Like many with traumatic brain injury, he has been prone to violent outbursts. He has been in and out of jail. Though he lived, a part of him died that day. The part that was pure and childlike and trusting. He still has a piece of the bullet in his brain.

My entire family, including my own children, has been affected by what happened to him at seven years old. Generations of our family were shattered by a single bullet. It is a nightmare that refuses to die.

Watching the news on that awful Friday morning, December 14, 2012, brought my nightmare into full focus.

The families of the slain at Sandy Hook are enduring unimaginable horror and grief that will affect them for the rest of their lives. The school, the children, the neighbors, the entire community is forever scarred. Future generations will feel the repercussions. Those who survived will bear emotional wounds that may never heal.

And yet, online and through the media, people clamor for their rights to assault weapons citing freedom and the second amendment.  They want their rights to military-style killing machines unimpeded, unregulated.

Unless you have held a bleeding child riddled with bullets in your arms, you don’t know. You do not know.

Let’s talk about rights.

I haven’t felt safe in the world since the day my brother was shot. I’ve had anxiety disorder and panic attacks (which rendered me “uninsurable” – yet another issue) all my life. I grew up to be a loving, but hovering, overprotective, paranoid mother. My three children have never played outside unattended. I rarely sleep through the night. A maniac with a gun took normalcy from me. Where are my rights?

I, like most of you, am afraid to send my child to school or to a mall or to the movies or to see a congresswoman in front of a Safeway store. Where are our rights?

Where were the rights of the children, the teachers, the principals who died? Didn’t they have the right to attend school peacefully and without fear? Where are the rights of those parents to see their children grow and thrive, to walk their daughters down the aisle, to hold grandchildren in their arms one day? Where were their rights?

Since when does the second amendment get to trample over the rights of the rest of us-  our right to Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our right to feel safe in the world?

The NRA has had our politicians in their pockets for far too long. They have towered over us, the bully on the schoolyard that no one will stand up to. I have never been able to abide bullies. As a mother, I will not rest until assault weapons are banned in this country. As a citizen, I won’t stand by and watch the NRA take my freedom away with their lobbying and their money and their weapons.

I have been rocked to my core by this horrific tragedy, and I can not go back to life as normal. If any of you know how hard I’ve fought for my dog, then you know my tenacity. I will put all my heart behind this. I will not quit.

If we offer words of consolation but do nothing to change this epidemic of gun violence, we are no better than the gunman.

Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel said, “We suffered not only from the cruelty of killers, but also from the indifference of bystanders. I believe that a person who is indifferent to the suffering of others is complicit in the crime. And that I cannot allow, at least not for myself.”

I’m with him.

For more information on gun violence and what you can do, see Women Against Gun Violence

(I serve on the Board of Directors for Women Against Gun Violence)


NOTE- all comments are moderated and pending approval. Those of you gun advocates who have been posting and calling me a “liberal douchebag”- your comments will not be read nor posted. My focus is not on you, it is on the safety of children.






Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tiny Miracles



Let me preface this story by explaining my history with finches. Ever since I can remember, whenever things became hopeless in my life, finches would appear out of nowhere. Suddenly the trees and bushes around me would fill with them, coming alive with their birdsong. Even if I were indoors, I’d see them in the trees outside my window, and I’d know, somehow, that everything was going to be okay. In 2004, during a particularly rough holiday season after becoming estranged from my family, Troy surprised me on Christmas morning with a beautiful birdcage filled with finches, and a wooden sign he had made that said HOPE. Little did I know that Christmas I was pregnant with Evan.

I am reluctant to admit I’ve not had much holiday spirit this year, which is not like me. I’m born in December, named after Holly. I’ve always been the embodiment of Christmas spirit. But not this year. I’ve gone through the motions, decorating the house, playing Christmas music, taking Evan to Candy Cane Lane, but I’ve had a raincloud following me. A couple weeks ago I extended an olive branch to my family, only to have it metaphorically slapped from my hand. But larger than that is the fact that it has been a year since I’ve seen my grandson Ayumu. I unpacked the Christmas decorations to find pictures of him with Santa, his ornaments, his stocking.

There is a hole in my heart the size and shape of him. A simple Christmas carol on the radio can make me have to pull my car over until the tears pass. My friend Julie said, when you lose someone, the hole never gets smaller. Your life just gets bigger around it. I try to build my life around the hole, but at Christmas time it feels so enormous it threatens to swallow me.

I didn’t think anything could touch that place inside me.

But Tuesday night, I came across a box of memories- my Cristen and Taylor when they were so small. It was 1995, the year after we’d lost everything in the fire, but we looked so happy. We had endured so much grief, and yet there was this strong love that couldn’t be broken. Looking at our faces pressed close together, the joy in our eyes, I realized that even though there are fractures in my family, and problems that seem to have no solutions, it’s all part of the beautiful mess that is life. Just as love pulled us through back then, it will pull us through again. Like the finches always remind me- everything will be okay. I went to bed happier that night.

In the morning I met a friend for coffee. Anna is the mom of two small children, and has spent the past year battling cancer. As we talked about life and loss and surviving the dark night of the soul, her little boy Andrew- a beautiful 18 month old half-asian boy, reached his arms up to me to be held, just as Ayumu always did. He climbed up in my lap and leaned back into me, lounging comfortably as he drank from his sippy cup. He put his little arms around my neck. He rested his head on my shoulder. He blew me kisses and gave me hugs. And suddenly, the vacant space I thought was unreachable was not empty. It was filling with love again. I left our meeting overcome with happy tears, so grateful for the gift that little angel boy gave me.

I called to tell Troy about it. “It was a tiny miracle,” I said, “and I just want you to know- your wife is happy again.”

Just after, I was driving to yoga, when suddenly something flashed across my rearview mirror. Something was inside my car. I slowed, looking behind me, when suddenly there was a blur in front of my face. I slammed on the brakes and as the car jerked to a stop, a finch perched next to my steering wheel, his little eyes like two shiny beads staring into mine. He sat, calmly looking at me, as I caught my breath.

I don’t know how he got inside my car. All my windows were up- it was cold outside.  My first thought was that he must have somehow gotten trapped and was frightened, so I rolled the window down to let him fly out. But he didn’t budge.

I slowly extended my hand to shoo him, but still, he didn’t fly away. Instead he let me scoop him up and hold him. I put my hand outside the car window to set him free, but he stayed put. He sat in the palm of my hand, looking at me, and that’s when I got it, and the tears started again. “Everything is going to be okay.”  I thanked him for bringing hope to my heart, and said a prayer of gratitude. He stayed with me for several more minutes, and then he flew away.

I sat unmoving in my car, letting myself feel it. I texted a picture of my little feathered angel to Troy. He wrote back, “But…how did that happen?”

There may be a million logical explanations for how it happened, and maybe it can all be explained away, but I know how it felt in my heart. I know what I felt was real.
I responded, “It was a tiny miracle.”



Saturday, December 8, 2012

Good News- the world is NOT ending!

Ever since the beginning of time, man has been predicting our doom and the imminent end of the world. The prophecies and the prophets have come and gone throughout the ages, and still...nothin'. I'm not an anthropologist but as a self-proclaimed armchair psychiatrist, I'd guess it has to do with fear of our own individual mortality, projected onto the entire world - If I'm goin' down, you're all goin' down with me!

I've written in previous years about other "End of the World" proclamations that never happened. (See: Chicken Little Bought a Billboard  and It's the End of the World as We Know It- Again )
However, in spite of these numerous claims of certain death throughout history, the Earth continues to turn, and we are here to create more seasons of Jersey Shore and other such great advancements in humanity.

The world is not ending on December 21st- no matter what the Mayan calender rumors say. For one thing, that's my niece Carly's birthday. Also, I'm going to Costa Rica in June, so the world can't end before that. But if you don't believe me, believe the scientists. Griffith Observatory explains it best - how the Mayan calendar myth came to be, and why the rumor is hogwash. This is from their website:

The Maya calendar is not spooling up the thread of time. It is coming to the end of a particular cycle in an unending sequence of cycles. According to the rules of the Maya calendar system, a primary interval, Baktun 13, for all practical purposes ends on the winter solstice, 2012. Although pseudoscientific claims have linked this calendrical curiosity to a Maya prophecy of the end of time, there is no evidence for ancient Maya belief in the world's end in 2012 or even in any unusual significance to the cycle's completion.

The Maya calendar relied on multiple cycles of time. In Maya tradition, these cycles of time run far into the future, and there are ancient Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions that project time into the future well beyond 21 December 2012. At the end of Baktun 13 (a period of 144,000 days or 394 years), a new baktun will begin. There is no Baktun-13 end of time. The notion of a Baktun-13 transformational end of time is modern. It originated in Mexico Mystique, a book published in 1975 by an American writer, Frank Waters, who made computational errors.


Read more about it at the Griffith Observatory website: THE WORLD IS NOT ENDING. And do us all a favor- spread the word. Let's eradicate this silliness so we can all get on with the business of enjoying our dysfunctional family holidays.

SHEESH.


* Looking for something positive to do on 12/21/12? Join with souls all over the world and participate in a worldwide 3 minute meditation for peace. Details here: www.onebillionoms.com

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Have Happy Holidays Without Money.



This Thanksgiving weekend Evan and I spent a day organizing his room. I explained to him that our local homeless shelter would be coming to pick up items we didn’t need any more, and giving them to families who did need them. When I told him many of these kids had no books or toys, he suddenly became enthused about giving. After we finished his room, I kept on through the rest of the house. By the end, we had countless bags of clothing, books, toys, dishes and other things to give away, which made me realize, if I have this much to “stuff” to give away, first of all, I am a rich woman. Second, I would like to live with less “stuff”. And the holidays are coming…

Several years ago we made an agreement amongst our friends and family to adopt a FIVE-HANDS gifting tradition, and it’s not only been a huge financial relief, it’s given us the gift of time, and made gift-giving much more fun.

FIVE-HANDS Gifting

HANDmade : My favorite gifts are the ones that were thoughtfully and lovingly made by my kids and friends. I have a Christmas ornament from my family in Texas that means the world to me, and a collage on my wall made by my best friend.  I still have every macaroni picture frame and handpainted figurine made my kids when they were little. Now that they’re older, instead of macaroni art, they make me mix CDs of their favorite new music, or frame photos they know I’ll love. Even if you're not "crafty"- you can make a copy of a CD you love, or share photos you've taken. I make my kids an ornament every year on which I write (in permanent marker) the big events of their lives that year. It is so much fun unpacking them and re-reading the ones from years ago. My daughter made me coasters out of old kitchen tiles- putting our family photos on them.
So cute, right?

For more great ideas, here is a wonderful blog : the36thavenue
Making gifts together is a GREAT way to spend family time!

HAND-me-down : My daughter had been coveting a Calvin Klein t-shirt of mine forever, so one year I wrapped it up and put it under the tree. I can’t decide which she got more excited about that year, the old t-shirt or the Disneyland tickets we bought her. Similarly, there are family heirlooms, old photos that can be reproduced, secret recipes that can be shared, classic books and albums that can be handed down.

SecondHAND. The last couple years, we’ve made a game out of seeing who could find the most perfect gift from a thrift store or yard sale. That was a really fun one- the hunt was full of laughter. It’s even more fun if you can do the yard sale/thrift store day together with friends or family and make it an event!

Helping HAND (donations to charities). I often give gift certificates for KIVA micro-loans. You choose what country, family or person to loan the money to, and track the progress of the loan. For instance, $25 can buy a farmer in Africa a goat so she can make cheese to sell at the local market.
Another thing I like to do is buy gifts that are helping a community. Last year I bought Amy a hand-beaded ornament made by the Masai tribe in Africa. This helped to buy food for the tribe.

HAND-in-hand: the best gift of all is time spent together. a movie, concert, play, dinner  are wonderful, but time together doesn’t have to cost money. Museums, a special hike, a picnic, a snow day or trip to the beach will all create memories that will last long beyond an iPad or video game. Cute gift certificates can be made for these things- but the most important thing: Make a date and stick to it. (Nothing is worse than a promise made for time together that isn’t redeemed.)

One of the happiest holiday memories my family has is from 1995- a year after our home had burned down. We were bankrupt and broke. We had no money to spend, so we never set foot inside a mall. We stayed home and watched holiday movies, and baked cookies and did crafts with our kids. We went Christmas caroling. We made each other gifts, we made our own Christmas cards. We spent time with family and friends. It was the coziest, most sparkly holiday ever.

Maybe you’ll consider trying some of these ideas this holiday season. And please share any holiday ideas or traditions you have, too!

Monday, November 19, 2012

How I lost Everything, and Why I'm Grateful




Love is a lot like fire. A small flame will be extinguished with the slightest puff of air, but put wind to wildfire, and watch what happens. In my experience, tragedy was the wind- the small wind that killed every small flame, the Santa Anas that caused love to erupt in furious glory. This is a story about fire, and passion, and total devastation, and love.

On the morning of November 18th, 1994, mine was the happy family who seemingly had it all; a strong marriage, two kids (one girl, one boy), a gaggle of adopted rescue pets. My husband Troy and I each had our own businesses that we ran from the large home we were renting. We volunteered at our kids’ schools and in our communities, threw fabulous parties, took business trips, had lots of friends and a busy social life.

But that night, we went to bed in a burning house. A freak electrical short would begin smoldering in the walls as we slept, erupting into hellfire in the middle of the night. The fire pressed us up against the windows, gasping for air, our skin burning. We were forced to jump from second story ledges with our four-year old son, onto the cement below. (Our daughter, thankfully, was at a sleepover). The inferno raged, windows blowing out, our animals trapped inside, as we stood at the side of the road, helpless, sobbing, unable to get past the walls of flames to save them. Troy put his arm around me, wiped the tears from my face and said, “God’s got them now…and we will come back stronger.” I wanted to believe him, with everything in me I wanted to believe. But just the night before, I’d had a horrible, vivid dream that we would lose everything. Little did I know, fire was only the beginning.

We were released from the hospital the next day, November 19th,  injured, homeless, jobless. We had not a single possession. Our lives were a blank canvas, at once terrifying and liberating.

We thought we had lost it all that night; our five beloved pets, our memories, our accomplishments, both our jobs, and our home- (with no renter’s insurance). But in the coming year, we would suffer much greater loss that no insurance policy could have protected us from: the betrayal by friends, the loss of faith and trust, and perhaps the hardest to endure – the loss of self.

Until that night in November, I was the strong, independent woman who owned a national business, volunteered for my kids’ school, flew to New York every season to sell my clothing line, was the Daisy Scout leader, and singing at gigs on weekends. I was also the woman who had been carrying a secret all her life. Standing toe to toe with Death awakened me. I could no longer hide from the truth of my own life. First I would have to unravel completely to find out who I was, what I was made of. Everything I once felt certain of would be shaken loose like soil from the roots of an upturned tree, leaving me raw, exposed. Eventually I would have to find a new way to take root within myself.

While busying myself with so-called important things, I had managed to outrun my past for a long time. But with all my distractions burned away, all that was left was the real me- the girl whose father was in prison, whose mother worked nights in a bar and had to use food stamps to buy groceries. The truth was that I had been born to two teenaged rebels – that my conception was a terrible mistake my grandfather had tried to end. My real name and birth certificate were hidden. I was told by my mother to never tell anyone who I really was, who my father was, where I came from. I obeyed.

Tragedy weakened my fault lines - allowing my inner demons to come out and dance. The strong image I had once projected evaporated like the mirage it was. Friends who had been attracted by my strength and perfect image were repulsed by my weakness, and began to pull away one by one, leaving me to experience this time of intense loss alone. And then, as one catastrophe after the next hit, I unraveled. I became clinically depressed, struggling with persistent suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know it then, but I was in the grip of post- traumatic stress disorder from both our fire and my childhood. In the coming years, I would have to fight harder than I ever knew I could to pull myself back to center- to be a woman my husband and children could be proud of.

My sweet, kind and generous husband, who was and still is the love of my life, had grown up in a Brady Bunch world. He had never been faced with anything like the catastrophes we endured. The next several years would test his endurance and courage, and his ability to love me.

Together, Troy and I worked hard to come back from the edge of disaster, but experienced such a long run of bad luck we began to wonder if someone had put a hex on us. We were ripped off by shady landlords. We lost three homes in the span of two years. While I was homeless, my business partner embezzled all the profits from our company, destroying me financially. We lost our credit, were forced into bankruptcy, and, because life has a sardonic sense of timing, both our cars blew up (and then one was repossessed) and our son needed surgery. And yet, through all this, we experienced beauty in the wreckage. There were new friends that showed up at just the right time, work opportunities that saved us when we were on the brink. And there were perfect, joyful moments with our children that gave us hope. There were times when we were so destitute, our utilities were cut off. Instead of crumbling in defeat, we chose to pitch a tent in the backyard and camp with the kids, roasting marshmallows and looking at the stars. Some days knocked us flat with depression. But on other days, we got up and played guitars, wrote songs, made art, and had parties- just the four of us. With nothing, we created, and celebrated, and found out that our hearts had the amazing ability to regenerate after being shattered.

Tragedy brings out the best and worst in people. It brings out the do-gooders and opportunistic scavengers alike. It shows you who your true friends are, and who they aren’t. And it widens every crack in the foundation of a marriage, until you wake one morning to find the Grand Canyon running straight through your living room.

Troy and I had a deep, soul-mate kind of love. We were optimistic people, believing in the golden rule, that all people were basically good at heart. We believed that living honest lives and being good people would insure us against tragedy. But life taught us  otherwise. Bad things do happen to good people. People are not always good at heart- in fact, some are just plain rotten. In addition to the stresses upon us, our faith was shaken, our belief systems shattered. We had each brought our fair share of baggage into the marriage, and it was all dumped out on the floor now.  Weakened and depressed, we were no longer able to be a light for each other. We couldn’t keep each other afloat when both of us were drowning.

After three years of taking life’s punches, we were pushed to the point of separating. Troy packed the car with his belongings and we tearfully broke the news to our children. But when it came time for him to drive away, neither of us could move. It was too painful to stay together, and too painful to part. On that day, we had to make a choice between love and fear. After days of crying and soul searching, we chose love. We found ours was a big flame, the winds of tragedy only making it more fierce.

Fire has a way of purifying and reforming. During a forest fire, the intense heat causes seedpods to burst open. After years of lying dormant, only catastrophe could make them take root. The scorched earth then becomes fertile soil, making the forest lush with new and different life. So it was with our lives. In the aftermath of all that loss, new seeds were planted that blossomed in ways we never could have foreseen.

Faith is not something that can be manufactured, or gleaned from books. Faith is hard earned, and, like courage, like a beating heart, is a muscle that must be worked. I had to try with everything in me to believe, when there was nothing to believe in. If I didn’t, my children would grow up in a hopeless world, and that was unthinkable. For their sake, I had to find my faith. I had to believe that there was a reason for everything we had lost. I had to open my eyes to see that there was hope in the midst of every crisis. There was the kindness of others who came to lift us back on our feet, like stars that shone brightly in the darkness. There was the discovery that, although we had lost everything, we still had our ability to dream, to love, to create, to hope, to remember. No fire could take that from us.

Tiny sprigs of hope began to spring up through the cracks, when we made the choice to risk our hearts and believe in goodness again. And gradually, because of that faith, things began to shift.

After the bankruptcy we worked diligently rebuilding our credit, and four and a half years after the fire, on the day of our tenth wedding anniversary, we bought our dream home- a cabin nestled in the side of a mountain- it’s foundation bolted on rock. We renewed our marriage vows, and were given the keys to our home.

Eighteen years have passed since the fire. Cristen and Taylor have grown up, and we have since been unexpectedly blessed with another son, Evan, as well as a grandson, Ayumu. My house is once again alive with rescued pets, cluttered with sentimental treasures, my photo albums full with new memories. There is a comfortable distance separating us from that time, and yet it will always be a part of who we are. We are stronger now, and dare I say, although I would never want to re-live those years, we are better for having lived through it. I found faith and courage in the ashes. I found my true self. Our marriage, our family, and most importantly, our optimism and spirit survived. There is not much that can shake us anymore. We shrug off challenges others might view as catastrophic. We know what catastrophe is. We can still see it in our rear view mirror.

What I learned is that every tragedy holds a gift, an opportunity for us to learn and grow. I believed this the day after the house burned down, in a Pollyanna sort of way. I didn’t know then how hard I would have to mine for it, how deep I would have to dig, how much I’d have to lose to find myself. Writing my book (What Doesn’t Kill You- How I lost everything and found myself) has helped me to see clearly the beautiful moments- the tiny miracles in the middle of mayhem that bloomed like lilies in the muck.

I’ve learned that life offers no guarantees, and no insurance policy will truly protect us from unexpected tragedies. Our possessions, job titles, our stations in life are fleeting, and even our relationships with those we most love can change. All we really have is what we carry inside us; our spirit, our courage, faith, and our ability to love.

Here is what I now know for sure: Every day that we are alive is a new beginning. And just like that forest after a wildfire, there is a seed of greatness in every one of us, waiting to break open. It is never, ever too late to bloom.

We still live in our mountain home, cemented in rock.
It is one block from the fire station. 

 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

5 SIMPLE RULES OF HAPPINESS


Riding bikes at the beach makes me happy, and it's free.
It’s day 10 of my 21-day meditation challenge, and I’m feeling great. As always, when I meditate, inspired thoughts come to me, as do all the positive thoughts that I know to be true, but sometimes forget. For instance, these simple rules of happiness. 
Confession: I am a happiness junkie. For many years, I suffered with anxiety , PTSD, and depression, so in trying to dig myself out of the hole, I read countless books on happiness, written by the world’s best thinkers: The Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, and even pop-culture happiness books, like The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Through all of those books, these are the messages that have stuck with me, rules, that when I’ve followed them have proved to be absolutely true. Here is what I know will make me happy:

FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE 

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


If you want love, be loving. First to your self then to others.
If you want gratitude, be gracious. First to your self then to others.
If you want recognition, acknowledge your self and others for the strides you’ve made. 
If you want to be valued, be valuable.
If you want to be understood, seek to understand others.
If you want success, be happy for others’ successes. Note: Never be jealous of others’ good fortune. Instead see their victories as what is possible for you and for everyone, and be grateful to them for showing YOU what can be done
If you want kindness, be kind. First to your self then to others.
I remember once I had finished loading groceries into my trunk, and as I went to return my shopping cart to the front of the store, an older woman watching me said, “You are a good person” I smiled and thanked her as I walked away, but in that moment I was teary-eyed. I know she was making a comment about my returning the cart, but those simple words were so healing to me, and just what I needed to hear that day. This was years ago and I have never forgotten it. Just a few small, kind words can stay with someone forever. So please, say a few kind words…to yourself, and to others, every day.

MAKE GOOD CHOICES:
Ask yourself before you make a choice, will it make me happy? Will it bring happiness to those around me? If not, then please, don’t do it.

DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY:
Make a list of the things that make you happy. Go on…do it. Don’t stop writing until you can’t think of anything else. Post it where you can see it every day.

Now do at least one of those things every day. Put it in your calendar if you have to. Reach out to a friend to keep you accountable to it. But do the things that make you happy.


DON’T DO WHAT MAKES YOU UNHAPPY:
There are certain self-destructive behaviors we all participate in: binge eating, drinking to excess, gossiping, judging others, negative self-talk…

We do them because they bring a fleeting moment of satisfaction, but never do they bring happiness to us, nor to others. In fact, they ultimately bring deep unhappiness. The next time you get the urge to do one of these self-defeating behaviors, STOP- and replace it with one of the things from your happiness list.

LIVE IN TRUTH:
I will end this with my favorite quote from Mahatma Ghandi:
 “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Living in truth is living in harmony. Be true to yourself. Be true to who you are. Speak the truth- always. Live your truth.

To sum it up - GIVE what ever it is that you want to receive. Be good to yourself and to others, steer clear of negativity, live in truth, and I promise, you will feel happy.


*For more inspiration- read  The Power of Positive, which includes my essay, "Chutes and Ladders" --a story about the power of perseverance and overcoming adversity told through the eyes of my (then) four-year old child, Evan.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Meditation Challenge

 
Last week, Deepak Chopra was on Oprah's life-changing show "Super Soul Sunday" speaking about inner peace, abundance, happiness, and how it can be attained through meditation. He offered viewers to take his 21-day meditation challenge – though I think it’s funny to call it a “challenge” when it is the most peaceful, least challenging thing you can do- and just see how it changes your life. I signed up.

I’ve meditated on and off since I was 20 years old. At that time, I was following the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda ( read Autobiography of a Yogi in college, and was hooked). I meditated 45 minutes every morning and every night, and fasted every Monday. Back then, mostly I just fought with my young self in every meditation--got mad at myself for having such noisy thoughts, mad at the world for distracting me. I didn’t reach any state of nirvana, but I still think it was good for me. I meditated the whole time I was pregnant with my daughter Cristen, and I believe it made her the strong person that she is.

Since then, I’ve been faithful, fallen away, then come back to the practice many times. I’ve busied myself with other “more important” things (than my own inner peace…imagine that!)

It was meditation that led me to my writing career. It was through meditation that all my ideas for my nonprofit organization came, as well as all the plans for the workshops and programs. It was through prayer and meditation that I found my biological father. So how have I let it slip from my life again?

Deepak said that prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening. This is the perfect time in my life to listen.

So I began this daily meditation on Monday, and this is how I’ve been affected by it.

Monday: After meditation that morning, I had a career setback. Something I had waited for months to happen, fell through. Normally, I would have been crushed by something like this, but this time I didn’t get upset. I trusted that it was only a temporary setback, and still felt positive and hopeful about my project.

Tuesday: On election day, I seemed to be the only one in my circle of friends who was relatively calm. Four years ago I was kind of a wreck, but this time I knew everything was going to work out, and it did.

Wednesday: I found myself feeling peaceful toward people, even when they were posting angry post-election rants on facebook. I didn’t take any of it to heart.

Thursday: I began thinking a lot about the fractures in my extended family, and what I might do to heal them.

Friday: In prayer, instead of asking for help, I found myself asking to be of help.

Saturday:  feeling a deep yearning -  to fix the messes in my life, to bring my grandson Ayumu home, to HEAL. There is that still small voice coming through, and though it whispers, it is becoming too loud for me to ignore.

I don’t have any clearcut answers to solve my problems yet, but I will continue with this challenge, and see what comes of it. I feel like changes are taking place, even if I can't see them yet.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

In the meantime, If you’d like to take the 21-day meditation challenge yourself, the link is here. Deepak sends you a guided 15-minute meditation every day -  a recording with gentle music and his voice. And it’s free. What have you got to lose?








https://www.chopracentermeditation.com/Bestsellers/LandingPage.aspx?BookId=172

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Peaceful politics: What do you stand FOR?



It’s been said that when Mother Theresa was asked if she would join an Anti-War march, she said, “No. But when you have a march for peace I will be glad to join.” When seeking direction in my own life, I always think Mother Theresa’s wisdom is a good place to start. Especially when it comes to politics. We've all had a good earful of what politicians and voters are against, but I would rather know what someone stands for.

This is what I am FOR.

I am for women maintaining the reproductive freedom we fought so hard for. One of my closest friends was raped at knifepoint in her first year of college, and became pregnant from the rape. If the republicans had their way, women like my friend could be forced to carry a rapist’s child to term, or, forced to “prove” the pregnancy was the result of a rape. Life is complicated. Nothing is black and white. I am for letting a woman choose what happens to her body.

I am for funding of Planned Parenthood. It is because of Planned Parenthood that I have never been in a position to need an abortion. When I was in my teens, Planned Parenthood provided me with healthcare and birth control and education. If not for them, I likely would have ended up 16 and pregnant, like my own mother. Planned Parenthood also provided healthcare to me as an adult when I had no health insurance. Planned Parenthood is where I went to have my pregnancy test -- they gave me the very happy news that I was pregnant with my daughter Cristen. Without Planned Parenthood, there would be more children in the foster care system, which would be the real tragedy.

I am for all citizens, gay and straight alike, to be able to serve openly in the military, to be able to legally marry the person of their choosing. I have two gay brothers, and many gay friends with children. I want their marriages and families to be on an equal basis with my own. I want them to have every right I have.

I am for all citizens having available healthcare. I was one of the uninsured Americans you hear about. Because of my past history with skin cancer and anxiety disorder (pre-existing conditions), I was turned away by Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Health Net and all the others. I spent 6 years without health insurance, including during my pregnancy with Evan. If I had become seriously ill or injured during that time, my family could have lost our home, our savings….lost everything. Because of Obamacare, I can no longer be denied insurance. I am FOR Obamacare.

I am for government funding of Pell Grants. Because of President Obama’s support of Pell Grants for college students, we were able to get our adult kids through college.

Though I’ve listened to him speak, watched the debates, and read articles about him, I’m still not sure what Mitt Romney stands for, but I have read the Republican party’s platform, and they stand AGAINST everything I am FOR.

On Tuesday, November 6th, because he is FOR all the things I am FOR, I will be voting for President Obama. That is my choice, and I respect your right to yours.

America is a democracy, a glorious two-party system, designed to ensure that no one party obtained too much power. The idea was that the parties would discuss differing opinions and compromise, settling on those ideas which are in the best interest of all. If we all shared what we were FOR, maybe we could find some common ground, and get this political system working again.

Please, before Tuesday, think about what you are FOR, educate yourself on the issues at hand, and please, please please…VOTE. 



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Cautionary Tale




This is what I look like right now. This is my fifth bout with skin cancer, and the fourth (and by far the worse) permanent scar on my face.

I don’t go in the sun. I wear sunscreen every day (have for as long as I can remember) so how did I get this way?

This is a result of the horrible sunburns I subjected myself to as a teenager- all so I could look like someone else. Back in the late seventies, when we fair-skinned girls were supposed to be bronzed like Farrah Fawcett, I hated my body, I hated my skin. Kids used to tease me and call me Casper the ghost. That together with the fact that I was trying to be anyone but myself back then (if you’ve read my essay in Dancing at the ShameProm, you know what I mean) was a toxic combination. 
The girl who didn't want to be herself.

So I baked in the sun until my face blistered. And it was awful and painful and foolish, but still I did it again. And again. Anything to not look like me.

And here I am at 48.

When I think back on all the stupid things I did as a teenager…hitchhiking, drugs, hanging out in liquor store alleys asking adults to buy us booze, running away from home and sleeping in the park….Who would have thought that the most dangerous thing I ever did, the thing that caused me the most harm, on so many levels, was wanting to be someone else.

Now I have a permanent scar in the middle of my face to remind myself of the ways I didn’t take care of myself, the ways I didn’t honor myself, the ways I didn’t realize I was fine just the way God made me.

Take it from me- don’t long to be anything but you. Look like you. Embrace you. Live as you. Be grateful for you.

And you won’t end up looking like me.

Don't fight who you are.


Please feel free to use me as a cautionary tale for your kids who won’t wear sunscreen, and to your teens or friends who bake in tanning booths. 


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bill Patrick is a Feminist

Is it possible for a man to be a feminist? If it means to care deeply about women's issues, to do work protecting women and girls from gender violence, and to raise a strong and confident daughter, then yes, Bill Patrick is a feminist. 

Check out Amy Ferris' blog today for our article/interview with this amazing man who articulates so beautifully what it is to be a man in a world of gender violence and inequality. 

To read more of Bill's progressive thoughts, check out Bill's Profeminist Blog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Answered Prayers






Troy is home from Japan with videos and pics of our grandbaby Ayumu, and as I peruse them again and again, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I prayed for this EVERY day for a year. I woke up each morning, and thought about Ayumu. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the scent of his hair, the feel of his skin, the weight of him against my hip. I conjured up the feeling of running my fingers through his baby curls, the way he'd nestle his head into the hollow between my neck and shoulder, how he'd exhale and lay soft against me. Then I would take all that love, and put it into a prayer. Every single day. I called on every ancestor in spirit. I prayed to God, to angels. I asked for help from anyone who was out there in the cosmos.

A year ago, when Aya,my daughter-in-law, and Ayumu failed to return from a "visit" to Japan, when her facebook and email accounts disappeared, when she stopped communicating with all of us, yes, I panicked. I feared we would never see our grandson again. But I knew that fear was not my friend, and would only make a bad situation worse. After the tears and ranting, I decided, instead, to invest in faith. I put that faith in LOVE. 

For a year we have prayed, and sent only loving words to Aya. Even though she often would not respond, we still sent love. 

A year later, this happened in Kobe, Japan. I think this picture says it all.
My husband Troy and grandson Ayumu, reunited.

Some may say it was coincidence that while touring with Wilson Phillips, Troy was booked on a layover in Japan, but I know it was my answered prayer.

Aya rose to meet the occasion, and welcomed Troy into her home for three days, letting him spend every waking moment with Ayumu. Ayumu rushed into Troy's arms, held his hand everywhere they went, chattered in Japanese to him. If we had gotten angry with Aya, which certainly would have been justified, I know this gentle reunion would not have happened. Aya has matured over this past year. She is seeing things differently. And now, she is talking with both Troy and our son Taylor ( still her husband) about the possibility of coming to visit.

What I have learned through this ordeal is to never lose hope. Never lose faith. Miracles are possible when you keep your heart open. We don't have the perfect scenario, and I don't know that we ever will, but somehow we will find a way to be a family. Even with 5000 miles between us, through the cultural differences and the hurts and misunderstandings, we are a family. Love wins.

Saying goodbye at the airport, Troy whispers, "Come home to us, little one."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Interview with Sean Strub, founder of Poz magazine

In the new book Amy Ferris and I co-edited, Dancing at the Shame Prom, twenty seven brave women share deeply personal stories of a shame that held them back, and how they became empowered by letting it go. This book is only the beginning of an ongoing movement. We plan to continue this conversation in workshops around the world (Woodstock NY this October, San Miguel, Mexico Feb 2013, Costa Rica, June, 2013) Amy and I plan to drag shame out of the closet and eradicate it from the planet. In order to do that, we need to bring men into the conversation.  In the next few months, we'll be featuring a series of interviews with some very interesting men.

Below is my interview with Sean Strub, filmmaker, author, activist, founder of POZ magazine ( for the HIV positive community) and Mamm magazine (for women impacted by breast and gynecological cancers). Sean's accomplishments are too many to list here,  so I included his bio at the bottom. Here are his thoughts.

Can you tell us a little bit about your life path, and what led you to it?

I grew up Catholic in Iowa, influenced by the social justice tradition in the church, as well as civic-minded feminists on my paper route, and became an activist at early age, protesting the Vietnam War, advocating feminism and progressive causes and, eventually, LGBT rights.  Most of my adult life I've been engaged in the HIV/AIDS epidemic; I acquired HIV around 1980, when I was 22.

How do you, personally, define the word shame?
Shame is a secret we carry that hurts oneself more than it hurts others.  Shame doesn't exist on its own; it is a symptom of the mind's management of trauma.


Women seem to carry shame, and let it make them small in the world. Do you think men process or carry shame differently than women?
I'm not very good about generalizing differences between men and women, but I think there are many different ways people carry shame, or how it gets expressed in their life.  How shame is managed is important, so I suspect there are lessons to be learned from all genders.
In your experience, how does shame affect the men in our society?

Traditional constructs of masculinity, whether expressed by a men, women, trans or intersexed persons, carry expectations about what constitutes shame.  It seems that at times the most acceptable masculine emotion is around anger, dominance or violence; these are outward expressions of a deeper inner pain that has often (and destructively) been repressed by expected masculine norms.

The women who wrote for Dancing at the Shame Prom are role models and leaders in society. Many of them became successful either in spite of, or because of, the shame they carried. In other words, they were able to turn poison into medicine. Has Shame played a role in your own life, and in setting you on your life path?

Enormously so.  My entire life has been a struggle over my physical corpus, my body, and how it was violated as a child. The traumas I experienced (namely, but not entirely, physical and sexual abuse) were more defining to my character, life and accomplishments than anything else.  Whether it is about sexual freedoms, reproductive choice, combating a virus, shaking off Catholicism, they all ultimately boil down to who is in charge here, who is making the decisions that so profoundly affect my body.   My lifelong commitment to social justice activism was shaped to a large degree by traumas, and this sense of a lack of control over my body, that I experienced as a child.  Trauma, whether it is from physical, psychological or sexual abuse at the hands of another, or whether it is from an incident or life transition, like the loss of a loved one, divorce, serious accident or even loss of a job or relationship, is shame's evil twin. Where there is one, if you dig deep enough, you'll usually find the other.

Can shame ever be a good thing?

Per my previous answer, I would turn it around and ask can trauma ever be a good thing?  One of the most wonderful aspects of being is our remarkable ability to learn from every kind of experience in life and, if we're looking for it, we can usually make sure some of the things we learn are good things.  So shame isn't something I would recommend, nor would I recommend trauma, but they are both parts of every life.  I don't think anyone exits this mortal coil without having experienced them to some degree.  How we react to and handle them is what is important.

We can also impose shame on ourselves, in reaction to specific acts or attitudes, but even those are typically underlain by traumas that make our minds work the way they work, which makes us do the things we do.

What is on your personal “dream-agenda” for the future?

Recognizing greed as a disease that should be treated as a mental health condition.  Requiring all students to be continuously enrolled from K through 12 in ethics, civics, art, music, nutrition and sustainable gardening classes.

Amy Ferris and I thank you so much for participating, Sean, for your thoughtful answers, and mostly for the work you do in the world.

Take a few minutes to watch Sean's short film, HIV Is Not a Crime.



See seroproject.com for more info on Sean's work.


Sean's BIO:
Sean Strub is well known as an activist, writer and entrepreneur. Sean has founded many successful fundraising, publishing and marketing organizations, virtually all in support of progressive social change efforts. He founded POZ in 1994. Strub's companies have also launched POZ en EspaƱol, Mamm (for women impacted by breast and gynecological cancers) and Milford Magazine (a regional title distributed in the Delaware River Highlands area of northeast Pennsylvania).

He has written extensively on corporate social responsibility, smart growth and land development issues, direct marketing and AIDS, among other topics. Sean co-authored, with Dan Baker and Bill Henning, Cracking The Corporate Closet, (Harper Business, 1995) and co- authored, with Steve Lydenberg and Alice Tepper Marlin, the seminal guide to corporate social responsibility, Rating America's Corporate Conscience, (Addison-Wesley, 1987).

Sean's involvement in the social responsibility and ethical investment movements dates to the early 1980's, when he worked with Alumni Against Apartheid and the Harvard Endowment for Divestiture through his direct marketing firm which specialized in social change and mass marketed fundraising techniques. Direct mail campaigns created by Sean have been labeled "slick" by The Wall Street Journal, "highly sophisticated" by The New York Times, and "inventive and unusual" by Business Week.

Strub has also produced theatre and large-scale fundraising events. In 1992, at the Perry Street Theatre in New York, he debuted his production of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, written by and starring David Drake. The Obie Award-winning hit became one of the longest running one-person Off-Broadway shows ever.

In 1990, Strub was a Democratic candidate for the US Congress from New York's 22nd congressional district, running as an openly (but incidentally) gay/HIV+ man. He was defeated by a former member of Congress by fewer than 600 votes.

He has received numerous awards and honors from AIDS organizations, community and professional groups, including the 1995 AIDS Action Foundation's National Leadership Award, the 1996 Cielo Latino Companero award from the Latino Commission on AIDS and Los Angeles-based Being Alive's Spirit of Hope award in 1997.

A native Iowan, Sean attended Georgetown and Columbia Universities. He lives in Milford, Pennsylvania and New York City.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Love Finds a Way



Sometimes…when you hold a prayer in your heart, and never lose faith, and repeat it every morning for almost a year…
Sometimes, when you refuse to give in to fear, or anger, or faithlessness…
Sometimes when you choose love, and hold on to it in the face of challenges…

- a tiny miracle descends upon you like a feather falling from the sky.

This was our tiny miracle.

Ever since our grandson was taken from our lives last November, we held on to hope.
Even as our daughter-in-law didn’t return from Japan, even as her facebook account and email accounts disappeared, we kept hope.

Every single morning we prayed for our grandson Ayumu, and refused to give in to the worst of our fears - the fact that Japan is the number one country for parental child abduction, that they do not acknowledge the custody laws of other countries.

All through this ordeal with our daughter-in-law, our friend Mary advised us to "love her through it" - that no matter how hurt we were, to return every hurt with love.  "Just keep throwing love at it," she said, and I got chills, because I knew that was the right thing to do.

Last Thursday, on Evan’s birthday, as Troy was getting on a plane for Ohio, he got an email on his phone. It turns out that when he goes on tour to the Phillipines in October, the promoter booked him a three day layover in Japan, at no cost. In a matter of weeks, Troy will be holding our grandson Ayumu in his arms again. Aya has agreed to let Troy stay with her family for those three days so he can spend as much time as possible with Ayumu.

The most beautiful part of this miracle: as he got the email, the song “Love Will Find a Way” was playing on the radio. 

*****

The other day, driving Evan home from school, he blurted out a random question, as he always does. “What is true about the world?” he asked.

I thought about it for a moment, then answered, “The only thing I know to be absolutely true is that love always wins.”

 
Click above to see my grandson laughing.  



Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Questions of a Child


The Thinker

Driving home from school each day, these are the questions I get from Evan, almost seven years old. They come out of nowhere, and I'm never quite ready for them...

When is the future?

Who is the first person that caused the traffic?

Why can’t we go fast and slow at the same time?

What is war?

When was Santa Claus born?

If Santa is old, does that mean he’ll die soon?

Can children die?

Did Hitler kill children? Even babies?

What is disease?

Can children get a disease?

Will you die before me, Mommy?

Is magic real?

Who is the world's youngest person?

Who is God?

Why did someone kill Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Will someone kill Santa?

This is just last week's worth of questions. It has always been my policy to answer my children's questions in a simplistic, age-appropriate and honest way. But tell me...what is the simple answer to any of these?

Oh how I wish he could stay in the magic bubble of belief where Santa and toothfairies are real and children never die and good guys always win. But as I watch him ingesting my "simple" answers, I can see him changing. No longer is he the five-year-old boy that didn't know what the word "death" meant, nor the six-year-old boy who believed that all people lived to be 100 years old. 

I can only hope to keep improving my own outlook on the "real world", to expose Evan to beauty and art and culture and philanthropy, and hope that he inherits faith and hope from us as he makes his way into this crazy-beautiful, messy, chaotic world of wonder. 

In the meantime, I'd better steel myself for next week's questions...