Thursday, June 28, 2012

Will it Bring You Happiness?

The Dalai Lama says that before you make any decision in your life, you should ask yourself, Will it bring me happiness? 

We make decisions every day, often based on fear, avoiding pain or conflict, because we think it’s the “responsible” thing to do, because we feel obligated. But will it bring us happiness? 

A job may bring us security, the relationship an ego boost, the double scoop hot fudge sundae a moment of pleasure, the shopping spree a temporary thrill, the act of revenge a moment of satisfaction - but the question we need to be asking ourselves is- will it ultimately bring me happiness? If the answer is no, then why would we choose it?

So I’m adding another element to my experiment this week. Before making any decisions, I will stop and ask myself, Will it bring me happiness?

I am posting sticky notes everywhere in my house to remind me: on this computer, on my TV, on my front door, on the refrigerator. 

After several days of my Happiness experiment, I'm feeling optimistic. I'm sleeping great. I'm getting along with everyone around me. I'm walking taller. A girl could get used to this...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reporting on my Negativity Cleanse

Yesterday was Day 2 of my Negativity-Cleanse. Or perhaps I should rename it my Happiness experiment.

Tuning out the bad news allowed me to have a great day. Interestingly, the only negativity that came up yesterday was from inside my own head. As I sat down and began to work on my latest book, I froze. I’ve gotten an earful of negativity about my book recently, mostly from naysayers who are sure I’ll never sell it, no one is buying memoir right now, blah blah blah… I’ve been working hard to block out other’s negative opinions, but I slammed my computer shut and heard myself say “I hate this book! What’s the point!” Suddenly a book I’ve loved writing and have felt good about for the past year became a thorn in my side- and all because I let other negative opinions seep in to my brain.

I decided not to beat myself up about it- and just get back on the positivity train as soon as possible. Here’s how I spent my day:

I started the day with gratitude. I asked myself this question, If I were stranded on a desert island, what would I miss? Suddenly a cup of French roast coffee alongside a bowl of greek yogurt and fresh fruit makes me want to weep with gratitude. As does a refrigerator full of food. Music. Books. A home. My family and friends…all  of it becomes a miracle to be celebrated.

I ate healthy foods- Negativity cleanse means putting nothing into my body that I would regret later. I nourished my body with only healthy, organic food.

I listened to music that uplifted me. I made a mix CD of my favorite hope-inspiring songs and played them while I worked, cooked, cleaned the house. I felt chipper, singing as I went about my day.

I tuned out news, radio, and TV. Instead I read uplifting news articles and started re-reading “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama.

I had uplifting conversations with my friends.

I went to a yoga class that kicked my butt but ultimately made me feel strong centered and peaceful.

I sat outside listening to birdsong while I worked on my laptop (and wondered why I don’t do that more often!)

After a healthy dinner and family walk with our dog, I spent time reading with Evan.

I ended my day by writing down the things I was grateful for that day, then cuddled up in bed with my Art of Happiness book.

I slept soundly for a full eight hours.

Not a bad way to live. I may choose to do this for more than a week. In fact, why not choose to do it for a lifetime?

To some of you, this may seem a frivolous, self-involved thing to do. But here is a word from the Dalai Lama’s book about that:

“Survey after survey has shown that unhappy people tend to be the most self-focused, socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible and creative and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.”

It seems that making yourself happy is actually the most generous thing you can do, since everyone in your life will benefit from your happiness. I think if I continue to infuse my life with things that uplift me, it will inspire me to finish my book, and who knows, maybe all this good energy will help me in court in two weeks.

Are any of you doing the Negativity-fast this week. If so, how has your experience been? I’d love to hear about it!

(Here is a good news story for the day. Bill Moyers reports on a small town that pulled together to save their libraries from being shut down. The power of good!)

Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm On a Negativity-Cleanse, Care to Join Me?

I recently re-read Fahrenheit 451, on the day of Bradbury’s death. It had been probably thirty years since I’d last picked it up. In reading it now, I was disturbed by how close our society has come to what he envisioned. He described wall-sized televisions that featured reality TV shows lacking plot lines, in which the characters fought incessantly over nothing. Viewers were strangely addicted to this nonsense, while simultaneously becoming numbed out to art and beauty. And of course books were illegal. Today, those wall-sized reality shows are a reality. Books aren’t illegal, but they seem to be of less importance, and bestsellers are often “written” by celebrities and reality show stars.

I have a theory about what’s happening in our country today. We are addicted to negativity. It’s not our fault, really. It’s what we’ve been spoon fed through our media- day in and day out. We are hooked on the little rush of fear we get when we see the “breaking news alert” across the bottom of our TV screen. Our ears perk up at the sound of the dramatic music that accompanies it. We “relax” by watching TV crime shows about murders and rapes, or reality shows full of backstabbing and betrayals. If it’s true that we are what we eat, then it’s also true that we are what we ingest with our brains. It’s no wonder we can hardly imagine an optimistic future, for ourselves or for the world. If we can’t envision it, we can’t make it happen.

I don’t watch negative TV shows for this reason, but I do follow the news, usually by reading online, listening to NPR or watching CNN. But even that is too much sometimes. Every once in a while, I feel myself becoming toxic from it, the negativity building up inside of me. So I have to go on a “cleanse”, which means a “news fast”. Yes, that’s right, I tune out for a whole week or so, and you know what? When I tune back in it’s the same old stuff; the headlines blaring about face-eating zombies, always planting seeds of fear in our minds to keep us tuned in, “Are your children at risk?” “What you don’t know may kill you” blah blah blah…and always, always, the politicians at each others throats and the country on the verge of financial collapse.

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a Fahrenheit 451-world. If we want a better world it has to start with each of us as individuals. If we can find peace in our own minds, then it expands to our lives, and those around us, and so on. Or so the theory goes. It’s a theory worth testing.

I’m going to try an experiment this week. I’m tuning out the negativity. (Sadly, even NPR has to go.) I’ll read books that inspire me or broaden my knowledge. I’ll start each day reading only good news and heartwarming stories. I’ll only watch television that educates and uplifts. In doing so, I hope to balance out what our media has done to my brain. It will be interesting to see what follows, and if there appears to be any change in my brain chemistry.

Anyone want to join me in this week-long experiment? Here are some good places to start:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Very Different Father's Day

The Hole In The Sky
(This essay was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Answered Prayers, Oct, 2011)

I pace back and forth, one hand on my stomach, the other nervously fingering the index card with numbers written in red ink. Just pick up the phone and do it already! I say to myself. I have never even seen a photo of him.  All I know is what my mother told me. Your father was a heroin addict. He’s either dead or in prison.
I pick up the card. There are five phone numbers listed, all belonging to men by the name of Ted Fisher. Amongst thousands of them in the United States, these are the few we whittled it down to. The geneologist marked one of the numbers with an asterisk. “I have a hunch about this one…” he said.
My hands shake as I begin to punch in the numbers. 713…. the area code for Texas. I hang up before I hit the last digit. Do I really want to open this Pandora’s box? I don’t need a father. My stomach tightens. It’s been like this all day and I’ve barely been able to eat.
Okay…. Be brave. Good or bad, I want to know the truth. I dial the number and quietly close the bedroom door. My husband and son are talking in the kitchen, unaware of what I’m doing.  By not telling them, I gave myself the option to chicken out.
The phone rings twice.
“Hello!” Loud and very southern, the woman’s voice sounds harried.
I quickly blurt out “Hello, is this the Fisher residence?”
“Yes, it is.” Her quick no-nonsense manner lets me know I’d better get to the point.
“Does a Ted Fisher live there?”
Remember what the geneologist said- don’t mention your name. They may not know about you …..“I’m sorry to disturb you. I am doing a family tree research project, and I think we may possibly be related…..” My husband Troy pokes his head around the bedroom door, eyebrows raised as if to say are you doing what I think you’re doing? 
 I continue, “Ummm….Did this Ted Fisher ever live in California?”
“Yes, he did. Hold on a minute- I think you found who you’re looking for” she says with a certain but matter of fact manner.
What? She must have misunderstood me. I turn and look at Troy wide-eyed, my heart starting to race now.
“What? Who is it?” Troy asks.  I put my finger up, signaling for him to give me a minute. Breathe….
 “Hello?” a man’s voice on the phone sends shock waves through me. It’s him. Somehow, I know.
“Hello…. is this… Ted?” My voice sounds tight and choked.
“Yes…Is this… Hollye?” he says with amazement.
            My knees buckle, the breath knocked out of me. “Yes,” I barely whisper, my eyes brimming with tears. Troy sees my reaction, he laughs joyfully and claps his hands together.
The man’s voice wails, “ I can’t believe this! We were just talking about you last night! I’ve been praying to find you!”
“Really?” is all I can squeak out.
“Oh my goodness, my goodness….” He mutters to himself. Then he says loudly as if I weren’t aware of it, “Do you know who I am? I’m your Dad!” He says it with such exuberance that I laugh and cry at the same time. “You’ve got a birthday coming up!” he adds.
I manage to squeak out a small voice, “Yeah, in Decem….”
He cuts me off, “December 4th! I’ve got it circled on the calendar. Every year I think of you on December 4th.” He says.
I wipe my eyes with my sleeve, “You do?”
“I’ve never forgotten it. Never.” he says.
My heart is pounding. Is this really happening?  Troy brings our son into the bedroom, whispering to him in hushed tones. They watch me, wide-eyed, as if witnessing a birth.
“You know”, my father says in a shaky voice, “I’m not usually much of a crying man, but this is the happiest day of my life. I prayed to God to bring my children back to the fold…. Hey! Did you know…well, of course you don’t! You have three brothers!”
“I have three brothers!” I shout out to Troy and Taylor, laughing through my tears.
I feel as though my heart will burst. Just listening to him speak in his gentle southern drawl is more than I could have ever dreamed of. This is my father’s voice, and I feel safe inside of it.
 “You can ask me anything, Baby,” he says,” and it may be hard. But I will tell you the truth.”
And he does. He confirms that he was a heroin addict, as my mother had told me, and yes, he was in and out of prison for fifteen years, and it was there, in a prison cell, that he found God.
My father works for the Port of Houston as a longshoreman and is a preacher in the Baptist church, ordained eight years ago. Imagine that! A spiritual man, an avid reader, and an oil painter, just like me. We are absolutely stunned by how much we share in common. Chalk one up for the genetics argument.
“What book is on your bedside table right now?” I ask.
“The life story of Mother Theresa” he says, “what’s on yours?”
“Life story of Ghandi!” We laugh together. For the first time in my life I am laughing with my father.
He asks me what I do, am I married, do I have kids….I tell him he is a grandfather, he has a son-in-law, and I am a singer and an artist. The questions fly back and forth. We laugh and cry in the joys of discovery. With every word, we are changed. There are many difficult questions to be addressed, but not today.
Forty minutes pass but it seems like five, the conversation begins to slowly wind down, and his tone turns serious. “Before we get off the phone, I want to ask you something.” He pauses, “ How was your childhood Sweetheart? I mean, were you okay?” These words come out heavy, weighted with his regret.
I make it simple for now. “It wasn’t easy for me growing up. But I had a strong spirit. I’m okay.”
I can hear his relief, “Oh thank God. You know, I always believed your mother would keep you. She was a much stronger person than I was. I was just a punk back then, only seventeen, but I know that’s no excuse. I wasn’t there for you and I am so sorry.”
I exhale and sit down on the edge of my bed.  “Thank you.” I whisper, just loud enough for God to hear me. Brick by brick, I feel my life burden being lifted.
“One more thing…” he adds in his gentle Texas twang, “Before we hang up, I want you to know… I don’t care if you are a one-legged Satan worshipper. You are my child, and ….I love you.”
In this moment, this one tiny split-second in time, the damaged little girl that I was sees the hole in the sky fill with light and hope.
I belong to someone.
I am loved.
I am whole.

The first day I met my Dad, November 2003.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Too Old to Dream?

The girl I used to be...

Are we ever too old to dream?

Last night, Troy and I went with our friends Carnie and Rob to see Kenny Loggins in concert. After all these years (40 plus, can you believe it?) Kenny has still got it – let me tell you. He is handsome and fit and sings his ass off. He performed Danny’s song as beautifully as the day he wrote it. He jumped around the stage, danced, rocked This Is It and Footloose like he was thirty years old.

Are you ready for this? Kenny Loggins is 64. 

Kenny also performed an opening set with Blue Sky Riders, a new vocal harmony band he’s formed with two of Nashville’s top singer songwriters. Kenny said that when he told a trusted advisor he was going to form this new band and go on the road, this friend told him, “You’re too old to start a new band. Maybe you should think about retiring.” In response, Kenny and his bandmates wrote this song,  Dream,  which will now be my new life mantra.

Who are you to tell me what I can’t be
Well, that ain’t right
As if all I’ve been is all I’m ever gonna be
for the rest of my life
You take the glory days
I’ll take what’s on its way
All I can do is believe in myself
If I listen to you, they might as well
leave me in the rain, take me out to sea, lock me up in chains, throw away the key
the day I ever got too old to dream. 

After the show, we went backstage to visit with some of our friends in the band. Our friend Shem, the bass player, said that at 64, Kenny has softened as a person, but has never slowed down artistically, and is writing and singing better than ever. And then I thought about what a wuss I have been lately. 

It’s no surprise to me that this experience would come just as I told Troy I was thinking about quitting my singing career. A woman only has so much shelf life in this shallow music business, after all. Basically, I wanted to leave the biz before it left me, and it was leaving me slowly, my phone sitting quiet for months now.

As if on cue- my phone rang. A few times. And now I have two unexpected gigs this weekend (both with my hubby) and a session next week. I was feeling confused by this. The old Clash song ran though my head – Should I stay or should I go? ( you youngsters probably don’t even know who The Clash is)

Watching Kenny last night, I felt inspired again. What is age anyway? I mean, its inevitable. It’s going to happen to all of us, but it’s the way in which we age that matters. We can fill our lives with joy and gratitude and passion, or we can become bitter and rigid and stiff. Whatever way we choose, it is reflected in the way we appear. A person whose passion burns inside is beautiful on the outside.

Today I am feeling just a bit more hopeful, thanks to Kenny reminding me that I’m never too old to dream. I’m dusting off my songbook, packing up my gear for a gig tonight – and I won’t forget to bring the most important thing of all - my passion. To quote the Blue Sky Riders: You take the glory days- I'll take what's on its way...

Take a moment to watch this video and see if you don’t feel the same:

Blue Sky Riders with Kenny Loggins

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Things That Make You Go hmmm...

50 Cent and his dog Oprah

This morning on my treadmill, I was watching Oprah interview Curtis Jackson (the rapper, 50 Cent). For years they had been at odds, or rather, Jackson had been at odds with her. Oprah has publicly come out against rap music which glorifies violence, uses the N-word, or has misogynistic language toward women. Jackson took that personally.

“I would see moments when you would discuss your feelings on the (rap) culture, and everything that was wrong with the culture was what was on my CD, and I was like, ‘Oh, she doesn’t like me,” said Jackson, even though Oprah had never met him nor said anything negative about him.

So what did he do?  He waged a war of words against her. He criticized her, said she pandered to white people. He named his dog Oprah, then tweeted that he had a bitch named Oprah.

In this interview, Oprah asked why he said all those things about her.

He responded, “I guess I was saying, If I can’t be your friend, at least let me be your enemy, so I co-exist.”
His response blew me away. Most of us wouldn’t be that self-aware, and if we were, few of us would admit it.

But isn’t that what people do?

Perez Hilton is a perfect example. He wasn’t rich and famous, so he criticized those who were, and in doing do, he made himself relevant in their world. (He has since seen the error of his ways.)

I wonder if we all do that in some way- especially when we judge others. Are we knocking them down a peg in order to make ourselves feel relevant in relationship to them?

Definitely something to ponder…

To keep myself in line, I have my favorite quote taped above my desk:

When you judge others, you do not define them. You simply define yourself as someone who needs to judge.
-Wayne Dyer

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


For the past few days, fear about our trial on Thursday has had me hiding under the covers, not answering the phone. I had to do something to get myself out of this negative place because fear is the WORST thing to feel when facing a huge life challenge.

I stayed up late last night watching an inspirational speech by Iyanla Vanzant (my favorite). She asked the audience, What is the deficiency in your life that you BELIEVE in? (because if you didn’t believe in it, it wouldn’t be happening).

People said different things:
I believe I’ll never lose weight
I believe I’ll never find love
I believe I’ll never have money

She said, If you believe it, you make it true.

I gave that question some serious thought and you know what I realized? I’ve always had a subconscious belief that I am unlucky- cursed, even. This is not a conscious belief, because on the surface, I always say how blessed I am to have my husband, my three healthy kids, my wonderful and loving friends. Blessed, but unlucky.

I’ve had some crazy things happen in my life – things that were very unlikely, and very unlucky.

What are the odds that my seven-year old brother would have been a victim of violent crime?

What are the odds that my house would erupt into flames in the middle of the night for no apparent reason? What are the odds that the fire department would take twenty minutes to get to the house because they couldn’t find it?

What are the odds that I’d adopt an abandoned dog and end up being sued over it?

What are the odds that my first grandchild would be abducted to another country?

Those odds are bad. I never gamble in Vegas.

Add to that, I’ve never won anything. Not a raffle, a lottery, a contest, a talent show (even though I am a professional entertainer)

And last year? I lost an UNLOSABLE trial.

So here I am, a year later, about to face the court again and yes, I’m terrified that I’ll be unlucky.

I KNOW I have to change this mindset, and change it quick.

Logically, I understand that just because I’ve never won anything, doesn’t mean I never will. Just because I’ve had unlucky things happen, doesn’t mean that’s the way my life will always be.

I’ve got to train myself to believe in good things again. Now is a good time for my luck to turn. Starting this Thursday, June the 7th (Lucky 7!) my story changes. From now on, I am going to think of myself as a luck magnet. And not only that, a justice magnet, because this after all isn’t just about luck. This is about years of hard work, three fundraising concerts, a community yard sale, an online campaign, media campaign, countless writing, countless court appearances and thousands of people all over the world who are behind us. 

Starting June 7th, I write a new life-storyline -- one in which all things are possible:

The judges are wowed by our attorney’s brilliant brief (and they very well should be) They overrule the lost property statute and we are declared the legal owners of Stitch. Happy tears are shed at the courthouse, hugs and cheering abound. I come home and post the happy news online and people all over the world celebrate because for once, justice has been served. For years to come, this trial is referenced as a precedent-setting case that saves other pets from the same fate. 

It doesn’t sound so far-fetched, does it?
You never know. I just might get lucky. 

(UPDATE! The court just rescheduled us until July 12th. I have no idea why, but I am deciding to consider this lucky, and for the best. - Hollye)