Happy Belated Birthday

I cannot believe I forgot to post about this on Friday!   

Saturday, June 12 was Anne Frank’s birthday, the little girl, who on her 13th birthday received a diary from her father, was born in 1929.  Had she lived, Anne would be 81.  She would still be young enough to be enjoying life – visiting family and friends, traveling, lecturing – living.    

She would not be that old – her short life was not lived that long ago.   

Even the style of her red and white diary does not look that out-dated.   

Anne Frank and her diary.

 

Anne’s youthful, simple, heartfelt words have touched millions of people.    

Words do that – the spoken ones, for better or for worst, the written words, for generations to see.     

What I meant to say on Friday, is I really think the value of words, including those of young children, can never be underestimated.    

Perhaps during the next year, you could buy an old-fashioned journal for your daughter, son, niece, nephew, granddaughter, grandson, or the kid next door, or the one you babysit for. Perhaps you can sit with them and tell them you value who they are and what they have to say. Perhaps, if they are old enough, you can tell them about Anne, and the gift her father gave her.   

The process of writing can change their lives, and maybe ours.   

Here are some links about Anne that I found interesting:    

The only film of Anne.   

Miep Gies, Mr. Frank’s office assistant and one of the brave people, who helped hide Anne’s family, died this January, she was 100.  I really did not know much about Ms. Gies, this link shares a bit about her: I loved it.   

The book, in case, somehow, you missed it.  

Happy Belated Birthday, Anne.

Procrastination, writer’s block and other ways of not creating the life we want

A friend and I were talking about writer’s block this week. Another friend and I were talking about procrastination, and at the same time, I realized I was spending a bit too much mental energy ruminating about three different situations in my life, which I perceived as negative that were occurring simultaneously. 

Somewhere along the line, I saw a pattern in these three topics – writer’s block, procrastination, and excessive rumination, and decided to spend a bit of time investigating the possibility that all three things were somehow related.

The Artist’s Way

My first investigative step was to take pick-up a book, which is what I tend to do when facing a dilemma or trying to get myself out of a funk. The first book I opened was “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, and the chapter I began reading was “Recovering A Sense of Compassion.”  Here is what I found.

Blocked artists are not lazy. They are blocked.”  (Cameron refers to all creative people as artists. I, for purposes of this post, am going to stretch her description to include anyone trying to improve or change his or her life.)

I liked not thinking of myself as lazy, so I kept reading . . .

Being blocked and being lazy are two different things.  The blocked artist typically expends a great deal of energy – just not visibly.  The blocked artist spends energy on self-hatred, on regret, on grief, and on jealousy.  The blocked artist spends energy on self-doubt.”

 The blocked artist does not know how to begin with baby steps.  Instead the blocked artist thinks in terms of great big scary impossible tasks: a novel, a feature film, a one-person show, an opera – [or, I might add, the life they really want.]  When these large tasks are not accomplished or even begun, the blocked artist calls that laziness.”  

Cameron goes on to say,

Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.”

Ah, perhaps, fear, by any name is still fear?

Bird by Bird

My wonderful friend Dao recently sent me a quote by Anne Lamott, author of the book Bird by Bird”, which I have not read, but have been meaning to read since I heard about it about three years ago . . .

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of s—– first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and have terrific third drafts.

People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.”

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do- you can either type or kill yourself.’ We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.”

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really, s—– first drafts.”

I don’t know enough writers to ask them if they are happy or not, or if they are riddled with the same self-doubts many of us are when we are attempting something new, but I did see a similarity in both authors’ passages and to creating the lives we want: it’s scary, it takes baby steps, and almost all of us procrastinate, are afraid to take chances, and want a perfect “first draft.”  We are plain old afraid we won’t get it right.

Not getting it right or getting it wrong is scary, and potentially embarrassing. That’s why most people do not want to be the first one to ask a question in a group. It’s also why we procrastinate, are blocked or don’t get started creating the lives we want.

And, I must admit, it’s why I didn’t post last Wednesday!

Being afraid is natural. 

Dealing with our fears in ways that bring us closer to our goals – posts, deadlines, novels, or better lives – may not be as natural, but it is possible and does not have to be scary.

Try these two simple steps, which I call the “Wonder Steps” because they usually work wonders for me.

Wonder Step One 

State the “problem” in such a way that it can be followed by the words “because I don’t want to.”   

When you get really good at this you can use more articulate reasons, but I have found that in the beginning it is best to stick to something simple and a bit childlike.  The statement, “I don’t want to!” has both those qualities, sort-of like stamping your feet – it doesn’t get you anywhere but feels good in the moment. Making this statement also creates a sense of ownership, which is important, because when faced with difficulties; we tend to blame an external source, which seldom, if ever is the real cause.

EX: “I am not working on the project because I don’t want to.”

Wonder Step Two

Now use the “because . . .” to create at least 5 new and related sentences. The sentences below are just examples, please come up with your own thoughts and words. Each new sentence should build on something mentioned in the previous sentence. 

EX: I don’t want to do __________ because. . .  

     “I am still angry at myself for agreeing to do the project in the first place.”

     “I am angry at myself because I always agree to do things I don’t want to do, or I agree to do them for the wrong reason.”

     “I hate doing things for the wrong reasons because it makes me feel stupid.”

     “I hate feeling stupid because, it’s wrong.” 

     “It’s wrong because I am supposed to be perfect.”

     “Okay, this is silly; I know I do not have to be perfect. . . I feel a bit stupid right now, but am beginning to feel less upset about this whole thing.”

I have found that by taking the time to briefly look at a stressful situation, it seems less overwhelming and distracting.  And, looking at it in a simple, almost immature way seems to help the process. (Not sure why it works, but for me it works.)

By the time I get to the sixth sentence, the situation doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore, and I am usually able to see some humor in it.

Sure, sometimes I have to create  7, 8, maybe even 10 statements, but if that is all I have to do to find my way out of procrastination, writer’s block, frustration and/or self-doubt, is that really so bad?

Which is exactly the awareness I usually come to around statement 6 or 7 – “This really isn’t such a big deal, is it?  I start feeling incredibly human, much less judgmental of myself and others and much more willing to cut everyone some slack.  I begin to feel compassion for myself and others rather than frustration, disappointment or fear. (Remember the title of Cameron’s chapter listed above? It’s “Recovering A Sense of Compassion”.)

By concentrating on stating the problem, instead of trying to solve it, I usually end-up feeling better, which leads me to being more open to finding solutions, which, believe it or not , usually quickly appear with very little effort. (I know that is too many which’s but I was on a roll, forgive me.)

Try it and see. Let me know what you think.

Summertime and the living is easy . . .

I am mesmerized with summer this year.

I forgot how much I love it.

Maybe it is being back in Florida, this is my first summer here in three years. 

I had forgotten all the luscious, tropical beauty, the scents, the flowers, the rain, the steamy hot days and the ever-so-slightly cooler nights.  June weather in Florida is like August weather in northern Ohio where I grew-up, a relentless stream of heat and humidity with scattered moments of sweet breezes and cloud-covered skies.

Maybe it is because I was back home in Ohio this year as spring was breaking and floods of warm memories came with the showers. 

Memories of long lazy days, when my biggest decision was: Do I play ball or Barbie, build a fort or read a book?

My family hosted lots of summer parties, we had a huge, wooded backyard and my parents were fond of having cookouts for my Mom’s 13 siblings and their families,  my parents’ friends and the neighbors.  While the grown-ups relaxed, my cousins, sisters, brothers and I could do pretty much whatever we wanted.  I remember unlimited supplies of little glass bottles of pop and hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks – heaven to a seven-year old.

Kid summers grew into even lazier teenage summers.  We spent a lot of our early teen years babysitting to save-up money so we could stroll around in really short, shorts or cut-offs, trying to look cool eating cotton candy and candy apples after screaming our way through rides with our friends.  Sad, but true, some years that was as good as it got, and we thought that was great! 

In our later teens, we used to sunbathe on the roof of our house – removed as much as possible from our younger siblings and the world – listening to our battery-powered radios, covered in baby oil and iodine – hard to write that without laughing and feeling the need to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist, but, hey, we were stranded in suburbia, the roof seemed exciting and all the magazines suggested the tanning benefits of that particular combination.

My teen years gave way to great adult summers.  I will never forget one particularly wonderful summer when my sons were still  pre-schoolers, my neighbor’s pool was our daytime hang-out and my nights were filled with running sales and accounting reports at a company I loved.  Really was the perfect summer – lots of easy, fun, lazy time with my sons and friend and work I enjoyed.

Whatever the reasons, this summer seems sweeter than ever, and I am going to savor every sunny, sweaty, and sticky minute of it.

Hope yours is off to a great start, that moments are being enjoyed and memories are being made.

Do you have a favorite summertime memory you would like to share?  If so, we would love to hear it.

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Letters and movies

Dear Reader,

I saw the film “Letters to Juliet” this past weekend – Verona, the Tuscan scenery and the story behind the movie are beautiful and romantic.

The film revolves around the story of Romeo and Juliet, which we all know, and weaves in the modern-day story of Juliet’s secretaries, which I am guessing most of us don’t know. I didn’t have a clue that 15 women in beautiful, romantic Verona are sitting just a few cobblestone streets away from Juliet’s balcony answering the thousands of letters written to her each day, and I have been to Verona and the famous balcony!

The story of the secretaries interested me so much that after seeing the movie I did some research.

Letters to Juliet flow into Verona from people around the globe (a large proportion of whom are American girls in their teens) asking Shakespeare’s tragic, young heroine for advice to help them unravel the mysteries of love. And, just like Santa’s little helpers the dedicated secretaries are there to answer the call, well actually 5,000 “calls”.  Each year they respond to 5,000 letters, dividing them by language and answering each with care and compassion. 

Isn’t that great? I love stories like this about people creating the lives they want in ways I could never even imagine. These women are dedicated to keeping the memory of Juliet and the belief in true love, alive and well, so they volunteer their time each day to do just that.

The movie and reading about these interesting women led me to once again ask myself the following questions:

  1. What does the story of my life look like?
  2. What do I want it to look like?
  3. And, how do I make that happen?

My thoughts then led me to the most important question: Who should play me in the movie of my life?  (Okay, maybe that’s not the most important question, but thinking about it made me very happy!)

If the life you want to create for yourself was playing on big screens everywhere, who would be playing you?

Julia Roberts? Meryl Streep? Angela Bassett? Drew Barrymore? Jennifer Lopez? Carmen Diaz? Jennifer Hudson? Reese Witherspoon? Queen Latifah? Vanessa Redgrave? (Vanessa Redgrave starred in “Letters to Juliet” as the older woman searching for her lost love.)

All casting and joking aside, can we really create the lives we want?  Yes, I believe we can.

Is it as easy as dreaming-up what we want our life to look like? No, of course not, but that is definitely an extremely valuable first step and what Wishful Thinking Works is all about – taking time to develop the “screenplay” of how we want our life to be (day-to-day and long-term), getting it down on paper (in words, drawings, collages, etc.) and then figuring out (bit-by-bit and trial-by-error) how to make it happen.  And, although creating the lives we want is not the easiest thing we will ever do, it will be one of the most rewarding, which reminds me of another movie I saw this weekend.

Front of the Class is a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about Brad Cohen, a guy with Tourette Syndrome, (TS) whose physical tics and vocal outbursts led him to be ostracized by students, teachers and his Dad throughout his early life – even after his condition was diagnosed and his inability to control his symptoms was known.  With his Mom, kid brother and a caring school principal covering his back, along with an amazing amount of personal insight and fortitude, Brad found ways to not only deal with his TS, but to thrive with it.  He fought his way through the educational system to finish high school and college with a degree in teaching.

And, then despite his TS and 24 unsuccessful interviews, Brad landed a job as a teacher. After his first year, because of his excellence in teaching – tics included – he was awarded the “First Class Teacher of the Year Award” for the state of Georgia.

Real-life Brad Cohen

Brad went on to get his Master’s degree, figure out ways to become closer to his Dad, and write a book about living with TS, which was later made into the movie I watched.  He married in 2006, began doing motivational speaking and in 2010 celebrated the birth of his first child, a little boy.   He created the life he wanted.  Was it easy, nope.  Fulfilling, yes.

So, after spending lots of time watching movies last weekend – I actually saw two more :-), I thought this weekend I might spend some time thinking about the life I want to create (it’s always evolving) and jotting down a few more thoughts for the “script”. I invite you to join me.  (I often use these to get myself started.)

Then you have to move on to the really difficult part  – selecting which actor or actress has the right look, personality, skill, brilliance, courage, dedication, insight, and talent to capture you on film.  Because honestly, if you are brave enough to create the life you want, someone really special will have to play you.

Who will it be; we’d love to know!

Warm regards,

Patrice

PS If you or someone you know, would like to write to the Secretaries to Juliet and receive a reply, please include your return address and send your letter to:  CLUB DI GIULIETTA – THE JULIET CLUB via Galilei 3 – 37100 Verona, Italy 

Hug interrupted

Today, I headed out the door about 7:30 a.m. for my regular morning walk. About 5 minutes into it, I noticed the crossing guard I see each morning talking to an 8 or 9-year-old boy waiting to cross the street.  I returned to my thoughts as I kept walking.  A few seconds later, I heard the sound of screeching of tires.

My heart racing, I looked up and saw the crossing guard in the middle of the street standing just inches from the grill of a huge burgundy SUV, still holding her red stop sign.

I paused for a moment, scanned the scene to check if she and the boy, who thankfully was still back on the curb, were safe and then picked-up my pace as I moved toward them. She and I got to the sidewalk on my side of the street at the same time.

“Wow, that was way too close for comfort,” I said, not exactly sure what to say, but feeling I couldn’t  ignore what just happened. She responded with a timid “Yes,” and when she turned her head to look at me, I took a step forward to put my arm around her shoulders and then decided to hug her. She hugged me backed with a deep, rich I-am-glad-to-be alive-hug, and I told her I was so sorry that she had such a close call. She thanked me, and told me the woman driving said she had never even seen her, and added that the woman had to be going 35 miles or more in a school zone.

We spoke for a few minutes, giving her time to calm down. I asked again if she was okay, she smiled and said she felt better. I crossed the street and continued my walk.

When I reached the other side of the road, I realized I had just hugged a woman I didn’t know, which immediately reminded me of time a few years earlier a hug caught me by surprise.

toblerone-1In the fall of 2008, I was delayed seven hours in the Zürich airport on my way back to Macedonia for my assignment there as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I love airports so I was happily wandering around when I walked into a duty-free store and headed for a tall tower of Toblerone chocolate bars.

As I approached the tower, a women, who was working in the store and was adding to the display, turned around.  We looked at each other and smiled that full, crinkly-eyed smile you spontaneously produce when you see someone you are close to or a friend you love, and we moved forward to hug each other.  We were surprised and delighted to see each other. Funny thing was, we both then realized that we did not know each other at all.

It was awkward – what do you do?  Do you continue moving into the hug or back-away? At that point, the fact that we were heading into the hug was obvious, as was our new found hesitancy. Instead of continuing to move forward, we both stopped, dropped our eyes, made slight body adjustments to “look normal” and smiled politely at each other, choosing to ignore the moment of intimacy we had just shared.

She asked if she could help me; I said “Yes,” and I ended-up buying way too much dark chocolate. We parted ways with no mention of the moment we had both shared.

Each and every time I think of that scene, and it plays itself back in my head more often than I ever thought it would, I wish I had hugged her.

And, somehow this morning, I felt like I had finally completed that hug.  Not sure if this makes any sense, but I completed the Zürich, Switzerland airport hug on a sidewalk in Cape Coral, Florida and it felt right. Perfectly, wonderfully right.

I promise from this day forth, I will always follow through with my hugs, no matter the person or the situation, because I now realize – I have never regretted a hug given, only the ones interrupted or left undone.

Happy hugs to you and to all those you choose to hug today, tomorrow and for all the days ahead for you.

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