Quite Something

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

A Country Mile

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

“I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story.”

Do you have a women’s story you want to submit for possible inclusion to an upcoming anthology? Please click on the link above and join us. 

 

Have you ever hear the sermon about the guy who’s caught in a flood and ends up on the roof of his house? Cold and scared, he prays for God to rescue him. Before long, a log passes by, and he reaches out, but misses it. Then he sees a guy in a rowboat approaching him. He starts to get excited, but when the boat gets close, he can’t bring himself to step off the roof. Now frantic, he looks toward heaven and makes a more desperate plea.

Eventually he hears a rescue helicopter flying overhead. He’s relieved until a gust of wind swings the basket wildly and he becomes afraid to climb into it. Finally he’s swept away with the current and dies. When he sees God, he’s angry that his prayers were unanswered. God says to him, “I sent you a log, a rowboat, and a helicopter to try to save you.” In shock, the man replies, “You sent those?”

Well, my life reminds me of that story.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tough time figuring out what I wanted to career-wise. Like the man on the roof who got excited each time he thought help was on the way, I’ve gotten my hopes up, only to have them dashed when things didn’t work out. For years I’ve prayed about it and asked for inspiration.

In first grade, I was positive I wanted to be a nun. In the fifth grade, it was a prima ballerina. By high school, my calling became less clear. A good student, I didn’t feel drawn towards any one subject. When it was time to decide on a major, with my anxiety rising, I began to search in earnest. At the last moment, I settled on textile engineering. My mother was a fashion designer, my father an engineer, and I was a people-pleaser.

After two years in college, I lost my way. I quit school, got married, had a baby. I began a series of “do anything for a buck” jobs. I worked in sheet metal, I painted warehouses, I stocked shelves. When my marriage didn’t work out, I took in sewing in order to support myself and my son, and decided to finish my schooling.

Again it was time to choose a major, and the panic returned. As a single parent paying for my own education, I had to make it count. I settled on psychology, since I’d always been curious about people and relationships. I can still remember my excitement as I declared my major. I sailed through my classes and thought I was finally on my way.

But the excitement was short-lived. When graduation time came around, well, you guessed it. I couldn’t figure out what to do with my degree. It appeared that grad school was necessary for most of the jobs in psych. By then I had remarried and my new husband was working on his PhD in economics. It was my turn to help with our financial situation.

I ended up working for my brother’s start-up computer company, at first in human resources, and then writing computer manuals. I found that I had a knack for learning new software and writing step-by-step instructions. Technical writing became my specialty, and eventually I moved on to other software companies. The money was good, and it kept me motivated for a long time. Finally I could not write one more computer guide. I had continued to study personal growth on my own, and felt called to share what I had learned.

The company I was working for at the time was expanding. I switched to employee development, teaching small-group seminars on professional and life skills. The employees seemed to enjoy the classes, and I was finally using my psych training. I was convinced I had found the right career at last. Unfortunately, there was a change in management, and the job was dissolved. Disillusioned, it was time for a real leap of faith.

I’d gotten close to my dream career, but something wasn’t quite right. Then I happened upon an out-of-print book called Living Life on Purpose, by Greg Anderson. The author suggested that the little voice we hear inside, nudging us, is the voice of God. This was a startling idea to me. I’d always thought of God as somewhere out there, not within. As Anderson says, “Spiritually God has already assigned us a unique mission. God has given us talents and has given us the guidance of our Inner Wisdom as to which talents give us the greatest pleasure.”

Shortly after that, I had a dream about my dad, who had passed away that year. He had beautiful handwriting, from the Palmer Method they taught in his day. When I was little, he used to take my hand and help me practice making circles on the page to ensure that I was using the proper motion. When I awoke from the dream, my hand was moving in a circular motion and I was repeating the word “write.” Could there be a clearer sign of what I was supposed to do? I had been writing for years, but not from the heart.

With a new sense of direction, I decided to try freelancing. I wrote a book about the benefits of psychotherapy. I started submitting articles to the local newspaper, and eventually landed a monthly column. I published a book of personal reflections, followed by a book about my parents’ courtship during World War II based on dad’s love letters to my mom. I have become a writer.

So what does all this have to do with the man on the roof? Well, for years I prayed and cried, cried and prayed about my career “block.” But when I step back to look at how my prayers have been answered, it’s kind of embarrassing that I didn’t recognize the clues. Over the years I’ve had: grammar drilled into me by the nuns; a huge family and rich life experiences to write about; years of computer experience; and my own dad appearing to me in a dream, taking me by the hand and showing me my future.

As if that weren’t enough, I found a friend and mentor in the person of Earl Hamner, creator of The Waltons TV show. One of my early newspaper articles was about the strong family values inherent in the series. Mr. Hamner and I began corresponding. I have adopted his personal philosophy: “We are human and small and vulnerable but our journey can be magnificent and memorable and worthy, valuable to us and to those whose lives touch our own.”

You hear musicians say they don’t write their music, they just hear the songs in their heads. Writers experience a similar phenomenon. The words don’t come from me, but through me. The work is effortless, and energizing, because I’m finally doing what I love: using my voice to inspire others. All my life, I’ve been told that I’m smart. But on this career issue, as my friend Earl would say, I didn’t see it coming for a country mile.

 

An adventure into positivity

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.

— Dr. Martin Seligman

Last week I started reading Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism:How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. He is one of the originators of a field called Positive Psychology. It looks at the factors which contribute to happiness and positive mental health, as opposed to those which contribute to mental illness. Seligman likes to joke that, prior to this type of study, the field of psychology was half-baked, exploring only the darker side of our nature.

January seemed to be a good month to start this type of reading, given the degree of depression that is prevalent post-holiday, mid-winter. Statistically, January 24th is the most depressing day of the year. Coincidentally, it was the day I picked up Learned Optimism. Intrigued by Seligman’s other titles, I also bought Authentic Happiness, and his latest book, Flourish.

Although each of us has a natural set-point when it comes to our own level of happiness, according to Marci Shimoff in Happy For No Reason, Seligman’s studies show that, for most of us, depression is largely caused by how we think, rather than by genetics, hormones, or the difficulties we’ve experienced. The good news is that we can learn to change how we think about our circumstances, and especially about our traumas and setbacks.

The topic of happiness is gaining popularity as we learn the degree to which we are in control of our moods, despite our circumstances. I’m fascinated by this stuff, and thought I’d blog about my takeaways from each of Seligman’s books. You’re invited to go on the journey with me.

Who’s in?

Rocket relationships

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Yesterday my phone rang, and my caller ID read, “Phone Scam.” It turned out to be a recorded call about reducing my credit card rate, so it was not quite a scam, but I was impressed at how very helpful technology is getting to be these days!

When I related the incident to my brother, he mentioned that it would be cool if phones had lights to let you know how important the call was so you could decide whether or not to pick up. Perhaps a green light for my 93-year-old mom or one of the kids (especially when they’re in trouble), a yellow light for friends calling to chat, and a red light for those wannabe friends (with the never-ending lists of complaints) who just want to unload.

I took it one step further and decided it would be even more helpful if people had identifying descriptors written on their foreheads when you met them. “High Maintenance.” “Kind.” “Hopelessly Romantic.” “Snarky.” “Steer Clear at All Costs.” “A Definite Keeper.” Wouldn’t it be nice to know up front? But I guess part of the joy of friendship is in uncovering the mystery.

In Laura Berman Fortgang’s book, Take Yourself to the Top, she shares some very useful tips for creating the life you want. Most have to do with clearing out that which is not feeding you, and actively choosing people and activities which do. She describes three types of relationships:

• Those that will sink you. These are the energy-draining ones, which drag you down and, eventually, use you up. Fortgang says, however difficult it is to accomplish, those relationships simply need to go. You may feel some guilt when shedding them, but you will feel tremendous relief once you have done it.

• Those that will float you. These are more balanced, with give and take, and they’re pleasant enough, but they aren’t terribly special. It’s okay to have some relationships like this, but you don’t want to devote too much of your time to them.

• Those that will rocket you. These are the powerful ones that inspire you and spark your creativity. They give you energy and bring out your best self. You’ll want to spend the majority of your time with these types of friends.

As a highly-sensitive person, some people are simply too loud or demanding or intense for me. My tendency is to back off quickly, because I’m too nice, and too loyal, so once I’m in a relationship, it’s hard for me to disentangle myself from it. But I’ve learned recently that some relationships just need a little tweaking.

I may need to see someone less often, or for shorter periods of time, or do more emailing with them and less in-person visiting. At that level, even highly energetic friends with strong personalities can be quite enjoyable. It’s hard to set firm boundaries, and friends can balk at first when they feel us pulling back from them, but they can and do adjust. If they don’t get what they need from us, they eventually move on, and that’s okay, too.

We may not have lights on our phones that indicate how we should respond to others when they reach out to us. But we do have internal monitors that tell us exactly how we’re feeling when we’re with people, if we just pay attention to our gut feelings.

Now is a good time to do an inventory of your relationships. Consider which of your friends support you, light a fire under you, or make you happy.

Then you can decide whether it’s time for some paring down, or whether you just need to do a little tweaking.

After You

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Today we have a guest post by Cindy Brody, my longtime personal editor, who has a Good News story of her own to share.

Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending.

— Kermit the Frog

I was at the post office on Friday, in the middle of a long, fidgety line of women—grandmothers, mothers, and daughters—with the requisite toddler throwing a tantrum in the back. It was during the countdown to Christmas, a set up for major stress.

A few people behind me, there was a frazzled young woman in a pink camo headscarf, which didn’t quite conceal her hair loss, likely from chemo. She told the already-vexed businesswoman in front of her she needed to run out to her car for a moment, something about a box in her trunk. The businesswoman said she would hold her place. But when the woman in the scarf came back, the businesswoman actually let her go in front of her.

The next thing you know, each person in that disgruntled line offered to let her go ahead of them, until she was first in line! After each person insisted, the next followed suit, and in the end, everyone was smiling.

It was such a brief incident, but I got to witness firsthand how kindness begets kindness, and how it can really transform us. It reminded me of a scene in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, where everyone breaks into song at the U.S. Post Office!

The woman in the scarf thanked everyone, holding back tears, saying it just meant a lot to her right then. I think it meant a lot to all of us, especially in this time of year, to have the opportunity to offer a small act of kindness.

Goodwill Abounds

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Today’s Good News story has two parts, and neither is about an individual.

The first is about a movement which is taking hold across the country. More than a few generous souls are anonymously paying off Kmart layaway bills so that other families don’t have to struggle so hard at Christmas. As you’ll read in this article, which my son shared with me, donors are specifically asking to pay the bills for young children, to make sure they don’t go without. And they are leaving a small balance to ensure that the account stays active. Kudos to the kind and smart donors.

My friend Bev shared a story about another kindness, this one performed by… a moose at a zoo in Idaho. No longer anonymous, the ironically-named Shooter was photographed during the act of rescuing a tiny (compared to him) new friend.

It seems the desire to help our fellow creatures is instinctual, if we only pay attention to it.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My favorite news stories are the ones in the “Making a Difference” segment on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. This week, Chelsea Clinton joined the staff. Apparently Brian’s wife is the one who gave him the idea of taking five minutes out of the half hour show most nights to highlight a positive story.

Every one of us knows people like the ones in those segments, everyday folks who are doing extraordinary things. Most of them are quietly making a difference in their families and their communities without getting any notice at all. Whether their efforts are put forth at work, at a nonprofit, or through their own initiative, each of them is passionate about his or her mission.

In yesterday’s post I promised to launch my own Good News channel of sorts, so here goes. I’m going to introduce you to some of the people in my life who I feel are “quite something,” each in his or her own way.

First up is one of my longtime, true-blue friends, Sue Ivy. Sue and I share many interests, chief among them, personal growth. I hired Sue back in 1996 when I was working in human resources for a software company. In her first day on the job, she told me that one of her hobbies was collecting quotes and sending out a Quote of the Day via email to her friends. She asked if I’d like to be added to her list. I agreed, and I’ve been receiving them ever since.

Rather than selecting the inspirational quotes randomly, Sue takes the time to hand pick them to correspond with holidays and other important world events. She also tailors them to the happenings of her personal friends, whether they are struggling or celebrating, and by doing so has discovered an interesting phenomenon.

Often, when she sends out a quote in support of one friend, several others will respond and say, “I know that quote was meant for me—it truly spoke to what I’m going through right now. Thank you.” Yet another confirmation that we are more alike than we are different, and our struggles often parallel those of others.

Day after day, year after year, Sue continues to send out her quotes. It’s her gift to her friends, and their friends, as each person encourages another to sign up for the quotes.

More recently, Sue has taken up nature photography and digital art. She now attaches kaleidoscopes, and the photos from which they are derived, to her quote emails. You can see Sue’s work on her photo blog at http://the-enchanted-forrest.blogspot.com/.

Her hobby has expanded to include products with her designs on them, available on http://www.cafepress.com/enchantedcorgi, and books and calendars at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ivysue1.

Sue’s collection of quotes is now nearing six thousand. I often print them and post them around my office for inspiration as I write.

Thanks, Sue, for making a difference by sharing classic words of wisdom with your friends.

The Good News channel

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My daughter, who will be 23 in February, frequently says that she hates the evening news and the 24 hour news channels because the stories are always so negative. She asks why there isn’t a “good news channel.” As the traditional news, particularly the economic news, gets worse and worse, I keep thinking about my daughter’s question.

So, in an effort to follow Ghandi’s advice to “be the change I want to see in the world,” I’ve decided to launch my own good news channel of sorts. It occurs to me that, all around me, I see people doing extraordinary things in an effort to make a difference in the world, or at least to the people around them. And I know that these efforts are being repeated, day after day, all over the world. It’s just that the shocking stories grab the headlines, and we’re all guilty of head-turning when we see the “Breaking News” banner on the screen, knowing full well it will not be positive.

None of the people I’m about to introduce to you consider their good works heroic or extraordinary. Most just started out wanting to help, to give back in some way, and somewhere along the way they became passionate about their causes. They’re humble, grateful people whose stories are inspiring to me and, I hope, to you. When you read about their efforts, you may feel compelled to contribute. Or you might feel that you’re not doing enough, compared to them. But my purpose is not to solicit on their behalf or to shame you. We all contribute something, in our own way, and on our own time, and most of us do more than we realize. My aim is simply to shine a light on some positive stories, to try to balance our negative worldview, which is sadly skewed because of our overexposure to one side of the story.

I thought this holiday season would be a good time to expose the warmth and compassion of some ordinary people I know who consistently act out of love for others. The good news starts tomorrow. Join me.

Getting to Know Dad

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Here is my tribute to the Greatest Generation, in honor of all those who were killed and injured at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today. First published in The News & Observer in 2007, it feels like an appropriate offering for today:

I was born in 1957, just twelve years after WWII ended. Like most Baby Boomers, as a youngster I was interested only in things that were new and hip. Bell bottoms, Levi jeans, Carole King records. I’m the youngest of eight children, so my parents were older when I was born. Middle-age parents with old-fashioned ideas were sometimes hard to bear.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of world events, the cultural revolution of the late sixties was going on. One brother had served in the Air Force in Korea; another was in the Army in Vietnam. To me, WWII was ancient history.

My father was a brilliant, but quiet man. He was a good dad. Like most men in his generation, he spent the majority of his time working hard in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. He wasn’t much on talking and, like a typical teenager, I wasn’t that interested in his life anyway.

Until it was too late.

We found his love letters several years ago while helping my mother pack to move to an independent living residence. Over fifty of them, by the time we were finished. Romantic, engaging, and inspiring, they revealed a side of him we had not known. They were filled with words of encouragement for my mother, telling her to keep her chin up during the troubled times. Perhaps they were also the words he needed to hear?

Embedded in the letters were also bits of history, details about his naval officers’ training and the progression of the war. Reading them, I felt such a mixture of emotions. Grief, for the opportunity, now lost, to know the real man. To hear his stories in person. To ask questions. Yet profound joy in the physical permanence of the letters. His beautiful handwriting, his struggles, his undying love for my mother.

Why didn’t he tell us that he’d been a “Ninety-day wonder” who trained almost every waking moment for months in order to join the war as soon as possible? That, as a young ensign, his best buddy was Wellington T. Mara, later the long-time owner of the New York Giants. He never mentioned Key West or Miami, where he was stationed, or blackouts, or rationing, or war bonds.

We never heard about “The Sylph,” the Navy yacht on which he trained for a few days despite seasickness fears. I wonder if he knew that the antics on the TV series McHale’s Navy were derived from Earnest Borgnine’s real-life experience as a first-class gunner’s mate aboard “The Sylph?” Dad didn’t tell us anything about the gyroscopes he studied at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for four months, training he never got to use because of an apparent Navy SNAFU. And although we’d watched the movie PT-109 together, he never once mentioned that he headed the section base that repaired the PT boats.

I guess to him none of it seemed worth the telling. It was just his life. All that had been long ago, when he was a much younger man, doing his duty during wartime. I’m sure he didn’t consider himself to be extraordinary, or to have lived through extraordinary times.

I’ve spent the last two years transcribing the letters and reconstructing the story of my parents’ early life together. My mother is 88 now, but she has an amazing memory, especially for that time period. Unlike him, she’s a born storyteller. I was able to verify much of what she told me via the Internet. I even located a copy of a Collier’s magazine from March 28, 1942, which featured the men of the Prairie State, the ship he trained on.

Together Mom and I went through bins of mementos, newspaper clippings, and photos. We found Dad’s Navy yearbook, The Sideboy, and a dance card from the ship’s farewell ball the night before his graduation and their engagement luncheon. No longer ancient history to me, this was living history, my history.

My dad was never awarded any medals, but I know he was a hero. They all were. The men who died, the men who lived, the women who went to work, the ones who waited at home and rolled bandages for the Red Cross, the WACs and the Doughnut Dollies.

Suddenly we’re the middle-agers, and many would argue that we’re still self-involved. But I think we know that the Greatest Generation is leaving us, and before long it will be too late to thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how fortunate we are to have known them.

What can you offer?

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I’ve been having a pull-back week this week. It’s kind of like a mental health day, only longer. On emotional overload after my uncle’s funeral, and after seemingly every one of my close friends has had some kind of crisis, I finally had to pull back. To limit phone calls and emails and invitations in order to process some of what I’ve taken in. Death often causes us to do this. To look at how we’re living, to see if we have our priorities straight and our “house in order,” even to the extent of updating our wills and health care powers-of-attorney.

Before I learned about the death of my uncle, I had been struggling with a career decision. An agent expressed interest in my first book, Thinking About Therapy. She wanted to try to sell it to a mainstream publisher–every self-published author’s dream–except that, in her opinion, re-marketing it would require pulling it off my website. At first glance, it seemed like a no-brainer. I could have an agent! One who doesn’t intimidate me, is passionate about my topics, and returns my phone calls.

On the other hand, I had a visceral reaction when she mentioned pulling the book, especially after the enormous effort that went into redesigning my website last fall. Add to that the fact that I’m getting some traction on various fronts online, and the timing felt completely off. It would have meant switching gears, perhaps even backtracking. In the end I decided to decline the offer, although we left the door open for working together on future projects.

Then, this week, the webmaster for an online magazine for women responded to my request to blog on their site. A few weeks ago they had put out the word that they were looking for bloggers, and, in a high-energy moment, I had signed up. They sent me an application, and asked if I was interested in writing a regional or national blog. As my husband likes to say, “Is that a trick question?” Don’t all writers want as much exposure as possible? At any rate, the application asked me to explain what I thought I could offer to their readers.

Isn’t it amazing how hearing the right question can set your brain straight to the task of answering it? Part of my emotional funk this week has been due to a lack of focus. Self-published authors face a dizzying list of shoulds. In order to build an audience and sell books, we are told that we should blog, set up book signings and speaking engagements, send out books for review, write magazine pitches and sell articles, create book trailers, mine the web. And, oh, by the way, write the next book. I’m guilty of switching haplessly from one to the other, sometimes getting overwhelmed in the process.

Which brings me back to the “What can I offer?” question. I know the big-picture answer because I’ve done a lot of work in this area and I have a personal mission statement: “To inspire others to live a more joyful, purposeful life.” I want to share my personal experiences with other people, particularly women, in the hopes of saving them some of the emotional struggles that I’ve been through.

I just needed to be asked the question again. Refocused, I know where to put my efforts going forward. I have a feeling that, as a result, next week is going to be one of those pull-ahead weeks.

As Greg Anderson says in his uplifting book Living Life on Purpose, “You have a mission in your life…Truly, the world has need of you…You are here, now, where you are, how you are, given the personality you have, with the unique abilities you possess because this is your moment to contribute to the world.” 

How about you? What can you offer to the world? Do you need a pull-back week to figure it out?

Take all the time you need. We’ll wait.

 

The milkman

Friday, June 20th, 2008

We lost another WWII veteran today. My uncle, John Stanley, who was 98, served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Texas as a gunner’s mate. Like most of the men in that job, he lost much of his hearing while doing it. On my last visit out to Denver, where he and my aunt lived, he showed me his medals, and an amazing picture of a kamikaze plane just about to crash into the ship behind his.

You know all those old jokes about women falling in love with the milk man? Well, that actually happened to my Aunt Winnie. Uncle Johnny drove a milk truck and he delivered the milk to her house at 5:30 every morning. He fell for when he was 20 and she was 14. The story goes that, because of his affection for her, he left her a small bottle of chocolate milk every day as a treat. Unfortunately, her brother John woke up first, drank the chocolate milk, and never mentioned it to anyone. Uncle Johnny had to wait for two years to date Aunt Winnie, because she wasn’t allowed to date until she turned 16. They were married when she turned 21, and have been married for 71 years! They have seven children.

Uncle Johnny was a numbers man. After the war he got a job selling Prudential insurance, the perfect job for him. He had an incredible memory, and loved trivia. Every time we saw him, he would say something like, “Do you know how many bricks it took to build the (fill in the building or structure)?” Of course we’d have no idea, but he’d tell us exactly how many bricks. Or how many men it took to build it. Or how many man-hours. The numbers were always in the millions, but he’d remember them down to the last digit. He was an affectionate guy, and would always hold my hand when he talked to me. He loved to sing, and made up songs about working the milk route.

For most of his life he was strong and healthy, but he had occasional, bizarre health issues that would have set others way back. Not him. He was blind for an entire year when he was a senior in high school, until his dentist figured out that a wisdom tooth was pushing on a nerve. Once they removed it, he could see again. In his mid-80s his vision was failing again, and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor which needed to be removed. He had to shop around to find a doctor who was willing to anesthetize him at his age. We were all very nervous about the surgery, which was quite serious, but he was undaunted. Of course he came out of it with flying colors.

The last time I saw my aunt and uncle in Raleigh was a few years ago, when they flew in to visit my mom. I have an image of them in my mind that I’ll hold on to forever. The two of them were in a guest room in the residence where my mom lives. They were sitting on a bench at the bottom of the bed, side by side, like birds on a telephone wire. The bench was pulled up close to the TV so they could see and hear it, and they were holding hands, as always.

Uncle Johnny was a lifelong Catholic, and up until two years ago when he had a stroke, he was still acting as a Eucharistic Minster at his church, giving out communion at mass. He was also still driving, and attending weekly Rotary meetings. He contributed to his country, his family, his church, and his community in ways too numerous to mention. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

So long, milkman.

  

Bill, Angie, John, and Winnie

 

This photo was taken in 1992, at my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary mass. My mom and dad, Bill and Angie, are on the left. Uncle Johnny and Aunt Winnie, my mom’s sister, are on the right.