Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Poem

Beach Comber

I’m a scavenger fisher collector

extremely picky picker
sea shells hunted inch by inch:
perfectly whole and unchipped
or so completely worn out (or in)
that they take on a whole new form
and a new identity

A passerby passes me by like me
looking down along the
line of flotsam and jetsam propelled handily onto the beach 
for us.
Window shopping not making a
committed selection.
I wonder if she, like me,
thinks of writing a poem as she walks
further and further away from her note pad.
Imagining that, like fragments of jelly fish
the words shimmer perfectly now but
may never be pieced together again
fragmented by interruptions like surf
sand, seaweed, sea shells, and syllables
competing for attention.
This is a day the Lord hath made for 
laughing curls of surf and sand (a zillion trillion pieces 
over millennia of ocean life 
and death beneath and all around me).
Who am I kidding? She wasn’t a poet.
She was an escape artist.
Pretending that the shells her eyes never even focused on
could mask the sadness in her mouth
(she never selected a single shell).

I know the solitary venture down the beach
the ambient, wondrous crushing waves
a personal Greek chorus for pain.
It echoes any sad tale you need to memorize
while planning your future escape from something
in your real life.

Am I an escape artist?
Carefully finding only the right sea shells
fragments worn into perfect trapezoids, triangles
and crescents – geometry redefining their
purpose from life to art. From one of many
to one of few from discarded
to chosen from overlooked to obsessed over.
Each perfect piece becoming an ornament
I create
for some future collector, selector, or
window shopper’s brief attention.
So much time and energy will surely
take me far from the worries and pressures of my daily grinding
Sure to be a perfect escape for an artist like me
for a poet like me.

I revel in the - slow - beach - walk -
the few perfect selections
the poem erupting from the journey the
whole new experience unlike any other
beach I’ve combed or man I’ve combed it with...
all wonderfully re-formed by life into a new shape
worn out (or in) to a new purpose
considered carefully then held tight
or maybe just
window shopped.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Curry Chicken Salad

I spent a couple of years trying to reproduce the delicious curry chicken salad we so enjoyed at the Flying Saucer Cafe on Atlantic Ave in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. When I discovered it in Gourmet Garage, which must be where the cafe got it (they said they didn't make it at the cafe), I stopped trying to replicate it. For a while we were content with buying it.
Then we moved completely out of NY.
Now, after a couple of years experimenting, I figured it out and its so simple! So here it is! So delicious!!!!

Cooked chicken meat
Golden raisins
Slivered almonds

1. Dice cooked chicken - about 1/2 inch

2. Add enough mayo to coat thoroughly.
3. Sprinkle Turmeric over all of the chicken and generously sprinkle curry powder, so that the chicken is coated. It will seem like a LOT but it's not too much!

Mix well.

4. Add a generous amount of raisins and almonds. Again, a lot is not too much.

Mix well.

Color will brighten and flavor will mature if refrigerated overnight. But we usually can't wait that long!

Serve over a bed of lettuce and tomatoes, or on bread or toast.
If eating straight (which we do) mix in chopped apple, halved grapes or cubed avocado... Enjoy!

Isn't something always better when you've worked long and hard at it? I started out using way too many flavors - when the simplest of recipes was waiting to give us this treat!  I've heard it's great for canned tuna as well... I'll have to try that.

Let me know if you try this recipe, vary it, etc. and what you think!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Looking Past Appearances

I didn't have time to do my weekly shopping trip last weekend and ended up going to the grocery store alone at 9 pm last night - a time I never shop.

The store had an open, casual vibe. Several foreign languages floated by me and I felt like the only tired one, plodding down the aisles, as shoppers casually conversed with sons and daughters. The foreign speaking children were well behaved and in a good mood. The boys stocking the shelves were pleasant and conversational as they wheeled their pallets around on big dollies. The store felt more like an event than the place I normally dread to go with crammed aisles and shouting mothers during busy weekend days.

In my travels around the store I crossed paths several times with a very handsome young father and his small son, about five years old, who chattered happily around him, or clung to him like a Koala. They spoke Spanish. I smiled once, then avoided eye contact because this guy was so handsome that I was certain he was used to women flirting with him and I didn't want my friendliness to be mistaken for flirtation. 

I finally headed to one of the checkout lanes and started loading up the conveyor belt. As I worked I could not help noticing there was a bit of a commotion in the lane next to mine. A manager had come over and there was a discussion about what to do. The handsome young father was on the phone speaking Spanish with a forced calmness as the manager and clerk discussed who was available to return all of his purchases to the shelves. He could not pay for his food.

Several times his little boy took, and had taken away, a candy bar. He was hungry. Distracted by the phone call and the activity at the check-out, the grownups didn't notice that he finally got that candy bar open and started eating it.  When the clerk saw it half gone she said in a loud voice to the father, "Did you pay for that?" Still on the phone, his eyes opened wide. He started reaching for his wallet.

Just about 20 years ago, when we were losing our home, I stood one evening in a grocery store in Bloomfield, NJ trying to think of a way to make $40 feed eight people for a week. It was among the hardest moments of my life—knowing that the children in bed at home would want more than I could give them, in spite of how hard I worked to get a job and how much I did with my resources. I was in the place where people tell you, "It will all work out. It always does," because they have nothing else to say. They don't consider that for thousands of homeless women and children it does NOT always work out. There are no guarantees, no matter how many times people tell you, "It always works out."

That shopping trip 20 years ago was branded on my memory. I know that the most desperate feeling you can have is the knowledge that your child will be hungry. 

I didn't speak in Spanish to him, but I understood the young father, and during the course of my checkout I heard him say into the phone, "I don't have anything for breakfast." That's when I knew the cupboards were bare. Even one piece of bread would be "something for breakfast" when times are hard. 

"I can pay. I have $10 on my card," he offered, as I took a dollar out of my wallet and gave it to his cashier for the candy bar. When I gave it to his son, I quietly said, "I can give you more. How much do you need?" He refused my help. And that was fine. But my quiet gesture will stay with him as a reminder that the world is sprinkled with people who care.

I wrote this poem thinking of others who are not as they appear. The stigma of no money, extreme beauty, or a less-than-perfect appearance, fades away when you really look at someone. I offer it here now, thinking of the young father. A stunningly handsome young man on the receiving end of disdain when his account was unexpectedly empty. Even still, it was not his handsome appearance, nor his financial dilemma, but his gentle love for his son that I saw in him.

The Light in You

I see the light in you.

That flesh and blood and bones and clothes
that hair and skin and fat... or thin...
don’t matter much to me.

I see the light in you.

So hold your apologies
‘bout the car you don’t own or the heavy loan
or the foreclosed home...

Those aren’t what I see.
I see the light in you.

I don’t really notice that EKG blinkin’ or low IV beepin’
Yeah, that hospital room is a long way from 
where you’d like to be...

but it’s not what I see.

So sweetie, don’t think twice.
There’s nothing as nice as taking a bird’s eye view of life.
The big picture is the truth of you — That sets you free!

So don’t worry about the way you look
‘cause I see the light in you 
when you look at me.

Galen Warden 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Poetry

There's a cadence to poetry, whether rhyming or metered or not. There's a flow that one can ride like a wave from the gentle swell of figuring out where it may be going to the final, gentle push onto the shore of its actual destination. You can't control it, but you might really enjoy the ride if you can loosen up and let it be.

There is an honesty in poetry. Even if the words are lies. Poems cut through the static of explanations and get to the spine of the matter.  Poems bring out truths (even with lies). They connect on a visceral, subconscious level - that part of your brain where dreams wait for night and visions wait for mediation time... poems take you right there. Hook you right up. My vision expressed as a poem locks in a Vulcan mind meld with your own bright brain which filters and interprets my mother stories for you so that, even not being me, you get it.  And your father stories somehow become clearer as a result.

When I read or recite a poem it's like riding a horse.  The thing is alive under me. It responds to who's in the room, how light or dark, what came before.  It's not the same poem it was the last time. Not exactly.  That's why readings are so much more exciting than reading.  If you can spare the time.

I've been spellbound by a poem at least a dozen times. My experience so resonated in me down to my spleen that I tried to tell the poet - "That's one of the best things I've ever heard" - but her smile said she didn't have any idea how great it was.  It's a spiritual experience to be grabbed by the throat and yanked into someone else's past or dream or nightmare... only to arrive out the other side sparking and snapping like you've just sat through an electrical storm, or kissed a Tessler bolt.

And I've had women come up to me as well, weeping, eyes large and round with amazement that I had told their story by telling mine. Poetry does this.

More people know about songs than know about poems.  But wait until your highest high or your lowest low. Your marriage day. Your father's funeral. Your baby's birth. I guarantee sometime in your life there will be a moment when nothing will serve as well as a poem.  In the future maybe poets will fill stadiums and build hospitals, but right now most of us just do it for love.

I'm performing my poetry, for free of course, this Saturday, May 26th at the Classic Quiche Café in Teaneck, NJ at 9 pm. I'm hoping folks will come. I have a multi-media extravaganza planned. I think it will be fun. Plus I intend to reveal truths, expose lies, celebrate tragedies that gave birth to victories and basically just let the poetry happen, riding my poetic horses, navigating the brains and hearts and spleens in the room so that everyone gets something worth their time.

Here's a poem for you, comparing childbirth to writing poetry.  Maybe it tells the story better than all of this explanation...

To The Reader

Having six babies, at least a dozen strangers have 
examined between my legs and reached inside.

I invite you to examine, too, my most private thoughts
realizing that, unlike childbirth which is always luminous,
pushing out poems need not necessarily be.
You are my judge, 
critic, midwife
sadist, friend.

Poems are like babies
you could not have planned but
loved having.
Caught by surprise on the highway
pulling over to hunt for a broken pencil, leaky pen, 
paper bag, deposit receipt.
Thrown out of bed 
hurled down the stairs to a 
quiet little light shivering
under its warmth.

One does not consider at that moment
who they might influence
what enemies they may incur.

They simply are.
And you hold them for a moment, admiring
each word correctly spelled,
Then let them go 
to do the good or damage that they may.

I may not have intended a single word for you,
but here you are suddenly
the center of my poetic universe
observing me as I grit my teeth 
leaning into the pain.

Feel me silently reflect between each impulse.
Then another contraction comes
I am swept along with the current 
even over the falls.

Watch me close my eyes and listen only to myself
not considering that the results may be 
more humiliating than spreading my legs for strangers,
or just as luminous.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bridge Building 101

Trayvon Martin took great offense that he was being treated like a suspicious character for walking down the street, and refused to be stopped and interrogated by Zimmerman, a threatening stranger. Trayvon's indignity, and having the nerve to confront Zimmerman, rather than submitting himself to him, cost him his life. Taking a good, long look at this dynamic has brought the whole country to the discussion of assumptions, misconceptions and stereo-typing... and the great and small daily injustices that continue to persist because of ignorance and fear. 

"Politically correct" rhetoric is no substitute for actually experiencing the richness of friends who come from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and beliefs. Rather than providing the same comfortable hues we're accustomed to, friends that are different from us add the most brilliant colors and textures to the tapestry of our lives. I believe that just about all of us could use more friends whose lifestyles are so different from ours that we haven't yet learned whether they share our most important values, activities, and interests. We've hesitated to embrace them because of that which makes us visibly different. We are all the poorer for it. 
Being young and artistic, I wished for any race but my boring vanilla. I traveled a lot as a child and was exposed to a wide variety of people from a very young age. I was enchanted by the amazing varieties in humankind—from everyday behaviors and tastes in clothes and decor, to the very look of our skin and texture of our hair.  When I was nine years old, in 1965, my mother was the first white school teacher in a black elementary school in the state of Florida. She took us to school one day for a visit. When I saw that sea of happy, brown faces, I wanted to fit in.
In 1967, when I was eleven, we lived in New Jersey, but we took our summer vacation at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. Driving around the area, I saw poor black families living under corrugated metal lean-tos with no walls, no toilets, and no electricity. Koinonia had a housing cooperative that built cinder block houses to shelter some of those families, and I saw one being built. I also ducked under a table in the Koinonia dining hall with everyone else, when someone threw a brick through the window. My summer vacation was full of experiences that have stayed with me all my life. Years later I learned that Habitat for Humanity grew out of Koinonia Farm, just a year or so later.
In middle school in Montclair, New Jersey, we went to school with kids from all over town and made friends with kids from other neighborhoods. It was great. I loved it. During high school I attended a black church and we went on the summer youth retreat with our sister church from Harlem, where the girls my age had never met a white person. They’d seen them, but never talked to one.  We learned a lot from each other living in close quarters, braiding each other's hair and talking into the night. 
My mind was expanded with all of these childhood adventures. I'm so grateful to have touched deeply fulfilling brotherly love—only possible with awareness and empathy, and only fully realized with acts of kindness. As an adult I want this personal knowledge of “others” for everyone willing to invest the effort. It truly makes life better.
Many are raised to be afraid of those that are different from them—whether the difference is race, religion or sexual orientation.  Fear keeps you from learning about others, and ignorance is your worst enemy. Vanquish ignorance with familiarity. Go out of your way to make friends that are not like you. It might take some effort. It may not be natural where you live, so it might start out a little awkwardly, but you’ll get past that quickly and the rewards will last a lifetime. Help to end this epidemic of ignorance by sharing this message with your friends and family. One-by-one we can make a difference. Little-by-little, love can overcome fear. 
How to Build a Bridge
Only love can build a bridge that joins people across their differences, in spite of their ignorant backgrounds and the contrary examples of parents. We can break down even big barriers to love and acceptance in our towns, even in our country. But barriers will only come down when simple, small bridges are built between two or three people, one little bridge at a time
There's no easy cure, like a blog to read or a sermon to hear. It takes many small, personal, tangible experiences over time to combat ignorance. Reach out. Invite someone different to your home. Share a meal. Accept an invitation to their home. This is where the true differences between you will be highlighted... and where your bridge across those differences will be built.  I challenge you to accept this as a goal: befriend one different person before your next birthday.  Invite them to your birthday celebration.
Just last week I was fortunate enough to sit down next to a perfect stranger who, after just a few moments of casual conversation, felt like an old friend.  If I had avoided being friendly because she had darker skin, I would have lost the potential for a new friend. Opening up... opened up a sweet door.
Speaking Spanish has also opened my life's door to many friends. I’ve been able to meet brilliant, creative people—people from whom I’ve learned some of my most important lessons. My life would be so different, and so much poorer, without their influence. 
So many wonderful, loving people in the world are different from you, and live differently than the lifestyle you live. Make the effort to learn about others. You’ll fear less, the whole world will open up with its wonderful possibilities for love and friendship and, perhaps to your surprise, you’ll be much happier in the areas of life that matter most. Your singular joy at connecting with those who are different, building bridges of love one by one, will change your world... and ours. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Leave a trail of bread crumbs

On your journey to discovering and enriching your inner artist, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to pay attention to your moments of inspiration.
Your world will be filled with compromises because of your job, your family and your living situation. When a moment for your art occurs, pay attention. 
Words will leave a trail of bread crumbs you can follow back whenever you want. Write down exactly how you feel. What you see. That idea. Right now. Don’t wait. It won’t be the same... Do it at 2:28 a.m. when it startles you awake as pure genius. Do it at 3:10 p.m. when someone in the line in front of you says something that throws a different light on your idea, or at 6:05 during dinner when your mind drifts for a moment and suddenly you see the solution to that problem you’re trying to solve. Grab a little pad you can carry around, jot a note you’ll understand later. This moment is magic. Capture it before it’s diluted.
Driving in the car, standing in the shower, sitting at the bus stop... even when you have no pad and pencil, record that thought in your mind and write it down as soon as you can.  You’ll never be bored. Your art is your constant companion—a river of ideas you can tap into anytime your mind has a little space to breathe.  Tap in. Write it down. 
Later, when you read those words, written under the influence of that inspiration, you can follow the bread crumbs right back to that moment. You’ll feel the spark, see the vision, touch the reality of that dream, captured by you... for just you... and be able to act on it and fulfill the promise of that painting, poem, song, whatever!
I’ve kept journals my whole life. It’s been much more difficult since I’ve been sick, so I’ve neglected it over the past year or so, but I probably have more than a thousand pages of thoughts, ideas, inventions, designs, plus a record of events in my life. There are always surprises when I read them. Just a paragraph pulls into bright relief an episode in my life. Every page adding up to the person I am now. I want that for you.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Relationships are Life

In Life, love ma, I spell out some of the wisdom I've shared with my kids over the years for getting along with others.  Life is rough enough without our close relationships being a struggle. Smoothing out friendships, romances, and family relationships brings a level of peace and prosperity unmatched by financial success. I hope these words help you or someone you love enjoy richer, more honest relationships.

(too many) great expectations

The truth is that our expectations drive our happiness more than our actual experiences.  I love Pema Chodron’s books – teaching us to experience the present moment for exactly what it is. Period. Are you cold? Feel the cold; don’t fight it. It’s an experience all its own, not to be missed by rushing to avoid it. And who is this person you’re with? Experience them as they are. Not as you wish them to be. There's your bliss.
Attitude IS everything. If you want something to be fun, make it fun by having fun with it yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to meet your expectation.
Do you want romance? Create it for yourself.  Set the mood you want. Don’t wait for someone else to meet your expectation. Do you want flowers? Tickets to a game? A piece of jewelry? An evening out? The laundry done?
You have two choices:
1. Do it for yourself.
2. Ask for it.
But if you ask for it, remember that this is a request to be reciprocated. What do they want of you? Hopefully they’ll be honest and let you know, rather than having an expectation you’re not aware of.
Expectations like these are traps. Weapons against yourself. They sabotage your happiness as well as your relationship. 
So where does trust, kindness, generosity, and all of the other attributes you need in a relationship come in if you don’t want to sabotage it with expectations? Shouldn’t you expect these things?  Yes. These attributes are the natural result of love.  You should expect them as much as you demonstrate them.  Forgiveness, patience and faith as well.  Have faith in your friend, family member or partner, and expect them to have faith in you.  Just don’t make the leap from expecting kindness to expecting him or her to do your laundry.  It’s a separate discussion.  

negotiate for peace
Every close relationship needs a little negotiation. Ask for the things that you need. But remember that this is how to get what you need – not how to change the person into someone who reads your mind.  If you each have un-met needs or wishes, you are obligated to share them and to negotiate a fair balance that you can both agree on – so that no one feels they carry a greater burden in the relationship. If anyone is harboring resentment or bitterness you will quickly sink deeper and deeper into miscommunication and unhappiness. 
Admit to yourself that you want certain things in your relationship for your own selfish reasons. For example, you’d like to be seen out with a beautiful woman – it really boosts your self-esteem. Or you’d like to dress up, do something dangerous with your hair, have an excuse to buy a little black dress. Admit these things are for you instead of pretending they are for your partner and you’ll enjoy them a lot more when you do them.
Reject the temptation to withhold your disappointments and hope the other person figures out what you want or need and makes things better for you. Express your needs. But when you air them, remember that this is a negotiation. They may have disappointments just as great as yours. Be ready to hear them and to reciprocate with meeting their needs, too.   
conscious dialogue for understanding
The most effective weapon against friction is conscious dialog. This is a technique I learned from a wonderful therapist in New York. Here is my oversimplified version:
A person with an issue asks for time to be set aside when you won’t be disturbed so they can have a conscious dialogue with you about it.
When that time comes, the one with the issue gets to say what is on their mind – how they feel, what’s wrong, etc. – uninterrupted until they are through expressing themselves. This is the Speaker. The Speaker is responsible for articulately sharing what they want the Listener to know and understand.
The job of the Listener is to set his or her opinion aside and focus solely on what the Speaker is saying.  Really hear every word – with the goal of understanding the other person’s point of view.
Next, the Listener has the job of repeating back what they’ve just heard, but not verbatim. What do you now understand? What is this person’s experience, feeling, pain, frustration, or dilemma?  In your own words, the Listener must relate to the Speaker that the Speaker has been heard and understood. Period. No editorializing. No injection of attitude, debate, contradiction, justification, etc. etc. etc. This is not about the Listener. This is all about the Speaker. Whether the Listener agrees with or is wounded by what the Speaker says is completely irrelevant. 
The Speaker gets to determine whether or not the Listener can take a turn as Speaker at this point. Perhaps they need time to feel safe and a later date is scheduled for the other person to convey their thoughts, fears, concerns, or to express what they feel is not readily apparent or understood about them. Or maybe the Listener did such a good job of understanding that the Speaker now feels safe enough to listen.
It takes a certain amount of maturity to participate in conscious dialog. That said, if maturity is an issue in the relationship, this is an excellent way to help with that. When you can speak without fear of being interrupted or challenged, and you are heard and understood, half of the battle is won. When you can get outside of yourself and really listen and see where the person you love is coming from – free of judging them – the other half of the battle is won. There you have it! The entire battle is won when you embrace the difficult and mature work of conscious dialog.  
Give it a try. 
If you try out this advice, please let me know how it goes. You can write to me at

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Finding Your Artistic Path

While writing Life, love ma for my children, I spoke with my daughter's friend who expressed frustration at having too many artistic talents and not knowing where to focus. I could relate. I went through phases of fashion design, interior design, painting, poetry, and on and on. Always wondering what would unlock the secret to that stream of productivity, that prolific gush of work that I could ride like a wave, that would truly satisfy my inner itch to create.  
Happily, that journey is just as important and satisfying as its goal. Your life as an artist is as joyful and productive as you allow it to be when you take yourself seriously. Nothing is keeping you from that path of exploration and discovery, but here are a few hints that might help narrow your focus if you really want to devote your efforts to your most worthy pursuits.

finding your path
I am certain that Martha Stewart found joy in entertaining, preparing a beautiful feast and sharing it with friends. Her joy was infectious, and the love she poured into each stunning dish and table accent exuded her enthusiasm, passion and pleasure.   She succeeded in a huge way when she combined that passion and perfectionism with business sense and marketing savvy.  She built an empire on her passion for entertaining. That’s a little shocking, isn’t it? An empire from a passion for entertaining. 
What is your joy?  Is it music, poetry, painting, leather work, jewelry making, writing, herbal remedies, graphic design, animation, calligraphy, fashion design? What gets you going, gives you energy to work all night on a project, to dream that you’re succeeding at it as you sleep at night?  If you know what that is, embrace it. 
I have had too many passions, myself. I LOVE designing clothes and sewing them. I love painting.  I have hundreds of poems I’ve written—scrambling for a pad and pen at 3 in the morning when words can’t wait. But what should I focus on? Where should I spend my precious free hours when I’m not earning a living? Here are five simple questions that I’ve answered for myself that might help you choose which of your talents to focus on right now. 
1. How easy and natural is it for you to do? When learning the skills needed to execute this type of art, do you learn it easily or is the training a struggle for you? Better yet—even if it’s a struggle—do you get a rush from learning, so much so that you’re always hungry to learn more?
2. Do you like all of the aspects of it or just the dream of it?  Every art has a nitty gritty side. The supplies, the set-up and clean-up, the maintenance of your equipment. Sometimes we imagine a romantic view of art—a vision of our finished piece—but it falls apart in the drudgery of execution. Do you love “getting your hands dirty” for
your art?
3. Do you find yourself constantly coming up with ideas for your art? Do you have a sketch pad or note pad you carry around full of jotted-down ideas? Lyrics? Concepts that come to you as if on their own? Do you dream up designs in your sleep?
4.  Do you do it differently than anyone you know? Do you have a unique edge, a certain quality that is all your own?  When your work is compared to that of others in a similar situation, can yours be identified as distinctive? If it isn’t yet, could it be?
5. Lastly, does your intellect believe in it as much as your heart? Is it logical to you? Or do you spend hours struggling to justify your art to your practical side?  If you don’t believe in it, you won’t succeed. But rather than struggle with it, go back to the source of your spark. Spend time there, with your heart, and call it a passion, a hobby, whatever takes the pressure off. Eventually you may come to believe this is is your calling. Then, if you believe in it...
Begin it! Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” – Goeth
Your answers to these questions will help you understand which talents in your life to pursue. There may be many. And what you pursue may change over time.
—excerpt from Life, love ma

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choosing Integrity

We are born wholly honest. But we begin to manipulate our surroundings to get what we need or want – which can lead to dishonesty, theft, aggression ... even at a very young age. At some point we begin to see these choices clearly and to make them consciously.  The older we get, the more responsible we become for the consequences of our actions. No matter how things have gone in your past, it's never too late to learn about integrity, to straighten up if you've compromised it, and to begin to build the character you need to be a successful person inside and out.

choose integrity 
I have a saying, “Integrity is lost or gained in a hundred small decisions.” 
When I was about nine years old, living in Florida, I stole a roll of quarters from my mother. She kept them in a drawer for the laundry machines in our apartment building. I just couldn’t resist the temptation. Although we had very little money, my mother’s parents paid for us to have a housekeeper who lived with us. Her name was Alice, just like on The Brady Bunch. My mother accused Alice of taking the roll of quarters. I was horrified, but I was too scared to speak up. She yelled at Alice repeatedly over a period of days, trying in vain to get her to confess. Alice cried, and I could hear the pain in her tears at the loss of my mother’s trust. Eventually the incident faded away but things were never the same again. As soon as I had stolen the quarters I spent most of them on two-dozen doughnuts—doughnuts for everyone—my favorite: glazed, freshly baked. I bought them on my own as my mother paid for groceries in a dif-ferent line so that she would not see the quarters I paid with. 
Watching everyone enjoy the doughnuts did not ease my guilt. Nor did comforting Alice. Nor did doing my chores extra faithfully. The guilt I carried weighed heavily on me until I confessed my crime about three years later. My mother was very ungracious. It was an empty moment for me, but I felt the burden lift for my part, and for that I was grateful. 
When you were small I walked you lovingly and matter-of-factly back into the store, approached any random cashier and had you return any small item you had taken. You said you were sorry and we were done. No big deal. I didn’t punish you. It may have only been a pack of gum – but if you took it, you had to take it back. Do you remember? I knew you were too small to think much of it – but if you remember it I bet you remember that going back in and returning it moments later was not a horrifying experience. I wanted to teach you two things: 
1. Your integrity is your most prized possession. No one can steal it from you if you have it and no amount of money can buy it if you don’t. Do everything necessary to hold onto it, including embarrass yourself a little now and then. 
2. It’s not the end of the world to confess that you made a mistake. It actually feels pretty good once you get down to it. Others are usually much more gracious than my mother was, and will acknowledge your bravery and will reward you with more trust, not less. 
Make the little, daily decisions that add up to integrity, and little-by-little you’ll earn the trust of those that matter to you down the road. When someone with integrity looks you in the eye, five, ten or twenty years from now, they will see a lifetime of integrity in you. It’s unmistakable to them. That person – the person with integrity – is the one you want to see and understand you. They have the power to benefit you, to help you achieve your goals, to get your foot in the door, etc. Their word, their trust in you, is worth more than a degree or a track record. At the end of the day, being trustworthy is the gold standard. Guard that with everything you’ve got.
integrity begins when you lighten up about yourself
Lying, stealing and that slippery slope to losing your conscience, often begin with caring too much what others think of you. Rather than studying how to make yourself look good, lighten up! Don’t take yourself, or the opinions of others, so seriously that you’d be ashamed of who you really are or how things really are in your life. Free of popular pressure, you can chose friends that align with your quirks and imperfections, rather than forcing yourself to impress the un-impressable.
Laugh at yourself and have fun with that thing that embarrasses you. Disarm it. Take away its power to shame you... and you’ve won the battle for your integrity. I believe that our own embarrassment, or as shrinks like to say, shame, causes us more harm than anything others do to us. 
Don’t believe your own hype. I can’t say it enough: Lighten up!

—excerpt from Life, love, ma
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Bee Blog Begins Again!

Although I've neglected writing this blog for a while, my Bee Dreams continue. Just before Christmas I finally started writing again, but rather than my blog, I wrote a book for my six kids as a Christmas gift. 
It's full of advice for getting along in relationships, succeeding at a job, and pursuing their artistic goals.  I've gotten some pretty great reviews from others who've read it, so I think I'll take that plunge and actually try to get it published once I've fine-tuned it.
In the meantime, I'm going to post bits of it here. I'd greatly appreciate your honest feedback if you have any opinions. So let me know if you think I should change something to make it more clear or more helpful.
Rather than starting at the beginning, I'm going to excerpt one of my favorite chapters – liars and their warning signs.  I know that sounds like a very strange place to start, but I thought I'd dive right in with something juicy – helping you to spot liars wherever they lurk. (Let me know if this is helpful!)
EXCERPT FROM: Life, Love Ma - words of advice for my kids (and for you!):

liars and their warning signs 
One of the most important lessons you will ever learn is how to spot a liar. Your money or your life may depend on this. Please pay attention. When your father wasn’t working and I had not gotten my first job yet and we were losing our house, I was so desperate that I answered one of those “get rich quick” ads in the paper. I figured I was smarter than most people, so if anyone could get rich quick, it would be me. I attended meetings, made a modest investment, and began learning how to sell water filters. Little did I know that the man teaching us how to succeed only owned the one very expensive suit he was wearing and sunk every last penny into buying the BMW he showed off as a sign of his success. He was soon to lose the car and the false grin he always wore, as well as the expensive suit which, if you looked closely, had thread-bare cuffs and would soon have actual holes. 
But this smooth-talking charlatan was not the leader of the cult I’d joined. The real leader wanted $3,000 from me (and hundreds just as desperate as I was) to attend a sales seminar in California where we’d learn the real art of selling water filters by becoming better people and therefore better sales people. I eagerly signed up, putting the fee, the flight and the hotel room on a credit card so that I could start making money as quickly as possible. 
This guy was quite an impressive motivational speaker. He had thousands of us in that ballroom in that hotel whipped into a frenzy of fired-up enthusiasm. He was so inspirational and motivational that we were all convinced we were about to become as rich as him. And he really was rich. Not because of water filters, as he claimed, but because of his power to persuade people as desperate as I was to hand over their last dime to him.
He did teach me three very important things, though. The three things I’m about to share cost me $1,000 each when we were penniless and about to lose our home, so don’t take them lightly. These costly lessons could save your house one day, or your life. It sounds dramatic, but in my experience, it could well be true. 
Thousand-dollar Lesson #1: Our Obedient Nature 
He said to everyone in the audience, “Stand up.” Then he said, “Sit down.” And thousands of people stood up and sat down. Then he said to us, “This is how to get what you want. People are by nature obedient. Just tell them what to do and they’ll do it almost every time.” 
Learn both sides of this coin. If you honestly need something, ask for it. It never hurts to ask and it often works. Ask for a raise, for a helping hand, for a loan, for extra time to finish a project...if you need it, it’s worth the effort to ask.
But also learn this: those that would take advantage of you need only ask you for that favor, that lift in your car, that money, etc. and if you aren’t careful they could rob you or even harm you. Think before you obey the commands of someone you don’t know or have not learned by experience to trust. Watch out for the smooth talker who makes handing over your safety or your treasures feel so right.
Thousand-dollar Lesson #2: Confidence as a Tool and as a Snare 
He told us that if you say anything with confidence it becomes believable. If two people say the same thing, you’ll believe the one who speaks confidently and you won’t believe the one who doesn’t. Speak with confidence and people will believe you. If you have a message to impart, and you want to be taken seriously, don’t apologize. Don’t hesitate. Don’t be afraid – say what you have to say with confidence and you will be heard.
But also learn this: liars have a great deal of confidence. Their success is wholly tied to their ability to sound truthful. The confidence with which someone tells a lie makes it feel true. Listen to the words, not the confi-dence. Consider the consequences of the actions, the motivation of the speaker–what do they have to gain? Don’t believe it if it’s too good to be true. How many times have you heard this? The most harmful person, the one who will break your heart and rob you blind, is the one who wins your trust with buttery smooth lies.
Thousand-dollar Lesson #3: Listen and Learn 
The third thing he taught us was that if you listen really hard, people will tell you who they are. If someone says, “I’d never lie to you,” that tells you they are probably lying. Someone telling you the truth won’t go through the effort to convince you of it, they’ll just tell you the truth. 
If someone says, “I don’t want to take your money,” they are after your mon-ey. If someone says, “I’d never hurt you,” just wait. It’s exactly what they’ll do. By pointing out what they want you to believe about them, they are confessing what they’re really up to. Listen well, my dear, listen very well. Let your mind open wide to, not just the words, but why the words would be necessary. One who cares for you would never need to say they mean you no harm. Run the other way.
Likewise, if someone has mixed feelings – they do care for you but they know their true nature is that they’re no good for you – they will confess it in a lame attempt to protect you. Let me explain: If someone says to you, “I’m no good for you;” “I have a dark side;” “You don’t really know me,” etc. ... this is the big red flag everyone only sees in hindsight. I’m here to tell you now, while you’re young, before you get too burned, that there is no reason for you to feel obligated, guilty, or sorry for taking that confession at face value and walking away. Just do it. Every emotion and every impulse will be to stay and prove them wrong. To show them they’re really good. To convince them you were meant to be together. That you can change or help them. That they aren’t as bad as they think. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong .... did I say that clearly enough? Wrong. When they’re ready to be the person you deserve, which is certainly possible, they can give you a call. For now it’s time to politely excuse yourself from the relationship. You made a mistake; this isn’t what you want right now. Done. Think of that painful decision as pulling a piece of glass from your foot. It really hurts to do it. It hurts much, much more if you wait.