December 12, 2011

21 Days May Not Be Enough ...

Originally published 12.12.08 on 21 Days of Paying it Forward

I remember this as if it was yesterday. It was cool then … it is still cool now

Last night, my lifelong friend, Victor Wooten, was in town performing at the Birchmere with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The show was sold out and I had two tickets, but my daughter couldn't join me (she had an invite for the Cirque du Soleil show). As I was sitting backstage with Victor, Bela, Futureman and Jeff - we learned that the show was sold out. I decided to go out in the lobby and 'find a friend'. My goal was to GIVE someone the extra ticket. Having been in the venue since sound check hours earlier, I had literally the best table in the house - so the seat came with the ticket. The band wished me luck and I headed out to the lobby about thirty minutes prior to the show - where I met Brent. He started out thinking he had tickets to sell and ended up with NO ticket at all. I offered him the ticket and he was flabbergasted. At $59.50, this does not happen often. Once we got inside, I told him that I'm a friend of the band and asked him to wait for a second while I went backstage to see if Victor had a second before going onstage to meet him. Brent is a musician and was just beyond words. Ever gracious, Victor met him backstage and took a photo with him. Brent was so shocked he was almost literally without words, I wanted to just cry. It made me feel so good to give him the ticket, but he'd not yet seen our seats. When we walked to the table dead center stage - he just let out a deep breath. I don't know that I've been more tickled to do something for someone so unexpected. He asked me why I did it and I explained my Pay It 4ward personal campaign. During intermission, he disappeared and when he came back, he'd bought the new cd for himself ... AND me. It's catching on. After the show, I got him the set list and the band signed it for him. I gave him a ride to the Metro and headed home.

We exchanged email and phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. We probably won't, that's the way of the world. But for three hours we shared a cool experience and I'm the better for the giving.

21 days may not be enough!!

Update: Brent and I actually have kept in touch ~ kinda. A little over a year ago I got a phone call, looked down at the phone and it was him! The band was back in town (at Strathmore in Maryland) and Brent was calling to see if I wanted to meet him for a pre-performance drink … turns out I was NOT at that show. That night I had something else happening. Months later, I called Brent because I had an extra ticket and wanted to see if he was going to be at the show – he wasn’t. So, sometimes you promise to keep in touch and you actually do but life has a funny way to taking over. Brent and I are bound to be in the same place at the same time again at some point. Regardless, I don’t think either of us will ever forget that night. It was a good one.

Pay it forward and watch what amazingly random and beautiful thing happens that you never expected.

Merry holidays.

December 4, 2011

Who Do You Love? …

rainbow flagThis week has been one for the books. Never in a million years could you have told me that I would have very intimate conversations with two young people about their sexuality. Two very different people grappling with the same issue … how to deal with and talk to their parents about their desire to live their lives authentically. These young people could not be more different – one was a girl and one was a boy – one was black and one was white – one is already an adult and the other is coasting there quickly. A lesbian and a gay man.

We all want our parents to love us no matter what without a set of conditions.

In both cases, I did not see the conversations coming but I knew both of these young people were gay. My hope for both of them was that at some point they would not be living the lies that they had been living.

When someone comes to you and they are in pain you want to make them feel better. As a parent my heart ached as I texted one person and Skyped with another and we talked about their parents, their fears, what they wished would happen, what they thought would happen, etc. All I could think about was how I would want my daughter to know that I would love her beyond any condition she could imagine NO MATTER WHAT.  I told them that they should give their parents a chance to love them and to understand and hear them. My mind raced as I thought about the shock that the parents were about to get (even if they knew it deep down inside). As parents, we commit a million little transgressions every year and hope that we are not going to be financing some psychiatrists villa in the South of France with our kid’s psychological scars in the not to distant future. (**Disclaimer: I have tremendous respect for psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and everybody else in the field. Please, no hate mail!)

All this has got me thinking deeply about the nature of love, parenting, and trust. What is this bond that we have with our children and how do we make them understand that we really are there for them no matter what? In truth, are we there for them NO MATTER WHAT? Should we be? Let me be declarative in stating that I am here for my daughter no matter what. I don’t care who she loves, I don’t care what college she goes to (or doesn’t for that matter), I don’t care what profession she chooses … I care about her happiness. I care that she is a good human being and that she touches people’s lives and leaves them better than when she arrived. I care that she contributes in some way that matters to HER. I don’t give a fig about the the gender of the human being that she loves – I care that she loves and that she is loved in a healthy, good way that sustains her and her chosen ‘other’.

We  bring these children into the world and I think we get confused about whose journey they are on. It is their journey not ours. My daughter is of me but not me. I remember when she was little and if she did not want to be picked up she would do the infamous ‘back arch’ – if you are not a parent you may not know what that is, but if you are, you’re probably laughing. The ‘back-arch’ is the most devious of all the toddler tricks out there, basically your three or four-year-old will arch his or her back like a caterpillar and you will NOT be able to pick him/her up. If you have something in your other hand (like a cup of tea, jar of baby food, etc.) … all the better – TODDLER WINS. The first time my sweet little cherub did the back arch, I understood that this was not my journey, it was hers. We’ve been walking together ever since, I kid you not.

It takes tremendous courage to tell the people you love most in the world, the people whose approval means the most to you in the world, the people who you would like to lose least in the world, something you fear might push them away from you forever. Two very courageous young people expressed to me in language that made me cry that they had to change their lives because they could not keep doing what they had been doing – living ‘in the closet’, hiding how they really felt, and who they really were. I’m proud of both of them. The road ahead of them will not be a smooth one necessarily – but it will be an honest one and that counts for a lot.

Who do YOU love?

October 29, 2011

“I Have A Right To Be Angry”

She was so matter of fact about it I almost did a double-take. There she sat in the passenger seat of the car and this kid of mine looks me dead in the face, unflinching, and I’d even go so far as to say daringly says to me: “Fine, Mom … but I have a right to be angry.” It doesn’t even matter what this was about, let’s just stay focused on “I have a right to be angry.”

Wow. Just. Wow.

Me and the "Liberated One" (aged 6)
I had to think about that one really hard for a lot of reasons. I may appear to be level-headed and measured in these blog entries – but let me admit here and now that I have a fast tongue and curse like a sailor. I’ve been known to cut somebody down with words with nary so much as a backwards glance. While I like to believe that I’ve evolved and am more mindful of my impact there are still times when I know that I need to find pen and paper or just plain stand down. This was a stand down moment. But my beloved daughter was having none of that either.

It seems that I’ve overused the ‘stand down’ strategy and rather than seeing it as a cooling off tactic – my sweet girl views it as a passive aggressive silent treatment akin to water torture. When there are only two people (and two cats in a house), standing down can feel isolating and mean. Tee hee. She’s on to my tricks now. I really hate that she found me out.

*sigh* It begins.

Somewhere between Barney, the Powerpuff girls, making snow cream two years ago, needing two tubes of mascara now, and freshman year … the landscape has shifted. It was imperceptible and somewhat fuzzy at first but it is shifting into focus with crystal clarity now: my little girl is not so little anymore, she is 15-years-old and the game has changed, folks. I can no longer talk her out of being angry or sad or glad or mad. If I thought in the past that I was not doing those things – it is painfully obvious to me now that I was on some level and she is not having it anymore. No siree buddy Bob … she’s a free-thinker and she … ‘has a right to be angry.’ (How plucky of her).

I seem to remember way back in ‘85 the Beastie Boys telling me and my friends we had to fight for our right to party – and boy did we, all over that college campus.

So, now in 2011 my daughter is asserting her rights … and you know what? … I’m going to let it ride. How can she assert her right to be anything outside our house if she can’t assert it inside our house? To keep some peace, we’re just going to have to come up with some rules of engagement because rights or no rights … I’m STILL the boss of her – for a couple more years at least. How bout that?

Ah, parenthood!

September 14, 2011

Remembering Dennis …

It’s been a year since my father, Dennis Sweat, died of cancer – 365 days of my continuing to carry on with my life as he left his behind. He was 65 year old. My life changed in ways big and small the day I received the call from his social worker that he had Small Cell Stage IV Lung Cancer with less than six months to live and has not ever gone DSC_3280back to the “normal” that I once thought “normal” was. Yes, my father was a lifelong smoker – he never believed that cigarettes would kill him, they did. If you are a smoker … please stop.

Without question I could never have made it through the final month of my father’s journey without the gentle but strong arms of the hospice workers around me. Sometimes a disarmingly simple question like, “Have you eaten today, Felicia?” could send me into a gale of silent tears, while helping me to remember to do the most basic of things I’d forgotten for hours upon hours. My strategy to get through this process was simple: use my intellect, strategy and reason to step through it and keep my head about me. What a joke. Had I known the enormity and tremendous range of emotions I would feel day-to-day, hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute I might never have stepped one foot on the path with my father but I didn’t, and I did, and my life is better for the experience.

Watching someone you love die – right in front of your eyes is almost unspeakable, being present as they exhale their final breath is profound. In our Western society, we gather around to celebrate life’s entry but cannot bear to acknowledge death. The sad truth of the matter is that many of us die alone. The hospice team asked me many times if I believed my father would want me to be there when he died and I never hesitated in my conviction that he absolutely, positively would. My father ceased to speak some seven weeks before he died and while we had not talked about this specifically, I vividly remember a conversation we’d had the year before he died where he’d explained to me that he was never a man who ever wanted to sleep in his bed alone. No, my father was not a faithful man ~ but he was an honest one. A man who didn’t ever want to sleep in his bed alone definitely did not want to die alone. In a quiet room in the middle of the morning, Dennis stopped struggling and let go with me by his side holding his hand and stroking his forehead as Peggy, the Hospice Nurse stood at the foot of his bed monitoring his vital signs. My family said a tearful and love-filled goodbye the weekend before he died … we knew it was close.  

I had to consider decisions made easier by the fact that my father had an Advance Medical Directive, but difficult nonetheless because having the directive does not mean that everybody reads it. As his Guardian of Person, it fell to me to call the meeting with his physicians and point out that if my father could no longer chew and swallow food/liquids on his own – we’d reached a turning point because his directive stated with clarity that he did not wish to be kept alive through means of artificial feeding or hydration. I asked the doctors to remove the IV tubes delivering food and hydration to enforce my father’s wishes. While I had absolute clarity that this was what my father wanted (it was written in black and white) versus my interpretation of what he would want -explaining this to my aunts and uncles, sisters, nieces, daughter,and mother was heart-wrenching. There is no way to ‘spin’ the fact that once you withdraw the tube providing food and water to a person who cannot eat or drink on his/her own – it is no longer a question of if they will die but when. While nobody was angry at me, I know that some in my family may not have enforced the Directive, which is exactly why my father asked that I be his Guardian when he was still able to speak. He knew that I would do what was in his best interest and honor his wishes above my own feelings – hard as it was to do, and it was excruciatingly hard.

As I think back on this journey some lessons shine brightly:
  • The power of forgiveness is even more powerful than the gift of love.
  • There is no substitute for the comfort of hearing the voices and feeling the touch of the people you love – no matter how far away the doctors believe you might be or how far you are on your journey ‘home’.
  • Tears do not make you weak, they keep you strong and are a necessary release. Letting tears flow won’t kill you – keeping them inside just might.
  • Love is all there is.
I have a deep respect and love for the professionals who cared for my father and for my family during my father’s time at the hospital. He received hospice care in the hospital because his health was too precarious to be moved. The compassionate care the doctors, nurses, social workers and others showed my father in every touch, administration of pain medication, gentle hand on my shoulder, and hug left me speechless and in tears day after day. If there are angels on this planet, surely they dance among the people who do hospice work and those working with the terminally ill in a hospital setting.

For some time after my father’s death I felt as if I’d been broken, like some part of me was irrevocably altered – it was, but I forgot that we heal and what is broken often comes back stronger. I am. Many people have asked me whether or not I would do it again, knowing all that I know now. My answer is a resounding, unwavering, quiet but steady … YES.

September 9, 2011

Knit. Purl, Knit. Purl. Life.

*originally posted on WarmHeadsWarmHearts blog.

An interesting thing happened as I was frantically twisting and looping my way towards the completion of the first of my twelve sets of hats and scarves ... it became more.

Warm Heads. Warm Hearts. began out of my desire to meet an essential need of the homeless who live on the streets during the winter ~ warmth, and to do so in a personal way by knitting hats and scarves for them with love. As way leads on to way (in the words of the venerable Robert Frost), knitting has become a metaphor for my life.

As I sit with these pieces in my evenings and on weekends, at the doctor's office, and in the middle of the mall waiting for my daughter to finish a movie with friends - the life lessons just keep coming.

So here's what the loom whispered to me last month:

1. Persistence pays off, always. One knot at a time, a scarf and hat take shape out of strands of individual yarn. My life has become richer and more full over this past year as a result of fantastic people who have woven their lives in with mine, one story, one experience, one laugh at a time until out of nothing deep friendships have evolved.

2. There CAN be perfection as a result of imperfect process. My knitting is not perfect by any means - I won't do a test swatch to ensure my gauge is correct, instead, I just plow forward and make adjustments along the way, believing it will work. Is this how I operate in my life too? To a large extent the answer is yes, I trust my intuition implicitly and often make decisions that appear to others to be haphazard, but much like my knitting - it works.

3. You have to unravel your stuff from time to time, you just do! My yarn gets tangled and I keep knitting until I absolutely have to just stop and look for the loose ends to unravel the unruly mass of beautiful yarn I've created. I find that I try to do one more thing, make one more call, send one more Tweet before I look around and see that I've got an unruly mass that I have to unravel, usually somewhere close by - the laundry, opening mail, having the conversation with a friend that I've been putting off.

I can see the parallels between knitting and my life and delight in them. My life experiences will be inextricably tied, with love, into every knit and every purl of these hats and scarves.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

September 1, 2011

You Are Special ... And So Is Everybody Else!

When my daughter was young (and we are talking really young here, people) she loved Barney. You remember Barney - that purple dinosaur that absolutely, positively never seemed to have a bad day and told kids day after day how special they were? I put up with Barney because, well after all, my daughter was special and the message was wonderful. Here is the problem - it would seem that some grown ups have begun embracing this message as their personal life mantra. News flash people, this is a message for children. Adults don't get to walk around espousing how 'special' they are to everybody within earshot and behaving badly because they are 'special'. I call this behavior 'Special Person Syndrome' (SPS)* and it is NOT cute.

What does 'special person syndrome' (SPS) look like at work? The person suffering SPS at work doesn't believe they have a grandiose personality nor do they think that they are better than everybody else, lack good listening skills, or are unable to work as a collaborative team member. Oh no!! they are just special and therefore different and therefore we just don't 'get them'. We don't know how to work with them and if we could figure out how to work with them everything would be just fine. We are the ones with the problem.

SPS at home? Because 'special people' possess inordinately extraordinary and special skills and abilities, the only way anything can be done properly is if they do it themselves. Why should anybody else even bother trying? - it won't be right enough, good enough or just plain enough. Of course that means that they are always tired and a martyr, but hey, nobody ever said being special was going to be easy.

SPS with friends? When 'special people' look around they often find they don't have many friends but don't quite understand why. They often feel very betrayed by people who have dared to be honest with them about their behavior towards those they deem to be 'ordinary'. Far worse, sometimes they ask for others' opinions and when people who are not 'special' are not smart enough to understand that they do not in fact really want an honest opinion and offer one, all hell has been known to break loose.

It should go without saying that 'special people' have a very hard time sustaining meaningful relationships, so we won't even go there.

The truth is none of us have time to read a care and feeding manual for each and every person that we meet. Each of us is indeed special in our own way. 

If you are suffering Special Person Syndrome you might wonder how you can snap out of it. I would offer the following:  stop thinking that you are the special one and consider that every person you meet is just as special as you are, just as smart as you are, and just as important as you are because guess what ... we are.
*Quasi-Legal Disclaimer: 'Special Person Syndrome' and 'SPS' are purely fictitious terms with no medical basis and are not real disorders that can be found anywhere. I am not a doctor, I do not play one on television, blah, blah, blah and all the other legal mumbo jumbo.

August 28, 2011

Be Your Own Guru

It seems like there are an awful lot of gurus running around today. From the looks of it, we are surrounded by people who know absolutely everything there is to know about absolutely everything. There are ‘life coaches’, ‘mentors’, ‘strategists’ and all sorts of folks to help us achieve our highest potential in space that used to be reserved for therapists, psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers and the like. There are good reasons to consult with a trained professional when you feel that you need help – let me be clear that I don’t play in the space that says ‘mental illness is all in your head’. In fact, it deeply troubles me to see people playing quasi-professionals in space that should be reserved for trained professionals with people who need professional help. Digging in people’s heads with not a whiff of training is serious business, predatory and unethical. That said, if you don’t need professional help - I also believe it is important to get comfortable being your own guru.

At the end of the day – nobody knows you better than you. Turning to another person to provide ‘the answer’ to questions that you are seeking only works to the extent that you are really willing to be honest about what your questions really are. The truth of the matter is you have most of the answers seek. Sometimes what you want isn’t an answer but rather validation. Validation that something you’ve believed to be true is in fact true. Validation that the path you are on that does not feel right to you is in fact not right for you. Validation that it is time for you to do something that you have been yearning to do for a very long time. You don’t need a guru for that. You only need to decide that you are your own guru, this is your life and you know you best. Do what you know you need to do.

Be your own guru.

August 2, 2011

I’m. Over. It.

DSC_8082_6146 I wake up every day, but today I really WOKE UP. We broke up … again. You’d think I would be used to it. You’d think it would hurt less each time. You’d think I’d have some coping strategies in place by now. You’d think it would be less shocking. You’d be wrong on all counts. So – here I am picking myself up from Round Three, shaking my head in wonder and asking myself what in the world is wrong with me then I realized that when I woke up today something was very different. I’ve been climbing the hill for so long with my head down I didn’t realize I’d summited and was on my way down the other side.

I’m. Over. It.

Trusting your heart to another human being is the most heady, risky, crazy thing that we do in our lifetime and it is the one thing I think we must do – over and over again. It is how we live. We live to love. We risk much in the process but we gain much too.

This chapter is closed but there is something on the horizon and I am … ready.

July 2, 2011


I read four books at the same time, have to listen to music when I am doing practically anything, write while I am watching television and don't normally sleep more than five hours a night. My friends have grown accustomed to me constantly changing the topic mid-conversation as if it is the most normal thing in the world. (I'm not usually aware I've even done it.) Though I try to be present in each moment, pay attention, and “be here now” … I sometimes experience life as "blur". I zoom in and out on things, people, and thoughts like the lens of my NIKON, constantly shifting focus in an effort to zoom in on foreground and block out the background 'noise' around me. It's my attempt to make sense of what is happening around me. Sometimes it seems the more I focus the less I see. It has always been hard for me to pay attention to only one thing at a time. Throughout my life I've tried unsuccessfully in fits and starts to do one thing at a time and pay attention to the thing that is in front of me with relatively little success. Why?, because I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The story of how I came to be diagnosed with ADHD at the ripe old age of 35 is a long one but suffice it to say it was one of the best days of my life and I am forever grateful to my neurologist for figuring it out. We are certain I’ve been ADHD my entire life.

People have lots of ideas and beliefs about what ADHD is and is not - it is a hot topic among parents with school-aged children, to be sure. At the end of the day, what I have found to be true (in my experience) is this: people either believe that some of us have brains that are wired differently and this different wiring sometimes requires medication to help us function in a more meaningful and productive way or they don’t. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground here.

People tend to either fall into awkward silence when I tell them that I have ADHD and take medication for it or they are terribly curious about it and want to know what my life is like. I can deal with either reaction, frankly because it is what it is.

Being an adult with ADHD is much the same as being a child with ADHD except I'm a grown up with bigger consequences if I don't properly manage it. Children with ADHD lose track of things all the time - so do adults with ADHD. The minute I get home I put my keys on a hook on the back of the front door because I've spent an entire DAY looking for my car keys when I put them someplace else. Trust me, this is not a fun call to make: "Sorry, I can't come in today, I can't find my car keys." ADHD kids are notorious for having bedrooms that look like a hurricane literally blew threw them (more than just the average kid) - it is amplified for an adult with an entire household to maintain. I am still fighting this battle in my home and losing more than I win, to be truthful. Many times, I won't let anyone come over because I'm so ashamed that I can't keep a tidy home like a "normal person".

You may be wondering how misplacing things and not keeping a neat house makes me different than anybody else, why is that ADHD?, why isn't everybody ADHD?, plenty of people have trouble with these things. These are only a few examples of how ADHD shows up in my life, there are many more. All normal individuals exhbit some of the symptoms of ADHD occasionally - the diagnosis is given when the symptoms are present from childhood and persistently interfere in functioning in multiple spheres of an individual's life.

Being ADHD for me is an interesting contradiction that requires me to embrace the counterintuitive parts of myself in order to actually make my life work. For example, I need noise to concentrate when other people need silence. I sleep five hours when other people sleep eight - I feel just as rested at they do. If I have a big deadline or project due - it helps me to do something that is physically taxing before starting the work so I am less distracted later. Photography calms me because it requires my complete attention and is the thing I do to stop my mind from racing. The first rule of managing ADHD is to know yourself.

Loving yourself for who you are means understanding where you are strong and where you have challenges and embracing all of it. I get distracted, I make a mess, I'm not always on time (okay, I'm late most of the time) - but I'm also very creative, funny, and interested in changing the world through a kindness revolution. .... if I can just remember where I left my notes. *sigh*

April 23, 2011

You’re Welcome To The Other Half…

I miss my old friend Civility. I’ve been thinking about putting up flyers around my neighborhood to see if anyone has seen her. I used to bump into her everywhere, she lurked in hallways and corners but she also hid in plain sight in the ‘good old days’. Civility held the door open for the person behind her. Similarly, Civility allowed the person in line behind her to go ahead of her because they only had three items in their shopping basket and she had twenty-nine billion in hers. Civility didn’t not lay on her horn one nanosecond after the light turned green because the car in front of her didn’t bolt forward like a NASCAR driver in pole position. Civility was … really … kind.
More and more I notice that we seem to believe that any space we inhabit entitles us to treat it as if it is our personal space, we own it and can do as we like. Well, a funny thing happens when Civility enters a room, even for a moment – the dynamic changes. I want to be more like Civility – she’s one cool chick.
I was at Barnes & Noble last week sitting at a table (for two) with my laptop when a gentleman walked by with his laptop. Seeing no available table (and clearly looking for one) he settled on a chair by the window. I find it ridiculously uncomfortable to balance a laptop in my lap and assume that others feel the same way. I was only using half the table and there was an empty chair across from me as well. A table for two and I only needed ONE half the table and ONE chair. I thought to myself, what would Civility do?
“I don’t need the whole table, you’re welcome to the other half if you’d like to sit here,” I turned to him and said.

He replied, “No thanks you, but thanks for the offer.”

“If you change your mind you’re welcome to join me.”

Ten minutes later – he came over and joined me at the table. I think it surprised him that I offered the other half of the table to him because most people don’t.  As one thing leads to another he thanked me and introductions ensued, which led to conversation that pulled the woman who had been taking up an ENTIRE table behind me (and watched me invite him to sit with me) into our orbit making a table for two a table for three. Business and contact cards were exchanged and for a span of almost an hour, in the corner of a bookstore – three strangers’ worlds collided, expanded and were made a bit better for awhile on a cold wet night as we all waited for someone we loved to finish something somewhere.
Never know what will happen when Civility enters the mix, huh?
Give it a whirl and tell me your experience.

February 16, 2011

Walking my walk

On the surface, everything about my process is wrong. I appear to be a walking, living example of what you shouldn’t do and yet somehow things seem to miraculously go right in my life – over and over and over again. The Christians among my friends attribute it to God, my Buddhist friends say it is the net effect of the causes that I’ve made in my life, I don’t need to tell you what the Atheists think and my Agnostics don’t have an opinion one way or the other. No, I have not ever put all of them in a room together – it is enough that they comingle peacefully within the virtual space that we call Facebook but that is definitely a post for another day. There is a reason I steer very clear from religion, sex and politics in any public forum – I’m a walking lightning rod. But I digress, which by now should surprise you little if you are one of my Twitter friends.

I have experienced some pockets of great success in my life but none of it has happened in the ‘traditional’ sense. I live my life very intuitively. I attribute this largely to my parents – specifically my father, Dennis, the hippie. The truth is, you are not going to listen to Malcolm X’s “The Ballot of the Bullet”, have the choice of calling your dad by his first name or anything else you like AND be able to call a ‘family meeting’ anytime and not come out of the experience a little … intuitive. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Truth is, I thought everybody’s family was like mine until I was a teenager, for real.

My entire childhood was absolutely not mood rings, bell bottoms, peace, love and Soul Train, trust me. I experienced some real trauma as a teen that also rounded out my intuitive way of approaching the world (also another post for another time). It has taken me years to fully understand, trust, and yes, even embrace MY process. Over a period of fifteen years I read voraciously most of the “modern masters”: Deepak Chopra, Dr. Wayne Dwyer, Marianne Williamson, Iyanla Van Zant, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Steven Covey, Don Miguel Ruiz, Paul Coelho to name but a few. As theories began to comingle and one name replaced another, I began to understand that the real master of my life is ME and the only process that works for my life is my own.

I travelled far away from my original destination to get back to my starting point. Isnt' that always the way?

What has turned out to be most ‘right’ for me, in all things in my life, has been what felt most right to begin with. Every single time I’ve followed my instinct I have made my highest and best decision and that is the truth. Make no mistake about it, this ‘follow your instinct thing’ is not a tremendously respected modality of going about the business of operating one’s life. In fact, it is regarded as reckless, chaotic and even irresponsible by many. My response is that an intuition-based existence has worked tremendously well in MY life.

So what I am teaching my teenaged daughter? Do what in your core – that space midway between your heart and your gut – feels most right and authentic to you. I know some of you reading this just took a deep breath and wondered if I just said what you think I said. Let me clarify that I did and I am. Am I giving my daughter tacit approval to *whisper low* HAVE SEX? … I suppose I am. Let me be clear that this is certainly not what I am encouraging or hoping she will run out and do next Friday night (or any other night of the week for that matter) until she is fully ready to accept all the responsibilities of this behavior but I do understand what I am saying to her and all of its complicated implications. I accept the responsibility of my behavior all of it, I always have. 

Can I hear the din of the crickets now even before I publish this? – YES.
Am I still going to publish it? – YES.
Why? - because intuitively I know that it is the right thing for me to do.

Why? - because I have to be honest, my kind of honest and that admittedly might not be your kind of honest (but come on, admit it, that is why you’re reading this blog isn’t it? I’m a different kind of train wreck!). I am not going to make up a lie to be the mother people want to think I am. I have to be the authentic mother that I am to honor my relationship with my daughter and there is no shame in my game. Period.

Walking my walk means that if it feels right to run, I run. If it feels right to love, I love. If it feels right to say no, I say no. If it feels right to say yes, I say … yes. And so it is.

Some of my friends say I've been ‘blessed’, others compare me to the proverbial cat with nine lives (I’m not sure which one I’m on), still others feel I’ve been the gifted with extraordinary luck.

On an intuitive level – I have a feeling they are all correct and it’s ALL good.

February 11, 2011

“It wasn’t messy, it was f*@%d up.”

When I stumbled on that line in the movie ‘The Kids Are All Right” it struck a chord deep within – very deep. How could one line in a movie capture so perfectly all of the craziness of my last romantic relationship? I’ve been wondering for months just why it is that my one post about how my heart was broken when I got dumped via text message continues to be the most frequently read post on this blog. A very wise friend of mine posits that people like this post because it is an experience many people can identify and connect with but are loathe to talk about or share.

I continue to be amazed at the clarity that comes with distance and time.

What looked like love was not. What I thought was a connection that defied any I’d ever had with another person was chemistry mixed with a shared passion for jazz and Impressionist art. We see what we want to see and we hear what we want (and need) to hear. It isn’t love if it isn’t reciprocated. It isn’t love if you’re not really both in it – all the way in it. We weren’t equally invested. I knew this from the beginning. He was hesitant to even start the relationship but would rather have tried than to have lost me completely. The irony of course is that he did end up losing me and I lost the him that I never really had to begin with.

So what is next? I really don’t know. We are getting ready to do our strange dance again – this time purely as friends, which is where it all began so many years ago for us. I don’t know if you can ever really reset a relationship with someone with whom you have been deeply intimate. We shall see. I’ve decided to start dating again as a sort of counterbalance to this awkweird situation that we now find ourselves trying to create. (Yes, I just made up a word: awkward + weird = awkweird). The backdrop of our first meeting will be an art gallery in D.C., of course.

What will be different this third go round? ... everything and nothing.

February 1, 2011

Into the woods

Words have always been my refuge. I started reading when I was 3-years-old and that was long before “Hooked on Phonics” or “My Baby Can Read”. I can not remember a time when the heft of a book didn’t make me want to curl up in a corner and do nothing but read from the first page to the last. Writing has come as naturally to me as reading. I will write on anything, anywhere, anytime. So imagine my surprise when I realized last year that there is another way that I can frame my world and give it meaning, depth and dimension. I discovered my 'inner photographer' and my life is forever changed.

One of my dearest friends, Rachel, is my own personal superhero (yes, I really call her that). There is practically nothing that Rachel can’t do but her eye behind the viewfinder of a camera is truly something to behold. Rachel, my daughter Bryton, and I have taken a number of photo safaris around the DC metro area over the past couple of years and it amazes me to watch Rachel frame a shot and to observe what captures her attention. I coveted her camera for several safaris, haunted my local Best Buy every weekend playing with the DSLRs and finally, when I was practically dreaming about it – purchased my Nikon.

The day I bought that camera something clicked in me.

Let me just disclose for good or for bad that I don’t read manuals. I keep them but it can take months (sometimes years) for me to actually read a manual for something I've purchased. I prefer to just jump in so I began snapping pictures the minute I took that camera out the box. I don’t know one technical thing about any of the photos that I take – not one. I know what I’m framing in my mind’s eye and I know which lens will capture it best but that is about it. I've managed to capture some amazing shots that I can’t begin to talk intelligently about as a photographer, what I can tell you is how I feel about each and every photo I shoot and what was happening when I took it. I like to think that if I've taken a really good picture I don't have to say anything because the picture speaks for itself.

I often seek refuge in my “Thinking Place” - Great Falls Park in Great Falls, Virginia. I rarely take anyone with me because I go there to mull things over, to find answers and enjoy the quiet of the paths juxtaposed with the chaos of the ever changing and turbulent falls in the background.  I never, however, go there without my Nikon because the camera has become my third eye.

This photo was taken  on a snowy trail that hadn’t many footprints on it in Great Falls Park. I sensed a presence before I knew what it was and turned my head to the left. There only a few feet away in a sparse clearing of trees stood this beautiful young doe. We spotted one another at the exact same moment and because I’d been shooting a bald eagle in a nearby tree, I had my long lens which made this shot possible. If I’d had to fiddle with switching out lenses I might have lost her. There we stood in a silent faceoff, the doe in the woods - me on the path. Slowly I raised the camera,  framed the shot (all the while hoping that the whirring and clicking wouldn’t spook her) and held my breath. Her brown eyes locked on mine, I began to shoot. Click, click, click. Neither of us moved. Whirr, click, click. She bowed her head deeply and slowly looked back up at me holding my gaze again. Click, whirr, click. I whispered “thank you” and walked away. I turned back for a last look to find her still standing behind the tree watching me. I smiled. She ran. At that moment a couple stepped out from behind a clump of trees to my right and I nearly jumped out of my skin. We all laughed and they told me that they’d been standing watching me with the doe. They were afraid that she would run if they continued on the path so they stood and watched us instead. The man (with a ridiculously awesome Canon around his neck) explained to me that he’d been trying for months to get close enough to a deer in Great Falls to get a photo and it has never happened. I have to admit, in all the visits and all the hours I’ve spent there, I have never seen one either. This was my lucky day.

I didn’t bother looking at what I’d captured – I knew there would be no second chance to get the shots and if I’d gotten nothing I frankly didn’t want to know until I was finished. When I got home and began uploading the photos I was shocked. Looking into the doe's eyes in this photo takes me back to the moment and our connection as if I were back on that snow-filled path, holding my breath, finger poised above the shutter. Click ... click Breathe.

THIS is why I love taking pictures. When I’m shooting all I am focused on is what I see through that tiny viewfinder. The constant din of thoughts, narrative, melodies, and lyrics that usually create my internal soundtrack go quiet, everything slows down and I becomes one with my camera and what I am shooting. I rarely experienced anything like it. Photography is a new language for me.
Am I ready to say that I’m a REAL photographer? No. I'm someone who bears witness to and captures amazing and beautiful moments, people, animals, and things.

Now if only I could remember where I stored that manual.

**I shoot with a Nikon D3000 using either my Nikon 18-55mm or 70-300mm lens and Nikon Speedlight SB-600 flash.**

January 29, 2011

Flying Solo

When I said I was going to Paris for Thanksgiving week last year my friends and family smiled and nodded their heads. Sure you are, they thought to themselves. I can’t say I blame them, I’m full of grand plans that seem to fall through for some reason or another. What they didn’t know was I had no intention of letting anything come between me and Paris. Everyone was surprised when one by one the pieces started falling together. I purchased my airline ticket two days after my father’s funeral and after copious research booked a hotel room and made arrangements for my daughter to stay with family and friends while I was gone. What started out as a proclamation became a real trip.

At the back of everyone's mind was: Who flies across the world to a place where they don’t speak the language and don’t know a soul during the Thanksgiving week holiday? I do and it was one of the very best decisions I made in 2010.

On the eight hour flight from Washington, DC to Paris, France my mind raced with questions: Was I crazy? Why hadn’t I listened to my Coffee Break French podcasts with more discipline in the months leading up to the trip? Did I have enough money? What if I got sick while I was there? At some point, I just gave in and let my thoughts wander to nowhere.

This is when my journey truly began and I woke up in FRANCE!

There is no place on earth like the city of Paris. I fell in love before I even got out of the airport. As a photographer, I could hardly see the city with both my eyes since I was nearly always peering through the lens of my camera framing one shot or the other. The Champs Elysees became my outdoor dining hall and after my first night I abandoned restaurant dining to in favor of Nutella and banana crepes dusted with powdered sugar, mulled wine, and foie gras on warm baguette, among other culinary delights considered to be 'street food' by the locals.

There are few places on the planet that have as dense a concentration of the art masterpieces as Paris. The Musee d’Orsay, Museum L’Orangerie, and of course the Louvre house works by Monet, Manet, Gaugin, Rodin, Picasso, Renoir and a host of other artists... As much as I thought I was ready to see these famous pieces, I have to admit I started to practically hyperventilate before I entered the Musee D'Orsay. I couldn't believe I was actually there.

Paris overwhelmed me everyday in the best possible way. The Arc d'Triomphe. The Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame. The Sacre Coeur. I didn't miss a thing and I was awe struck at every turn. It is a fantastic thing to be in a state of wonder at 43. When we become adults I think we forget to just allow things to overwhelm our senses and take us for a grand ride. Paris took me for a ride and I enjoyed every second of it.

I reveled in the freedom that comes from having no plans and somewhere on the journey I found myself. I learned much about myself in the week that I spent alone in another country. A stillness descends over you when there is nobody to talk to and you have time to be alone with your thoughts. Sitting in the Museum L'Orangerie one afternoon in front of one of Monet's 'Water Lily' panels I was overcome with emotion at the realization that I'd really come so far, that my father was dead, that it was Thanksgiving Day in America, and that within the reach of my arm spread out across an elliptical wall was an artistic masterpiece that I've admired all my life ... in books. There was not a minute of my time in Paris that did not delight me in some way.

My desire to spend time in a place I'd never been where I didn't know anybody and didn't speak the language stemmed from a need to test myself. I felt a tremendous restlessness after my father's death and need to push myself to be a little uncomfortable because that is when I always grow ... and learn.

I noticed some things about the French people on my journey ...
  • The French wear scarves and they wear them with style. Not big bulky heavy woolly things, but sophisticated, almost ethereal ones that appear to be ever-so-casually draped around their necks, but mind you - the French do everything with care.
  • The French do NOT walk around the streets drinking their coffee. They drink coffee sitting in cafes because it is the civilized thing to do. However, they think nothing of eating warm baguettes whilst walking down the street or a sandwich for that matter.
  • You can actually eat food and drink beverages on the Metro in Paris! This was a real shock to me since you risk being sent to solitary confinement after you are arrested and handcuffed to a trashcan by one of DC's finest if you so much as eat a KitKat on the Metro in DC.
  • The average meal in Paris lasts upwards of two hours in a restaurant. If you think that you are going to sit down and get in and out in less time than that - forget about it. In fact, you might appear rude. This is a place where you have to slow down and you should. The food is fantastic and should be savored. There is no rush.
  • Crossing the street in Paris is a death-defying act not to be undertaken by the faint of heart. Stepping into an intersection just because it is 'your turn' might just get you hit. My strategy? - always wait for someone else to step out first. (Hey!, I had a 14-year-old to get back home to.)
Without exception, every single person I met was unfailingly kind to me during my visit. My French leaves much to be desired - no really, I am not being modest, but I really tried hard. I was able to get by without too many mishaps (we won't get into excruciating detail about my 2.5 hour trek from the airport into the heart of Paris via the Train and Metro - let's just say I definitely know my way around the Metro now and leave it at that!) People will help you if they see that you are trying. That said, I observed some truly atrocious behavior from some of my fellow countrymen and each time it happened, I pretended to speak no English (no,  I don't think that was wrong in the least.)

Will I go back? Absolutely! I'm now practicing my French in earnest as I am determined to be able to have at least one conversation the next go round. Travelling reminds me that for all that separates us as human beings what brings us together is greater - a smile, holding a door, sharing a good meal, getting lost in the smile of a baby, helping someone in need.

The barriers are in our minds.

A' la prochaine!

January 3, 2011

You Can Run …

I have always loved the adage “You can run but you can’t hide.” I’ve used it liberally over the years, almost always as I was making some sanctimonious declaration about someone in denial about something in their life. Oh yes, when your life is so very perfect in every way it is easy to toss around powerful adages wrapped up as sage advice and wisdom – isn’t it?

The truth is ‘You can run but you can’t hide’ has never applied to my entire LIFE so much as it seems to right now.

I honestly didn't even realize that I was running. I’ve told myself that I am busy, that I am productive, that I am multi-tasking, that I am keeping multiple balls in the air and with great success, blah, blah, blah. It’s all so much crap. Running is running and I can run but I can’t hide. At some point the legs and heart just get tired and even if I wanted to keep running – they're screaming ‘we’re done, honey’. When you stop running (or fast walking if you still aren’t willing to admit you’re running too – believe me, I get it!) whatever it is that has been chasing you … the taxes you haven’t filed, the hard conversation with someone you love that you haven’t had, the feelings you stuffed in the closet and put all your weight against the door to close … WILL catch up to you.

Here's the truth, at the end of the day, you can't run from you.

There may be freedom in NOT RUNNING, how about that? At the end of the day, I'm not even that good a runner. So, in this New Year, I am retiring from the sport of running away from my life, however great I’ve looked doing it. It’s time for me to turn around and embrace my life.
I am ready.