Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays to YOU!

Dear friends and readers,

Thank you so much for reading my musings all through the year, for your support through my trial, and your love and kindness always!

Here is a gift, from my family to yours.


Download our Family Christmas album for free! Eight holiday songs performed by our family:
Yours truly on vocals and backgrounds
My husband Troy on all guitars, keyboards and vocals
Our daughter Cristen on bass and vocals
Our son Taylor on drums and vocals
and even Evan has a solo on Feliz Navidad.
(Listen for our Japanese daughter-in-law's holiday greeting at the end of Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.)

We hope you enjoy, and again, THANK YOU and Happy Holidays!
The Dexter Family Holiday Album

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aging is NOT for sissies

While I was in Pennsylvania, Amy and I went out for a nice dinner after a productive day of work. We were all dolled up, out on the town looking pretty cute, I thought. We were enjoying a glass of wine and some great conversation when the waitress stopped by the table to check on us.
We told her we were visiting from out of town and loved Bethlehem.
“So what brings you to our town?” she asked.
“Her husband is the guitar player in Wilson Phillips…” Amy began to say when the girl gasped and turned to me wide-eyed, “Oh my God, are you Michelle Phillips?”
I laughed but then realized she was serious. “No! Michelle is Chynna Phillips mother.” I said indignantly, certain she mixed up their names. But her expression didn’t change. 
I continued, “I’m Chynna’s age!” (okay, full disclosure, I’m five years older but still…), “Michelle is almost 70 years old…”
To which she replied, ‘Oh I know, she’s an old hag now!” (which she is not- she's still beautiful) 
My mouth hung open for a moment. “…and yet, you just mistook me for her.”
She shrugged, apparently oblivious to the fact that she had just insulted us on a myriad of levels. “You really do look like her, though.” She smiled and walked away.
I turned to look at Amy, who was equally horrified, “Oh. My. God.” she said.
I put my head in my hands, “Time for botox.”

Michelle Phillips - still gorgeous.
Aging is not fun, and like Bette Davis said, it’s not for sissies. Gone are the days when people expressed shock that I have a grandchild. I blame 2010. For a good ten years I looked 35, and then 2010 hit me upside the head. The stress levels were off the chart and my body took the hit. I tried my best to combat it; ate healthy, did yoga and ran on my treadmill, tried to meditate, used my Dior skincare religiously…but still, stress is one bas-ass mofo. The wrinkles and gray hairs attacked me at a dizzying pace.

So I had to suck it up that night, and take the punch. I’m getting older. People may sometimes mistake me for a seventy-year old woman. It happens.

I’ve never done anything to my face- no botox or fillers or surgery. I hope I don’t feel the need to as time goes on, but I don’t judge it. Mostly, I just want to stick to my guns about living honestly, and that includes my face. My face tells my story. I have lived forty eight years, raised three kids, a grandkid, survived the ups and downs of a passionate but at times tumultuous marriage, and had my share of hard knocks in life. It’s all here, in these lines…in the circles under my eyes, in the gray around my temples. I have four scars on my face from basal cell skin cancer, a reminder of the teen years I spent baking in the sun because I wanted to look like someone else.

The truth. Me- no make up, under terribly unflattering light.
I’m aging, and I think it’s nature’s way of saying, “Oh get over yourself.” So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m still exercising and using good skincare, because I want to be healthy and take care of what I’ve got, but not because I’m fighting what is. I’m accepting the journey I’m on now. (Some days are better than others.)

You may think we stiffed that waitress. Nope. We gave her a really generous tip. We figured anyone that stupid is going to need all the help she can get. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yes Virginia, There is Justice in the World

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts I received this Holiday season was a letter I received from the twelve-year-old daughter of a friend. This little girl, Emma, is unbelievably bright and has had to grow up fast, losing her father Scott, our friend, at only five years old. Her mother Denise has done a beautiful job of raising her, and this letter she sent shows how thoughtful and articulate she is. Her words have given me the push I needed to trudge into year three of this ridiculous fight for our Stitch.

Dear Hollye,

I was given a project by my Leadership teacher to write a letter to someone I admire and who I believe possesses courage. I immediately thought of you.

My mom told me the unbelievable fight you have been going through for over three years since you adopted your family dog Stitch….and the lawsuit against you demanding the dog back, asking over $25,000 for the dog they neglected.

Instead of returning Stitch to this horrible person, you chose to fight to keep this little dog that had become part of your family. You could have given Stitch to them and avoided the harassment, police and lawsuit, but you stood courageously beside your furry family member and became his voice.

My mom told me that your legal bills are very expensive and that you have had to have fundraisers, turn to your family and friends for help, set up an online store, and most recently have a garage sale to raise money for Stitch’s defense.

The saddest part is that you lost the trial because the judge decided that Stitch is property, like a bicycle, and had to be returned to the original owner. I think comparing an animal to a bike is just disgusting!

After all this, you could have thrown your hands up in the air and walked away. But you didn’t! You chose to fight for what is right for Stitch, no matter how much time or money it takes. To me, that is the definition of courage – having the mental and physical strength to fight for what is right and not just throw in the towel.

I will keep my fingers crossed and pray you win the appeal to keep Stitch. I will also continue to tell your story. I hope Stitch’s story will inspire others to have courage in life, find strength, and FIGHT ON!

I have three questions for you: (1) Where do you find the courage to keep fighting for Stitch, after everything that has happened?  (2) What is your definition of courage?  (3) Lastly, who do you admire most for their courage?

Thanks for being a leader and answering my letter!



Darling Emma,

In the beginning of this case, I was encouraged by friends and family to fight for Stitch. Everyone, including my attorney, thought that ours was a slam dunk case that would never make it to trial. The judge would take one look at the ridiculous charges against us and throw it out. An abandoned and neglected dog who was adopted by a loving family would surely stay with the loving family, right? But that’s when we found out that life isn’t always fair.

After a grueling trial, over $10,000, and a year of fighting, we lost and were told to turn Stitch over to the plaintiff (who, incidentally never proved ownership). My friends tearfully advised me to let go at that point. We had been through so much stress, money, tears, they didn’t want to see us get hurt any more.

Our attorney said we could appeal, but even she, an animal rights advocate, wouldn’t blame us if we didn’t. Troy and I talked this over for days. We had always been law- abiding citizens, but sometimes laws are wrong. Slavery used to be legal. Not long ago, women weren’t allowed to vote or own property. And then there were Jim Crow laws, Prop 8…The only way to change things is to rise up and fight injustice. Troy and I wanted to face ourselves in the mirror every day without regrets. Turning Stitch over would have left us feeling cowardly and disheartened. So we decided to fight on.

We took the first steps into this appeal not knowing if anyone would have our backs, but thankfully, many have. Some have helped with money, some have offered kindness and encouragement, and prayers, all which has strengthened us. And then we get a letter like this from you, dear Emma, that makes it all worth it.

My definition of courage is doing what you know is right, even when it scares you, standing up against a bully, speaking up when it’s unpopular. Courage is feeling the fear and walking through it.

Who do I admire for their courage? I would say Nelson Mandela demonstrated the greatest courage, standing up against racial apartheid, being imprisoned for it, never backing down from what he knew was right. He changed his country and affected the world.

We are in a fight against the Property Statute Law, which states that animals are property, with no regard for their treatment or care, or even their lives. It’s a huge battle that many animal rights advocates have been fighting for years and years. There is a very strong possibility that we will lose, but we are staying positive and focusing on the end result. If we win, it would be a great victory for animal rights advocates and pet owners everywhere.

Emma, your letter has given us tremendous encouragement, and by sharing it here, you will be helping to open others’ eyes to the importance of animal rights.

Thank you for being such a thoughtful and caring girl, and good luck on your project.



* to read more and see how you can help our case: SAVE STITCH
Friend us on facebook at Stitchy the Wonder Dog

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grace in Bethlehem

December brings my birthday and the holidays. As a child, it was my favorite time of year, but these last ten years, being estranged from my family, I tend to get the blues. My sweet husband hangs Christmas lights and wears a Santa hat to cheer me up, and I do my best…focusing on the kids, playing Christmas music, making ornaments, baking cookies, watching my favorite holiday movies.

This year on my birthday, I would receive the greatest and most unexpected of gifts. I had just gotten back from a day of volunteer work, wrapping gifts for needy families. (I’ve found that the best cure for the blues is to get out of my own head and help someone else, so you see, I did this for completely selfish reasons.) I was unwinding after a long day when my brother Ted, who had flown in from Seattle, came walking up my stairs with a big red bow wrapped around him. My best friends Erin and Beth had picked him up from the airport and smuggled him in. Ted and I only found each other six years ago. We had lived a whole lifetime apart, and this was the first time I’d ever spent my birthday with him. We had dinner with my children that night, all of us together, laughing, celebrating. Six years ago, this was a scene I never could have imagined.

Several days later I was fortunate to tag along with Troy for a leg of the Wilson Phillips tour that took us to Pennsylvania, where my angel-friend and writing partner Amy Ferris lives. With our deadline looming, it was a perfect opportunity for Amy and I to buckle down and get some work done on our book “Dancing At The Shame Prom”.

I had my sleeves rolled up, ready to work. But what I didn’t expect was for those five days to be so inspired and spirit-filled. Walking in the brisk cold through Bethlehem at Christmas time was magical. Each street was lined with historic brick buildings, cobblestone churches, and graveyards dating back to the 1700s. Vendors sold handmade wares in their tiny Christmas Village. At night, candles glowed in every window of every house. And Bethlehem is where Amy and I sat together in an ancient haunted hotel, by a roaring fire and a glittering fifteen-foot Christmas tree, reading these heart-stopping, beautiful, honest, raw essays sent by our brave writers.

When someone chooses to open their heart and let you in, it is nothing short of a miracle. That’s what each writer has done for this book, and soon we will be able to share them with you. I felt so blessed to be midwifing this project, to be trusted with these intimate, courageous, hope-filled stories. How perfect that this book should be birthed in Bethlehem, during a time of hope and lovingkindness, by the sparkle of holiday lights.

I know it wasn’t the actual Bethlehem - just an old abandoned steel town in Pennsylvania - but I felt something magic there. Maybe I’m making too much of the connection – but I don’t think so. A blessing is a blessing, no matter where you find it. I found mine in the arms of my brother, and my friends, dancing and laughing with Troy, holding hands with Amy. And I experienced my true Christmas miracle through a bevy of beautiful writers, in the heart of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reasons and Seasons and a lifetime of lessons.

There’s a saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I’ve found that to be true. I’ve also found that every single person has come to teach me something.

My lifetime friends are the ones I can be my whole unedited self with, knowing that I will be loved and accepted. Our friendships are honest, and have withstood disagreements, tragedies, weddings, divorces, babies, deaths and the colossal ups and downs of life. From them I have learned the true meaning of unconditional love.

Some friends have come and gone, and from them, I learned that you can’t hold love with a tight grip, but only with an open hand.

Some friends are far away, but never stray from my heart. From them I learned that real love is timeless and can sustain long distance and periods of silence. (Diane- 28 years)

Some friends come into your life exactly when you need them. From them I've learned that prayers are answered.

Some friends turned out not to be friends.  From them I learned how to value myself.

Some friends stood by me when I was down, but resented me when I had success. From them I learned the importance of celebrating others’ victories.

Some were not happy to see me grow and change. From them I learned how to stand for myself.

Some were just plain mean and vindictive, and from them I learned the importance of boundaries, and releasing negativity from my heart.

Not one person has come or gone from my life without adding value to me as a person, so I can honestly say that every relationship has been a blessing. I have no regrets...even the bad ones were good once. I try to hold on to the happy memories of relationships gone bad, but most importantly I strive to learn the lesson that it held for me.

Who have been the blessings in your life - both good and bad?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

All Because of a Little Dog Named Stitch

This is why we fight.
Over the past two years of this insane trial, I have spent a lot of time asking WHY? We are good people who only wanted to give an abandoned dog a good home. Why all this insanity?

I prayed and prayed for help. And what I got instead was more drama.

But lately I’ve realized something.

When I prayed for help, I was given opportunities to help myself. When I prayed for courage, I got opportunities to be courageous. When I prayed for the money to get through this, I was given opportunities to be valuable and work hard. I  got to see how charitable and loving people can be. Complete strangers have financed a good portion of this lawsuit.

Through all of this trial, and believe me, it’s been a trial on every level, I’ve been given the gift of courage. Courage is a muscle that only becomes strong with use. Just like a workout at the gym, no one can give you strength. It only comes from working that muscle and working it hard.

Some people don’t understand why we’ve turned our life upside down and gone into financial crisis over a little dog, and that’s okay. They’ve not walked in our shoes, and I’m sure it’s hard to understand. But sometimes in life you’re given a chance to fight for something you believe in. It never comes at an opportune time, but when it comes, you get to see what you’re made of.

Troy and I are being made into something more than we were when we started this fight.
We are braver, stronger, and have more faith in people. We may have lost some money in the past few years, but what we gained is something that can never be taken from us.

And all because of a little dog named Stitch.

For the background story, newspaper articles, the petition and more, see SaveStitch

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Barnum and Bailey presents: The Stitch Trial

(Cue circus music…) I barely know where to begin, but it will require all my restraint to not fill this blog with expletives. (Let me just get it out real fast…#**%^&*#%^&**^!!!)
We have just returned from yet another shocker of a day in court, fighting for the right to keep our dog.

For anyone who is new to this story, all the details are HERE.
For those who’ve been following all along, you know that In September the plaintiff’s attorney dropped him. He appeared before the judge to be officially “released”, claiming his client wouldn’t return his calls nor pay him.

Our attorney, Jill Ryther, then called and emailed the plaintiff numerous times and got no response. It seemed clear to everyone that since “winning” custody of Stitch five months ago, but “losing” all monetary motions against us, the plaintiff had lost interest.

Monday we were called to court by the judge to state why nothing had been resolved on either side. The plaintiff did not show up, and unfortunately, neither did the judge. We were rescheduled to today. We showed up on time. Our case was the first call at 8:30 am. No plaintiff in sight. And then as our attorney is presenting to the judge, the clerk interrupts, “The plaintiff’s attorney called and is running late. He says he’ll be here at nine.”
“Oh okay,” says the judge, “we’ll reconvene at nine.”
This was wrong on so many levels…First of all, what attorney? And why are attorneys permitted to waste the court’s time by showing up late?

Sure enough at 9 am, the attorney who had asked to be released from the case, (“Fox” is his name, by the way), strolls in half an hour late. For the past two years, he has shown up late to every hearing, been a no-show at three court appointed dates, and most recently dropped his client. And yet, he receives no penalty, not even an admonishment by the court.

The court has ordered the plaintiff to appear in court several times and he has no-showed, and yet, nothing happens. We keep waiting for the judge to say this is ridiculous, and throw the whole thing out. But he doesn’t.

Fox says his client is not able to be there because he is “receiving medical treatment” (I instantly remember why the original owner of the dog wasn’t at trial- he too was “receiving medical treatment” in “rehab”). Thankfully the judge tells Fox he can not represent the client as he was released from the case. He tells him to take a seat. Even still, as our attorney presents our side, Fox jumps up and argues against her, and the judge ALLOWS IT! ( circus music…)

I could go on and on with my frustrations about this case, but I’ll spare you and give you the results from today: Five months ago we lost legal custody of Stitch and immediately filed an appeal. Since then we have been fighting to retain custody of Stitch during the appeals process, which could take another year. Today we were granted temporary custody pending appeal. We have to pay the court $2000 in collateral to assure that we don’t run off with Stitch in the interim. And we have to pay our attorney to write a 20 page appeals brief and filing fees. Then we have to go to appeals court, some time in 2012. The whole crux of our appeal is we are trying to prove the court’s ruling was wrong-  that a family pet is not property. Stitch is a sentient being with needs and rights, and his well-being should be first consideration. A bicycle is property. You can leave a bicycle in a hot car without any repercussions. You can not do that with a dog. See that, courts? NOT THE SAME THING! We will be submitting the Save Stitch petition with our appeals brief, so if you haven’t signed it yet, please do! And spread the word! (it's at the top right corner of this page, or on our website)

AND- just in time for the Holidays….the Stitch store is re-opening. Wouldn’t you love to buy Holiday gifts from Stitch this year? Every penny you spend goes to Stitch’s legal defense fund! Help us fight this stupid law and make the world a safer place for animals!
Please visit our website where you can sign the petition, shop at our Save Stitch Store, read the whole background story, plus blogs and newspaper articles written about our case. 
Thank you to everyone who has supported us through this whole ordeal. This is a fight we have taken on together. There is no way Troy and I would still be standing strong without all of you behind us. THANK YOU!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Calm in the Center of the Storm

Last week was a tumultuous one. A lot of dust kicked up in the Universe on so many levels, all of it coming at me like a firehose in the face. A friend asked me why I seemed so calm in the middle of it all (reiterate: seemed) , and I’ve really given that some thought. I felt like I was walking a tightrope, trying to breathe and find my center the whole time, and though I stayed calm, it wore me out. 

For the past twenty years, I’ve been on a long journey of healing my spirit. I’ve been through three therapists, workshops, seminars with Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Julia Cameron, healing through life story writing, intuitive healers, medical healers, and of course I have a closet full of self help books- three shelves piled high. I’ve read them all cover to cover, some of them twice. Through this journey, this is what I’ve learned.


If I don’t trust myself, I’ll never trust anyone else.


When I don’t love myself, I’m not able to fully love anyone else.


If I betray myself by not living true to who I am, I have betrayed others by presenting a false self.


If deep inside I blame myself, I’ll catch myself projecting that blame onto others.


When I judge myself, I will end up judging others.


When I am impatient, critical and demanding with myself, I’ll be the same with others.


When I haven’t forgiven myself, I’ll find it hard to forgive others.

So when I find myself in a place where I am not trusting, not loving, not being true to my heart, blaming others, judging others…That’s not anyone else’s problem. The only way to heal that is within me. I start by forgiving myself for being human, and reminding myself that we are all carrying the same demons. No one is on this Earth with the intent to bring me down. We are all doing the best we can in this school of life, and each of us is carrying a burden.

I remind myself to be kind and patient with others, starting with me.

The quote I’ve kept on my wall for this two-decade long journey is this:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
-       Mahatma Ghandi

I have found this to be absolutely true. Living in that kind of integrity is the only thing that’s ever brought me peace. When I am unhappy, I know that one of the above tenets is out of alignment, and I work to center myself again.

It’s so simple, and yet so few of us live that way.

I put that quote where I can see it each day, and ask myself, am I living in spiritual alignment? When I am, I know it. I make better decisions, I trust myself, I’m not rocked off my center by what others say about me. I can retain my calm in the center of a storm. I feel at peace. When I am at peace, my family is at peace, and like ripples in a pond, it spreads outward.

Who says we can’t change the world? We can each start with ourselves.

I wish you all integrity…peace…happiness.

Have a wonderful week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

And the award goes to...

This morning Troy and I went to Evan’s school to watch him receive an award. I assumed it was something academic, as that’s Evan’s thing. He’s the kid that asks to do “extra” homework because it’s fun.  Instead, I was happy to find that he was given the “Character Trait Award” that read:

For Evan Dexter: In recognition of demonstrating HONESTY.

I can not tell you how my heart swelled with pride. In my twenty-six years of parenting, this has been the trait I’ve stressed most to my children. And really, based on my life’s work, could there be a better award for my kid?

Just this morning as I was packing his lunch, he stopped me from putting a sweet granola bar in his backpack. “Mommy, you said no sweets for the week because I said a bad word yesterday, remember?”

And a few days ago, he and Ben had their first scrape with “the law”. Yes, that’s right. Our little five and six year old hoodlums got into a world of trouble.

On Sunday, Erin, Beth, Troy and I had spent the afternoon playing baseball with our boys. Afterward, Evan went to Ben’s to play. When I later called to check in, Erin sounded upset. “We have a situation…” she said. Erin and Beth’s neighbor had come to warn them that vandals were running loose in the neighborhood, and had smashed out the window of their Lexus. No worries, he assured her, we’ve called the police and they’re on their way.

Erin thanked him and shut the door, when Beth said, “Uh…did you check with the boys? They’re in the back yard.”

It turns out, Evan and Ben were continuing to practice baseball by seeing how far they could throw big rocks. Over the fence.

Troy and I rushed over, and the four of us sat the boys down to have a talk. We made sure they understood the seriousness of throwing rocks, and that even though it was an accident, they would have to take responsibility and tell the police. Evan processed the situation, as he often does, by drawing it out on paper.

We walked the boys next door, and they apologized to the neighbors (for a second time. Beth had taken them over immediately when she first found out.) We made sure they saw the damage the rocks had caused. Then we waited for the police.

As the two officers strolled up in their intimidating uniforms, billy clubs and guns in hosters, the lead officer said, “Okay, who can explain what’s going on here?” and before any of us could get a word out, Evan stepped up and said, “Mr. Policeman, we did it!” Ben nodded his head, “Yeah, we did it.”
“Well, Thank you for being honest boys.”  The officer shook their hands.
Evan continued, “Me and Ben were throwing rocks over the fence but it was a accident and here’s my drawing.”
The officer took the drawing, looked closely at it, then back at Ben and Evan. He was silent for a moment. Here comes the big lecture…I thought. This is good.
“I’m going to have to arrest you two…” he broke into a smile, “for being ADORABLE!” He chuckled, “You two are the cutest kids I’ve ever seen!”
Beth and I stood behind the boys, frowning and shaking our heads. This was not the intimidating life lesson we’d hoped for.
“But throwing rocks is BAD, right Officer?” I added.
“Yes, don’t throw rocks anymore, boys, okay?” 
They nodded, jumping up and down with glee. The officer looked back to Beth and I smiling. “Seriously, those guys are so cute…”
Ben asked Evan, “What’s gonna happen now?”
“Don’t worry Ben, we’re not in trouble! He thinks we’re cute!”
Beth was immediately on it. “Hey- you still have to take responsibility for this.”

After the police left, we sat the boys down again and told them they’d have to do some extra chores to help pay for the TWO brand new Lexuses that were damaged. (We’re still waiting to hear back for insurance on that…dreading the answer.)
Evan was excited about it. “Can we make a chores chart? Can I pick up trash? And sweep?”

I’ve had my ups and downs, my failures as a person and a mom, but one thing I’m proud of is teaching my kids to be honest. The most trouble Taylor ever got into as a kid was for telling a lie. It was over a silly thing (brushing his teeth) but I treated it with huge seriousness. I told him - when you tell a lie, you break trust with people. Your friends and family won’t believe in your words anymore. I won’t get mad at you for making a mistake, but I will always get mad at you for lying. In our house, lying was the most serious offense of all. Taylor threw himself face down on his bed and sobbed his eyes out for twenty minutes. Cristen, who was then about twelve, went and sat beside him, rubbing his back.
“Why are you crying, boopy-nose?”
“I TOLD A LIE!” He sobbed into his pillow.

Today, my daughter Cristen tells it like it is. She stands in her truth, lives her life on her own terms and, believe me, she doesn’t hold anything back.
Taylor is living a life of integrity and responsibility, and passing it down to his own son.
And Evan has just passed his first big “life test”.

I know it was just a silly little school award today, but I took it as a huge sign from the Universe that we’re on track.

As I know all too well, being honest does not win you friends, rarely are you rewarded for it, and never are you “awarded”. The true reward is the self-trust and self-respect you gain.  Living with integrity brings an inner peace – and that is what I want my kids to have.

The award today? Just icing on that cake.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hollye and Amy Ferris discuss the finer points of BLURG

Hollye and Amy in tiaras.
(from Amy Ferris)
Okay, so Hollye and I had our Monday morning with Hollye & Amy talk. Sort of like Tuesdays with Morrie, but ... not. And, as usual, we caught up with life and each other and ... talked about shame. Our shame, our Shame Prom facebook page, and our hot off the presses spanking new gorgeous website, and our anthology - THE SHAME PROM. Holy Batwoman! And we realized, found that we - Hollye and I - are somewhat ashamed that we're not getting enough traction and "likes" on our Shame Prom Facebook page. People are not lining up to watch our fabulously funny shame out-takes and videos on YouTube, folks are not lining up to like us. 

Luckily, I was still in bed, and could creep and crawl under the covers. I mean, here we are, two amazing women with unbelievable accomplishments not to mention husbands and friends, and we're trying to understand why folks are having an allergic reaction to our brilliant and LIFE CHANGING movement - the SHAME PROM movement. And then it happened, Hollye said five magical words: DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM... and in that moment, I pushed the covers off of me (okay, more figuratively than literally) and I smiled and I said to Hollye, God, that's brilliant. It feels so happy, celebratory. It feels less sad. Less tragic. And of course Hollye made it even sound sexy, and no longer scary. 

The thing is (and I will let Hollye continue this thought, idea, realization... epiphany) we want everyone to celebrate their shameful experiences. The one's that make us cringe. Crawl into a ball. Hide under the covers. Change our phone numbers. We want to share our stories, release the gunk, prove we're not alone in doing silly, stupid, hurtful, painful, and unbearable things. We want to open the doors - literally - and dance to the beat of our own - and others - bravery and courage. 
We're finding SHAME has a very bad reputation, not to mention a really bad rap. 
We want to change that. 
Okay, here's Hollye ...

Yep. We discovered that although we rejoice in the releasing of it, most people are repelled by the word  “Shame”. They don’t want to “Like” it, or watch You Tube videos about it, and GOOD GOD NO they don’t want to talk about it. The word alone carries a negative connotation. When someone said “Shame on you” it meant you were a BAD person who had done a BAD thing. Most of us have come to a point in our lives where we feel we are done with that bullshit. I know I am.

But shame is sneaky. 

It hid itself in the corners of my psyche, in the stories I didn’t tell. It lodged itself in my heart in the moment that I let someone else define me, or control me, or belittle me. It hung over me like a sad umbrella, keeping the sun away. And until I learned how to find it, it was keeping me small. Very small.

Our objective with this anthology is to RELEASE it, to sweep it out of the corners and shoo it away, and we want you to join us! We want to connect with you and share this glorious feeling.  But there’s that problem…that icky word.

Okay so how about we don’t call it shame. Let’s call it “blurg”.

I felt blurg in my childhood because my father was in prison, and because of things people did to me, and because I thought I was a mistake and didn’t belong anywhere.

I felt it as a young woman when I betrayed myself trying to gain someone else’s love, or when I shared my body with someone who did not value me.

So I wrote a book and got it all out and it changed me. And although I’ve more or less healed myself of the past shame, er, I mean, BLURG,  it still creeps up on me. I start to feel it when I chide myself for gaining five pounds, when I see the age in my face that society tells me is not acceptable, when I’m the only one at the dinner party who doesn’t get the intellectual reference because I’m a college dropout.

Yes, I feel BLURG.

Oh, that’s ridiculous. Let’s call it what it is - it’s SHAME. A universal emotion, just like fear, love, jealousy, desire. It’s what makes us human. It's what binds us. Connects us. Lifts us. Spurs us into action. 

(From Amy and Hollye)
Dancing at the Shame Prom was conceived and born out of courage, passion, compassion, joy, and self-awareness. It's not a place for wallowing in self-pity, or sorrow. Well, you can wallow for just a little bit, but we're grabbing your hand, and we're taking you out onto the dance floor, and we’re not letting BLURG hold any of us back any more. 

Care to dance with us?
*start small...tell us a tiny little story that you never tell. post it anonymously if you like. Go on...get it out. you'll feel better. Here's my story...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Being True to You

Ophelia's art poster:
Yesterday I watched an online discussion between Martha Beck and Oprah, following Oprah’s life class entitled “The Truth Will Set You Free”. This of course was of interest to me as my life’s work is centered in this issue.

Martha Beck had a spiritual experience while undergoing a surgery, and it changed they way she lived. She had been touched by a divine love, and the only way she could come close to experiencing that feeling again was to live in absolute truth. The alternative became too painful. She could no longer say yes when she meant no, or do work she didn’t believe in, or be in a relationship based on false selves.

This was the part of the conversation that riveted me. She said that if you are in a relationship in which you can not truly be yourself- meaning you can’t say what you really think or feel for fear of the other person rejecting you- then you are presenting a “false self” to the relationship, and therefore it is a “false relationship”. I could instantly flash on several relationships in my life past and present that fit that bill. And it made me wonder…If I’m not being myself so I won’t lose the relationship, but it’s a false relationship, then what am I really losing?

I can recall countless work or family functions I’ve attended where everyone forces a smile while simmering with resentment underneath. Or times I’ve said yes when I really meant no. And this is what I think shame really is. It’s when your actions are not in alignment with your heart. Shame is born in the moment that you betray yourself.

And yet most of us live this way.

So why do we do this? Why would we ever live a life that is not true? Why do we betray ourselves? Why do we say one thing and do another?

What do we gain by living this way? And more importantly, what do we lose?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blue Hawaii

I have been blue all week, a deep sadness welling up inside me at random moments. It has really caught me off guard. No surprise that I also lost my voice this week.

One of the triggers is that tomorrow is Grandparent’s day at Evan’s school. They had to write and talk about it all week, and tomorrow the kids’ grandparents are coming to class for a celebration. This upset me. What about all the little kids who will have no one there for them tomorrow, like my son? Troy’s parents are in New Mexico, and my Dad is in Texas, and then there’s my mother who lives only twenty minutes away but doesn’t know Evan at all.

And perhaps the true source of my sadness, I just found out, through the grapevine, that my mother is moving to Hawaii next week.

My mother and I have been estranged for ten years. The rift between us was not a result of some petty squabble. In my extended family, there has been sexual impropriety, drug use and abuse, and, on the women’s part, enabling and denial. I made the choice to break the silence, and therefore break the cycle. I was rewarded for my honesty by being outcast, and then blamed for breaking up the family.

We tried to set it right again. We went to therapy, but my mother quit. She said she couldn’t afford it (then went on vacation to Costa Rica, and remodeled her house). We tried without therapists. We met in a park a few years ago to talk things through. I brought Evan who was only two at the time. My mother’s anger took on a life of its own, like a feral cat backed into a corner, hissing and clawing, and all of it directed at me. And there was sweet little Evan, witnessing it all.

I made the choice to protect my own children from that toxicity. I know in my heart it was the right thing to do. But when Grandparent’s day rolls around, it still hurts.

I realized that what I am experiencing is mourning. I still held on to a thin thread of hope for my mother and I. They say times heals…I was waiting. I kept telling myself, any day now, something’s gonna shift. But it never did, and now that she’s leaving, the thread of hope was snipped for good.

The bridge between us was not only burned, it was blown to smithereens.  This is not something that could be fixed long distance over the phone, or without professional help.

So as my mother packs her things and prepares for her new life, I am mourning the death of hope, and of possibility that things could ever be different.

I’ll give Evan pictures of his grandparents to take to school tomorrow. He may grow up without grandparent’s at his birthday parties, recitals or school events, but there is certainly no shortage of love surrounding him. As long as we have love, we can get through anything.

As for my mother, I wish her peace in her heart, and a beautiful life in paradise.
As the sun sets on our relationship, I guess there’s nothing else to say for now but…
Aloha, Mom.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gossip Girl

 Years ago, the “Gladys Kravitz” of our neighborhood told me that one of our local handymen was a pedophile. No one else in the neighborhood ever confirmed that, and this woman told me many other things about neighbors that proved to be untrue. Still, every time I saw that man I grabbed my kids and pulled them inside. She had tainted my opinion of him forever, and he was most likely innocent.

Gossip spreads like virus, and causes irreparable damage. You may one day have a change of heart and forgive the person you are maligning. But it’s too late. Opinions have been formed based on your words.

I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to talk - we’re all interested in each other’s lives. What’s important is intent. Are you talking about a friend to knock them down a peg? Are you vilifying them to make yourself look like the good guy? Are you trying to lower others’ opinions of them?

Or are you coming from a place of love?

This reminds me of an old Jewish proverb:

A man went about his community telling malicious lies about the town Rabbi. Later, he began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything to make amends. The rabbi told him, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man did it gladly. When he returned, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more recollect the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."

So keep this in mind. If you’re going to be a gossip girl, once you’ve fired off your missives, you’ll never be able to put those bullets back in the gun. Or the feathers in the pillow.

Whoopi Goldberg had a great line in The Color Purple:

“Everything you done to me, you already done to yourself.”

No truer words were ever spoken. The damage you do to others in spreading malicious gossip will always be with you, and will ultimately hurt you in the end.

The moral of the story?
Words have power. Wield them wisely.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Judge not...or do. Whatevs.

“When you judge someone, you do not define them. 
You simply define yourself as someone who needs to judge.” 
– Wayne Dyer

We all make judgments every day; I like this, I don’t like that. I don’t like the way he drives. I like the way she dresses. We pick and choose what’s right for us from the judgments we make. But most people spend an inordinate amount of time talking about and judging others. (…aaand that’s why we love reality TV.)

I used to make judgments on my friends lives, because I was a “fixer”. I’d obsess over their missteps; “Why does so and so keep choosing the same abusive guy?” “Why is so and so spending money she doesn’t have? She’s going to end up in debt!” And then I’d set out to “fix” them. A lot of my sentences began with “What you should do is…” until one day a friend spoke up. “Let me make my own mistakes. I’ll deal with the consequences.” And I totally got it. It was her journey, and she’d find her own way, just as I had to find mine. Maybe she needed to be with the wrong guy to learn something about herself. Maybe she needed to go into debt to learn how to manage money. Who knew? It wasn’t my job to fix anyone but me. And it was time I switched my focus.

I spent the next decade in and out of therapy, doing yoga, meditating, reading, unraveling my past by writing a book. I was intent on fixing my own issues. I would still be a shoulder for my friends when they had a problem, but I listened, and put faith in them to solve their own problems.

In doing this long decade of inner work, I realized that none of us is perfect, and mistakes are a necessity in this school called life. I forgave myself for my flaws and my own missteps. I accepted myself as an imperfect human being in an imperfect world, and that’s when things began to shift inside of me.

When I stopped judging myself, I no longer felt the desire to judge others.
When I made peace with myself, I was at peace with others.
When I was happy with me, I didn’t need anyone else’s validation.
When judgment and criticism came, I no longer doubted myself, because I knew where my heart was centered.

The greatest thing about getting older is the wisdom and inner peace it can bring. When my heart is at peace, I like myself. It’s okay if others don’t like me. I like me.

I am careful with my words and judgments now. I certainly slip up more than I should, but I bring myself back to center by reminding myself of Maya Angelou’s wise words:

"A person’s speech is a mirror to her or his soul."

Every day I ask myself, What do my words say about me?

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” That’s what the bible says. But even if I choose not to judge, others will most likely still judge me. But you know what? It’s none of my business what anyone thinks about me.

It’s not my job to prove to anyone who I am. My job is to be the best me I can be, and to keep myself centered in a positive place.

If I do that, my life will speak for itself.