Saturday, April 30, 2011

David and Goliath

Just look at that stoplight. Isn’t she a beauty? Well, maybe not so much to you, but to me this stoplight makes my heart swell with pride, because it represents victory after a hard-fought battle.

It all started about ten years ago, just before Christmas, when seven-year old Brandon, a playmate of my son’s who lived just a few doors down, was riding his scooter to our corner store. The corner store that lies just across the main road that weaves through our quiet little community. The road commuters just love to speed like crazy on, because it has no crosswalks, no streetlights, no stop signs, no traffic lights.

Brandon was the victim of a hit and run that evening. He was dragged by the car for about twenty feet. His mangled scooter lied up the road after being dragged under the car for a city block. The monster behind the wheel of that car sped away, leaving a little boy bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road.

Brandon was taken to Children’s Hospital where he lay in a coma for weeks. We neighbors took turns visiting at the hospital, and doing what we could to support his parents. We then rallied to see what we could do to prevent this from ever happening again.

My community is small, rural and unincorporated. Chickens and wild peacocks are the main source of “traffic” on our narrow country roads. We were literally the last place on the planet to get high speed internet. I was on dial-up until just a couple years ago. We aren’t worth the city’s bother to provide us with sewer or gas lines, or trash pick up. We have to source all that out ourselves.

So when we approached L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and demanded a stop sign at the intersection by our country market, we weren’t exactly treated with any kind of priority. We held a town meeting at our local chapel, and discussed our ideas with Antonovich’s deputies. The crowd shouted out their demands. We need street lights! We need a stop sign! We need peacock crossings! (Oh Chatsworth people…)
We were politely rebuffed.

Antonovich’s deputy Patty explained that the main road was too important a route for morning commuters, and they couldn’t risk traffic being slowed by a stop sign.
Well, what about a crosswalk at least? We countered.
Not necessary, they said, as you have the legal right to cross there without it.

Hmm…couldn’t risk traffic being slowed down? We had the legal right to cross there?

We townsfolk met again, and decided if the most important issue to the city was not the well being of children in a small unincorporated town, but the flow of traffic, then we’d hit them where it hurt.

We made a plan, with all of us taking rotating shifts. We would continually cross the street there, s l o w l y, from 7 to 9 am and again from 4 to 6 pm every day, nonstop, forcing cars to stop. And we would carry signs stating that a little boy laid in a coma at Children’s Hospital while the city did nothing to protect our community.

And boy, for a community of artists and cowboys and old hippies, we were diligent and organized! On the first morning we backed up traffic so far that within the hour, traffic helicopters circled overhead to investigate. What they discovered was a bunch of artists and cowboys and old hippies standing in the road with signs. Next came the news helicopters and trucks. The commuters were visibly angry, although some of them (the decent ones) cheered us on. After about a week of us legally crossing the road all day, the Supervisor’s office caved to our demands.

We didn’t get our stop sign. Instead we got a traffic light, a crosswalk, street lights, and a flashing electronic radar sign to monitor speed.

Brandon eventually recovered, but with some minor brain damage. He is now a teenager and doing pretty well.

Antonovich ended up befriending me, awarding my nonprofit with at-risk kids, and giving me the back room in his office to hold my nonprofit events and meetings.

No one has been hit by a car since. We all still love our traffic light.

And that, my friends, is how it’s done.

The moral of the story, don’t let yourself get caught up in the fact that you are David and they are Goliath, if the stone you carry in your pocket is the stone of truth. When something is worth fighting for, you must do it, no matter how daunting the task.

I needed to remind myself of this story, as we approach our trial on Monday, fighting to keep custody of our little dog. (for anyone new to this blog, you can read about it at Yesterday I was feeling pretty beat down after reading through some of the documents and statements from the “plaintiffs”, which are nothing but lies and deception. It’s astonishing to me the lows some people will stoop to. But I have this little stone in my pocket…it’s called the TRUTH. And I have faith that if I hold on tight to that, I need nothing more.

I’ll see you in court on Monday, Goliath.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Opraholics Unite!

I can do anything I set my mind to - Oprah said so!

I couldn’t care less about the royal wedding, or the fact that Lindsay Lohan is doing community service for stealing a necklace, or that one of Charlie Sheen’s goddesses broke up with him. I mean, literally could not care less!

I don’t understand how such trivial matters occupy so much space in our internal hard drives when we, as Americans, should be focusing on important things, like the fact that….there are only TWENTY ONE Oprah shows left!

I know you expected something much deeper from me, but this IS deep for me. I have been watching Oprah for twenty-five years. I grew up with her. She has shown me how to be courageous, how to speak my truth, how to rise from a shitty childhood and have the life I dream of. She has shown me that all things are possible. She has inspired me every day, and has been the strongest role model in my life. At times when I slink back into old negative patterns of thinking…I don’t belong here, I’m a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks- I’ll never make it, I think of her, born an unwanted child, a black girl in the deep, segregated South, who came from a family of women who were all maids. Her grandmother's greatest wish for Oprah was that she’d find her some nice white folks to work for.

She surpassed every expectation for her, from her own family, from her parents who didn’t want her, from society. I mean, really, what network in the 1980's was ever going to pick up a show with an overweight black woman with bad hair? She has overcome so much, and because of that, I revere that woman. Just ADORE her.

And oh my god I am going to miss her so very, very much.

I am thinking of starting a page called Opraholics Anonymous. Will you join?

I was incredibly fortunate to have spoken with her on her radio show, and my husband, being the wonderful human being he is, recorded the whole thing live from his recording studio.

Here is my brush with greatness- me talkin’ with my hero, Oprah:

Find more artists like hollyedextermusic at Myspace Music

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Break In The Cup

Years ago I attended a high school reunion, and a classmate ran up and hugged me. I’ll never forget, he said “Hollye Holmes! I remember you. You were always finding birds with broken wings and trying to save them!”
Wow. I did not miss the truth in his simple statement. I know he was speaking literally about memories he had of me, but boy oh boy did he have my number on so many levels.  I had a habit back in those days of taking broken people under my own wing, and trying to “love” them into wholeness. But it’s impossible to do when that person has got a “broken cup”.

That’s a term coined by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, David Wilcox. I love him not only for his James Taylor-like soothing vocals but because the man is like a sage. His songs are so deep and profound he could start a religion around them, or at least a self-help movement.  This song he wrote, called “Break in the cup” taught me so much about the people I was trying to fix in my life, and about myself as well.

I can’t say it any better than Wilcox so I’ll just share his lyrics with you.

I try so hard to please you
To be the love that fills you up
I try to pour on sweet affection
But I think you got a broken cup.
Because you can't believe I love you
I try to tell you that there is no doubt
But as soon as I  fill you with all I've got
That little break will let it run right out

I cannot make you happy
I'm learning love and money never do
But I can pour myself out 'til I'm empty
Trying to be just who you'd want me to
I cannot make you happy
Even though our love is true
For there's a break in the cup that holds love
Inside of you

Now I begin to understand you
As you explain the fear you feel
It's when you see me fall into that sorrow
That makes you doubt the love is real
Because lonely wind still blows through me
I turn away so you can't see
But now how can I still be so empty
With all this love that you pour on me?

I guess you cannot make me happy
And that's a money-back guarantee
But you can pour yourself out 'til you're empty
Trying to be just who'd I want you to be
You cannot make me happy
It's just the law of gravity
And that break in the cup that holds love
Inside of me

So if you're tempted to rescue me
Drowning in this quicksand up to my neck
Before you grab my hand to save me
Why don't you ask me if I'm finished yet?
You cannot make me happy
Not when there's empty inside of me
But you can pull yourself right in here with me
My misery'd love to have your company

We cannot trade empty for empty
We must go to the waterfall
For there's a break in the cup that holds love
A break in the cup that holds love
A break in the cup that holds love
Inside us all

That’s the clencher…that last chorus. The “break” in the cup is the ego, which can never be satisfied.  But the “waterfall” – that is our source of life, the love that created us.  Only there can we find wholeness.

So, what I learned from David Wilcox is this: I can love my friends and family, but I alone can never fill their cups. When we are living in grace and love, and finding our strength from that source, our cup is full. It is only when we each fix the break in our own cups that we can find true happiness. 

Here is another great song ( and sweet story) from Wilcox- about how love blooms when we approach it with honesty. I just love this guy....take the time to watch this short video. It'll make you smile and believe in love.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What is Forgiveness?

Say you’re standing in line at the Post office and someone accidentally steps on your toe. They quickly move back and say “Sorry!” and you say “No problem”. It’s over and quickly forgotten. But what if they say “Sorry!” and then continue to stand on your toe? Are you still going to say No problem?

What exactly is forgiveness?  Is it condoning the other person’s behavior? Denying your own pain so another person can feel better?  Letting another off the hook, and then carrying their shame for them? Is it as simple as letting go of a balloon that floats away into the atmosphere? I think it is much more complex than that.

Forgiveness is a huge buzzword these days. Everyone says you should do it. Oprah says you should do it. Doctors say you’ll be healthier if you do it. Jesus did it on the cross. Stanford University even has a “Forgiveness Project”, where researchers say it is a skill that can be learned, a decision you simply make. But I don’t see it as a decision any more than falling in love is a decision.

Forgiveness is a spontaneous shift in the heart, and like love, it can’t be forced. It is an unwritten contract between two souls. A door of genuine understanding and remorse must be opened before you can cross the threshold of forgiveness. You can’t bang that door down yourself. In other words, forgiveness is not a one-way street.

To me there is nothing worse than an empty apology. I remember on one occasion that I actually got my mother to show up for therapy, my therapist asked if she could apologize for lying to me, because her lies had affected my life and damaged my trust. The best she could muster up was an indignant, “I’m sorry you see it that way.” But she wasn’t sorry, and therefore no shift could take place on either side.

A forced forgiveness serves no one. Remember when you were a little kid, fighting with your sister, and your mom forced you to hug and say sorry, but behind her back you were sticking your tongues out at each other? I recently read about a woman who at 15 had been raped by her Sunday school teacher. Her pastor told her that she had to forgive him, it was the Christian thing to do. So she went to the rapist/Sunday school teacher and forgave him. And he would later rape her again. So what good did forgiving do? It wasn’t true forgiveness, therefore nothing changed, and no one was healed.

On the other hand, when a person is sincere in opening that door, you feel it in your soul and it changes you. True forgiveness is grace in action. I know because I have experienced this.

In 1995, after my house burned down and I lost everything, my best friend dumped me. I needed her more than ever, but she turned her back and never told me why. I was beyond devastated. Losing my home and all my possessions was nothing compared to losing my best friend. It was a hurt that took years, and much therapy, to get over. Eleven years later we bumped into each other in a record store. She seemed so happy to see me, while I was ambivalent. She hugged me with real feeling, and asked if I would meet her that week to talk, and I agreed.

We met at a Starbucks. As soon as I sat down, she took my hand, looked me right in the eye, and said tearfully, “I love you.” She squeezed my hand hard, not bothering to wipe away the tears rolling down her cheeks “and I have missed you in my life, so much. I am so sorry for the way I treated you. I don’t know why I acted that way back then, I guess I was afraid. Afraid of what was happening to you, and how it was affecting me. If you can forgive me, I really want another chance to be in your life, as the person I am now.” I felt the instant shift in my heart. Forgiveness. It wasn’t hard to do, because she opened the door. I knew her life had been turned upside down in the years that had passed. Her marriage fell apart, her career ended. Her heart had been broken open, and I was able to get in. That was four years ago and our friendship is still going strong.

What is forgiveness? I don’t know that I could encapsulate it into simple words. Like love, I know it when I feel it. When it happens, it is a beautiful miracle, like a butterfly landing on my shoulder. But I think it is a different experience for each person.

I’d love to know what forgiveness means to you, and how it feels.

But if you don’t comment today, that’s okay. I forgive you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Story of the Save Stitch Concert!

Oh what a night! And how I wish every one of you could have been there, all my sweet friends around the globe! Since distance was an issue, I thought I’d describe the event to you, so you’d feel like you were there with us. (And there is a video at the bottom so you can "be there")

When the first guests arrived, our friends Amy Engelhart and Alex Stein, Monica’s husband Michael walked up and said, “ Amy Englehart?” to which she replied, “Michael? What are you doing here?!”
“I live here!”
“Shut up!!!”

It turns out Michael and Amy knew each other from New Jersey and hadn’t seen each other in thirty years. And here she was standing in his living room because of a little dog named Stitch. Since the night started off with a miracle, I knew everything was going to be perfect.

Guests began to fill the house. The garden twinkled with sparkly lights and candles strung from the trees. Wine was poured, sushi and shrimp were served. The guests began to find seats around the garden as Troy and I played a set of soft and easy music. Our friend Mike Mennell played bass and sang, and our daughter Cristen backed us up on vocals.

Photo: Erin Doyle
 Photo: Lumel Photography
Next, the audience was wowed as Hope Edelman got up and read a touching story she had written for the Modern Love column in the NY Times. Her story recounted how she, as a motherless daughter, was watching her own young daughter develop mothering instinct. It was gorgeous and tender and funny.
 Photo: Lumel Photography
Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the evening was listening to Hope and Monica introduce each other. The graciousness, the love, the respect between these two accomplished writers and friends illustrated so beautifully what my sweet friend Amy Ferris always says “we are here to complete each other, not compete with each other”. So I was a complete sap, all teary-eyed, and so were they. 

Next up was Monica’s reading – which was freekin’ hysterical. Only Monica can take her own tragedies, spin them into stories and have you doubled over in laughter. If I try to encapsulate this tale of her calling off her first marriage and then being chased by a psychotic, hormonal Wild Turkey for a week, I certainly wouldn’t do it justice, but she had the crowd in an uproar.
Photo: Erin Doyle

Coffee, cider and gourmet desserts were served as the sun set. A warm cozy fire glowed outside and the candles flickered. The weather was perfect as Troy and I started a second set of music with our daughter Cristen, and our son Taylor on drums. Musician friends Charles Frichtel and Amy Engelhart joined us for the last few songs, and a few free-spirited girls were inspired to get up and dance.
(Check out Hope and Monica....gettin' their groove on!)
Photo Erin Doyle
Other miracles of the evening: A friend of mine from the fourth grade showed up with her family. I had not seen her since the fourth grade, and here we were, meeting again because of Stitch. She took photos and videos of the evening (which I am sharing here).

And then there was the Silent Auction: On those tables were art pieces by my friends Erin Doyle, Lori Landau, Cindy Sleman, Dior products from my fabulous Dior Dani, books written by Monica, Amy Ferris, Kristine Van Raden and Molly Davis, toys from Wills, jewelry made by Dani Ray (a friend from junior high!), photography from my fourth grade friend Melinda and Alex Sears, award winning pilsner brewed by our buddy Adam with a custom label he designed, and legal services donated by Denise. It was so wonderful to see friends new and old walking out with treasures given by other friends. And it touched me that everyone had given something from their hearts – they gave their services, their art, their skill. What could be more valuable? In giving for Stitch, they too were being honored and recognized for their talents, and I was beaming proud of every one of them.

Photos: Erin Doyle

As the evening wound down, guests gathered their treasures, and I made the rounds hugging and passing out thank you gifts to everyone.

Finally, there were about eight of us left, and Monica and I collapsed in the living room, realizing we hadn’t eaten all day. We cozied up with some food and wine, and I gently coaxed Monica’s sister Melinda (Joanne in the books) to play the piano for us. A hush fell over the room as she transfixed us with her soulful playing and singing. I mean, truly, just stunning. Then Maxee and Howard burst into song and it was a party all over again.
Photos: Erin Doyle
Howard, Monica and Erin cozy up at the end of the night as Melinda serenades us...HEAVEN!

At the end of the night, we peeked in on the kids to find Evan asleep in the crook of Wills’ arm. It was the perfect end to a magical evening.
Photo: Erin Doyle
And the only thing missing, my friends…was YOU! So one day soon, we shall have to do this again. It would be my great pleasure to give back to all of you who have given so much to us.

Our attorney (who gave us a huge break) is now PAID IN FULL as we march toward our trial on May 2nd and none of this would be happening without all of you so again, we say THANK YOU from all of the Dexter fam, and STITCH!
Photo: Lumel Photography
The whole Dexter family thanks you!
Video courtesy of Melinda Hersh, LUMEL Photography

Friday, April 8, 2011

Love and Letting Go

In the beginning...

It is a strange thing to love a child, for its the only relationship in which you can love someone fully, absolutely knowing that they will leave you.

In fact, every day they leave you a little bit more. The simple act of birth is their first push away into their own individuality. The baby whose eyes light up with wonder at the sight of your face soon becomes the toddler who says NO and tantrums against you. The five-year old who loved to cuddle and read stories with you will one day be the ten-year old who wants his space. The ten-year old who would still hold your hand if no one was looking will transform into a sullen, cynical teenaged alien from Mars who recoils from your touch. And then, just when they’re getting to be a little bit tolerable again, they leave home.

And through it all, we love them.

I’ve been through all the stages. Crying myself to sleep after driving my daughter to college, bittersweet tears watching my son become a man, get married and have a child of his own, and even now, at five-years old my youngest is flexing his newfound masculinity, preferring to spend his time karate chopping his imaginary enemies, rather than cuddling with mom. This morning, dropping him off at Kindergarten I reached out to kiss him goodbye but he was off and running toward his friends - he never even looked back. And that’s great, right? (sniff...sniff) It means he’s secure and confident. (sniff...sniff) And so today I have to let him go just a little more than yesterday.

It is only when I’ve resisted these changes in my heart that I’ve suffered. I’ve known all along that it was the right thing to back up and give my children the space to grow, but still I pined for the innocent days already gone, which passed too quickly while we were all busy having a life.

A couple years ago, I looked around my house filled with photos of my older children as babies, their huge saucer eyes peering out at me from the past, and a pang of sadness washed over me. I was longing for a time that no longer existed, and in doing so, I was not giving the present moment the appreciation it deserved.  My eldest babies had grown into beautiful and strong young adults: Cristen with her job in the music industry and world traveling, Taylor balancing gigs, his young family, and world traveling. I am so proud of the people they are today. And no, they no longer need me, or cry every time I leave the room like the good ole days, but they have rich, independent lives, and isn’t that what every parent wants for their child? (sniff...sniff)

So I swept the house of past memories, and put them in albums. I kept a few up, after all nostalgia does have its place, as long as you don’t live in that place. I hung new pictures reflecting who we all are today. My daughter in Paris, my son Taylor at the helm of a boat, embracing his wife, and of course current pictures of Evan and the grandbaby. Most importantly, I left room on the walls for new memories to be made.

Holding on to the past didn’t serve me, or my children. It’s like the sad feeling you get when you see someone still sporting a mullet. You have to honor that time for what it was, but embrace today.

Today I try to gather my family around a table for dinner at least a few times a month. It is such a joy to see the grown ones interact with their little brother and the new baby. It fills my heart with pride when Cristen, Aya or Taylor offer to cook for everyone, taking their turns being at the helm in the family. I am happy to see them shining in their new roles.

What I’ve learned about letting go is that I didn’t lose anything, though it may feel that way sometimes. In fact I’ve gained more than I could have imagined. Now I have a beautiful daughter-in-law who I love, and a precious grandson. Given the space to grow, love transformed into something new and miraculous.

One thing I know for sure - when I put my trust in love, it never disappoints. 
Cristen holds her brother's son... *sigh*

Taylor and his beautiful wife Aya

Aya has morning cuddle time with Evan and Ayumu

Sissy and Tay-Tay with Moomers
(translated: Taylor with his son Ayumu and sister Cristen)

Our family - where love brought us

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lily Pads in the Muck

Photo: Lori Landau (this photo will be auctioned at the Save Stitch house concert April 10th)

Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of a moment where you’re smiling, feeling it all the way to your core and you realize…Oh my god, this is it. This is perfect happiness. It may only last 20 seconds, but you had it. You want to lasso it and hold it forever, but you can’t. Those moments are beautiful and elusive gifts.

Years ago my therapist taught me to go to those moments when darkness threatens to overtake me. I close my eyes and relive them: Holding my baby daughter, laughing and spinning in place; My son Taylor peacefully sleeping in my arms under a balmy Carribean sky; Looking into Evan’s eyes for the first time; Troy and I sitting in silence on an Alaskan mountaintop- the only people in the world. When I go there in my mind, I’m able to see that these moments are possible, and they will occur again. The sadness lifts and my hope is restored.

The other night was one of those moments. I was supposed to watch my grandbaby so my son and daughter-in-law could go out. Instead we all ended up hanging out together in the living room with the kids running around, the baby making his way from one lap to the other. We ate hot fudge sundaes and talked and laughed. It was pure, simple happiness. I reminded myself to stay present in it, and absorb every second. 

As I have navigated my way through the troubled waters of the past year, I found tiny moments like these to be the lily pads that bloom in the middle of the muck. I  hopped from lily pad to lily pad to make my way across those dark turbulent waters. And when there was no happy-moment lily pad, my friends were there, throwing me the life-line.

This week I landed on a big, fat, happy lily pad: Because my amazing friends supported us through this lawsuit and trial, we now have the best attorney fighting for us. A month ago I was despondent and beaten down, ready to give up. Now I feel confident that we WILL win. As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday, after writing all my life, I signed with a literary agent. On Wednesday, I randomly found out that a story I wrote would be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul- Answered Prayers (something I had submitted a year ago and forgotten about!). And Thursday…Wow. Thursday a project that Amy Ferris and I have been nurturing for a year has finally taken wing. Seal Press bought our anthology The Shame Prom. This is the beginning of a beautiful journey that we believe will lift so many. My happy moment has stretched out for a whole week now and I am practically delirious.

Life is so unpredictable. There were times over the past year and a half when life was so crazy-bad, I thought someone had a big voodoo doll of my soul. On the darkest days, I felt doomed that my luck would never change. But through it all there were those tiny moments to keep me going.

And that’s what I believe life to be. Not always fair or just. I’ve seen bad people make out like bandits in this life, and good people suffer. But we get what we get, and in between there are those moments: a friend reaches out, a stranger holds a door open for you and smiles, a baby is born, there are spontaneous fits of laughter (my favorite), flowers blooming after the rain, a crocus poking it’s head above the snowy ground…these small scenes of perfection that are there to heal us if we pay attention and let them in.

Right now I am in one. I sit in my sanctuary writing, my favorite music is playing softly, Stitch and the kitties sleep peacefully together at my feet, birds are chirping, the windows are all open as the breeze blows the gauzy sheers in and out, as though the room were gently breathing. Absolute perfection.

I am in a state of deep gratitude, and wanting nothing more than to return the generosity of spirit you’ve all shown me. Thank you for all the tiny, perfect moments: the kind words and comments, the letters, the cheerleading. Thank you for helping me to bloom in the muck.

Have a beautiful weekend my friends, and keep your eyes open for the lily pads…