Thursday, April 18, 2013

You Gotta Have Girlfriends

I just had the pleasure (and I truly mean pleasure) of reading a pre-publication copy of  Suzanne Braun Levine's newest e-book, You Gotta Have Girlfriends. For those of you who have been living under a feminist rock for the past few decades (and if you have, it's okay to come out now) in addition to authoring several books on women in their "second adulthood", Suzanne was also the first editor of Ms. Magazine. She has been an icon in the feminist movement and has covered the issue of women and aging so beautifully over the years. In her new e-book, she addresses one of the fullest expressions of our feminine power- friendship.

I had a busy schedule the other day but had set aside an hour to begin reading Suzanne's book. Before I knew it hours had passed without my looking up once.  I was gripped by the stories, and saw myself and my experiences reflected in every chapter. 

This much I know: I would not have made it this far without my girlfriends. They witness me, encourage me, make me laugh when life is painful, and at times, they have literally saved my life. And now as I transition into midlife, that awful, awkward reverse-puberty phase, I can't imagine surviving it without them. I was happy to learn from Suzanne's book that not only do our friendships save us on a metaphoric level, but also on a physical.

"One of the best things a woman can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends, especially after the age of fifty."Hanging out with a small but trusted group of other females reduces damaging spikes in stress hormones, reports New York Times science writer Natalie Angier. A circle of trust can, as she puts it, “mop up the cortisol spills that can weaken the immune system,” which in turn can support additional years of good health.

So there you have it, ladies. Sharing a bottle of wine (or four) and spending the day at Burke Williams Spa is actually a preventative health measure. Cheers!

But as much as we can improve each others' health, some relationships are just plain toxic. Suzanne's book also addresses this. Our friendships with other women can be complicated. Sometimes they are fraught with competition, jealousy, and oversensitivity. And sometimes, they just don't work out. I have recently experienced the loss of a close friendship. This has resulted in many sleepless nights and has been excruciating, to say the least. Reading Suzanne's book helped me to feel less alone.  It was comforting to read the experiences of other women who had been "dumped" by a friend, such as novelist Jacqueline Mitchard, who shared her story with Suzanne. In fact, reading You Gotta Have Girlfriends felt like a heart to heart with a close friend, someone who understood everything I was feeling.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is a celebration of friendship, and a look into our deeply layered relationships. It is both encouraging and uplifting and clear-eyed about healthy boundaries. After reading it, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the close circle of women who surround me, and more at peace about the ones who left the circle.

As Suzanne says so elequently:

"In your gut, you know who your friends are. They are the ones people you choose over all others to spend your fiftieth birthday with. They root for you and they put up with you. They stand up for you and they stand by you. They patiently teach you how to use your smart phone (and can be trusted not to tell your kids you couldn’t figure it out yourself). They listen sympathetically when you need to vent. They know when you are hurt or angry and how to patch things up. And they make you laugh."

Do yourself a favor and buy this book today (at only $1.99, how can you NOT buy it?), and then, share it with ALL your girlfriends.

A few words from some of Suzanne's girlfriends.....

“Suzanne Braun Levine made me understand why I always envied older women . . . life just gets better—more outrageous, more radical, more passionate, less fraught, wiser, deeper, and kinder.” 
Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues
“Levine takes us beyond the frontier of our own expectations and into a new and hope-filled stage of life.” 
Gloria Steinem

** I was honored to meet Suzanne at the Women At Woodstock conference last October where she sat in on a workshop Amy Ferris and I were leading, and then to have her on our Women Write their Lives panel at the San Miguel Writers Conference. We are thrilled that Suzanne referenced  Dancing at the Shame Prom in her chapter about overcoming shame. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Be an Armchair Activist (in just 5 minutes a week)

I know you’re overwhelmed. Bad news is screaming at you every time you turn on the TV or radio. The gun violence stories are frightening and they make you sad… You’ve got a job, and worries, and kids or pets or older parents to take care of and you’re thinking…I feel terrible about what happened at Newtown but what can I do? I’m just one person. I can’t fix the world.

But you can do one small thing. A lot of people each doing one small thing is what moves the world. I have broken it down and made it simple for you. From the comfort of your home, in your pajamas, or even from your phone while you’re riding on a subway, you can do one small thing. Yes, you!

The NRA expects you to forget about Newtown. An NRA lobbyist said they were waiting for the “Connecticut effect” to wear off so they could continue pushing their agenda for looser gun laws. The NRA has millions in donations from gun manufacturers. They employ lobbyists to badger congress every day. Our elected officials are worn down and losing their courage. I hear this from politicians all the time, “We need to hear from the people.” That’s where YOU come in. YOU- the armchair activist.

GOT 10 MINUTES? WRITE A SHORT, SIMPLE LETTER: Our elected officials are hearing only from the NRA when they need to hear from YOU. If you wrote one letter, you would be doing more than most Americans. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. This letter is not going to your 10th grade English teacher so don’t be intimidated. All they want to know is that you care. Three simple sentences will do. Do you want background checks for all gun purchases? Tougher punishment for illegal gun sales? Say so.
Need your Senators name and address? It’s right here: WHO IS MY SENATOR AND HOW DO I CONTACT THEM? 

An actual snail-mail letter is best, but if you don’t have a stamp, an email will do.

GOT 5 MINUTES? EMAIL:  Click here to send an instant email to your Senators: FAST EMAIL TO CONGRESS
It’s all written out for you. You don’t even have to think about what to write. However, it is more effective if you change the wording and make it your own. This should take you a minute or two, that’s it.

GOT 2 MINUTES? CALL : Call the Senate switchboard (202) 224-3121. Ask for your senators’ offices and if you don’t know what to say, just say this:
I support Universal Background Checks for all gun sales. Please record my views so that the Senator knows I vote and I care. Thank you.
Here is a quick video showing how one mom made a call to congress in less than a minute, while her toddler napped.

Click this link to fast-tweet congress. The tweets are pre-written for you (but it’s better if you customize them). This action literally takes a few seconds. Honestly, who doesn’t have a few seconds?

GOT 30 SECONDS? SIGN UP TO BE A GUNSENSE VOTER: If Congress won't take action, we've got to vote out the bad apples, and vote in the ones who will protect our children. By signing up to be a gunsense voter, you will be kept up to date on who's running for office and how they rate on gun legislation issues.

If you can take one small action even once a week, you will be more active and patriotic than the majority of American citizens.

So did you do it? Congratulations- You are an armchair activist!
Now doesn’t that make you feel kinda great?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

“Oh Me of Little Faith”

As many of you know, I’ve been on a daily practice of meditation and prayer, and my life has begun to shift. (If you read any of my blogs from the disastrous years of 2010 and 2011, you know I’ve come a long way. Faith was my only way out of darkness.)
         My seven year old, Evan, has walked in on my practice on a few occasions. “What are you doing?” he’d ask.

Meditating,” I’d say.

“That looks boring…”  he’d say.

I pray for my children every night. My two oldest are on their own paths to faith, unsure, maybe a little bit cynical, as I was when I was raising them. But Evan came along at a time when I am stronger in my faith. And what exactly is my faith, you might wonder? I have faith that there is a grand intelligence that created a world so perfect and full of beauty and wonder that I could never squash it into a simple definition with my feeble human brain. I know that it cannot be encapsulated completely by a book, or words. I know it is something you must discover in your own heart, in your own way. I know there have been times when I was saved from certain disaster, times when I was lifted above the abyss. I know that we survived being asleep in a burning house while poisoned with carbon monoxide. And I’ve lived long enough to know that my prayers are eventually answered in unexpected ways.

The other night, as I was praying for Evan, I decided instead to pray with Evan. I knelt next to his bed.

“What are you doing?” he whispered.

“I’m praying for your health and happiness and safety,” I said.

“How do you do it?”

“You talk to God in the language of your own heart, and if there is something you need help with, you ask.”

“I want to ask something,” he said, and then he proceeded with this prayer: “Dear God, I want to know if you are real so please send me a message. If you are real, drop a hat out of the sky and let it land on my front porch.”
“Hmm…that might be a little tough,” I said, “because hats don’t fall out of the sky so you’re asking for a pretty big miracle.

“Well, how about a flower, then? If you are real God, please put a flower on the porch by 7:30 am so I can see it before I leave for school. You should be able to do that because you make flowers.”

Not wanting to interfere with his prayer process, I smiled and kissed Evan good night. Before I walked away I added, “God doesn’t always answer our prayers in exactly the way we want, and not always when we want…just so you know.”

I then vacillated about whether I should go outside in my bathrobe, pick a flower and leave it on the porch. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in the morning (Oh me of little faith). Eventually I decided not to interfere.

The next morning I was sitting on my bed reading. The cat budged my bedroom curtains open to watch the birds outside, and that was when I saw something yellow out of my peripheral vision. I got up to investigate. There was a yellow daisy laying on our deck. It was 7:22 am.

“Evan! Come here, quick! You have to see this!”

Evan stepped out onto the deck and scooped the yellow daisy up. He started jumping up and down, “He’s real! He’s real! I can’t believe it, God is real!” (Oh little he with faith)

My eyes filled with tears for this tiny miracle. Not only was it a flower, it was one of the silk daisies we’d used to decorate for Taylor and Aya’s wedding three and a half years ago, and just as Aya and Ayumu are about to come back to the U.S. Where had it come from?

So, is God real, or is this just a coincidence? Each of us has to decide. Each of us will struggle with faith through the blessings and hardships in our own lives, and I know Evan is no exception. He will have his good days and his bad. If he is anything like me he’ll have moments where he loses faith completely, and will have to fight hard to gain it back. But he will always have this sweet little story…of a yellow daisy that dropped from the sky and landed on his porch before 7:30am.

Maybe I should have let him stick with the hat request.

(Oh me of little faith…)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Throw Love at It

My friend Mary gives the best advice. Over a year ago, I sat in her front yard with tears in my eyes, and told her that my daughter in law and grandson were not coming back from what was supposed to be a visit to Japan. I told her I feared the worst – I may never see my grandson again.

Mary put her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said this.
“Love her through this. No matter what happens, just love her.” I got chills, because I knew she was in one of those inspired moments, when a Universal truth pulses through us. And then she gave me the longest, bestest Mary-hug, and I left her house feeling stronger.

I followed Mary’s advice. I loved my daughter-in-law. I sent her love in emails, packages, and letters, but mostly I sent love in the prayers I said for her and Ayumu every morning. For over a year, I continued to pray and meditate every day, because I didn’t know what else to do. And the side result is that so many good things have begun to happen in my life since I became diligent about this. I can’t prove that there is a God, or guardian angels, or saints. But if God is Love than I can safely say I believe in God. And I do know without doubt that approaching a fearful situation with love makes it better, and easier to bear. This has now become the rule in our house. When we are faced with a challenge, we say “throw love at it”.

And this is how I know it works…

A few weeks ago my husband Troy wrote this beautiful song for Ayumu. He poured all the love in his heart into it and sent it to Japan.

Suddenly, something shifted. Our daughter in law contacted us to say that on April 14th ... she will bring Ayumu to America for a one-month visit. In two weeks, I will hold our beautiful grandson in my arms again.

The last time I held him, he was 18 months old. Now he is almost 3. He speaks Japanese, and I speak English, but I’m not worried about that. Love is the Universal language.

This morning when I prayed, this is what I said.
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

Thank you to Mary for her wisdom.
Thank you to my husband for his music.
Thank you to all my friends, Erin, Beth, Dani, Amy, Julie, who held me together through this when it was unbearable. 
Love makes everything bearable. 
Love makes everything possible.

*The backstory is here: A Heart Breaks Slow