Friday, January 29, 2010

Beauty in the midst of destruction...

If you've ever been in an ice storm, you know how eerily beautiful they can be. You also most likely know how destructive they are. Several years ago, we lost power for nine days and eventually lost many trees in our neighborhood to disease because the weight of the ice caused the branches to tear away from the trunks during the storm.

Still, it was amazing to see things you see everyday--- in a different way. A chain link fence becomes a work of art when it's encased in ice.

My friend George has been taking photos of the ice storm in his area this week--- and I really think he's done a great job of capturing beauty in the midst of destruction. Thanks for allowing me to share your photos, George!

(note: the photo at the top of this entry is my favorite--- I think it looks like an angel)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Depression and Resurrection

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way... ~Charles Dickens

I recently stumbled across an article online that talked about the Great Depression--- and the lasting effect it had on that generation. The people who chose to tell their stories ranged from musicians to US Supreme Court justices. Of course, they were all just kids during that era, and undoubtedly saw things a bit differently than adults did at the time. But I still thought their words were telling.

When describing that time, they used words like "rich" and "special." Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens talked about how his family lost 27 million dollars in the stock market crash of 1929--- and as a result he took a different path. Instead of growing up to run the family business, he had a number of "eventful and interesting" jobs, such as a laundry assistant and a bellhop. Jobs that helped shape him into the person he is today. "It might be hard to understand today, but the 30's were a very special time," he said.

Writer Gay Talese talks about how his childhood in the 30's provided him with survival skills that he took with him well into adulthood: "The Depression taught me a useful skill: how to live poor and not be frightened by it. At my father's tailoring shop, I gained another kind of education. Pointing out through the windows of his shop at roving apple salesmen and other people who were down on their luck, he would remind me that they were once bankers or entrepreneurs. He taught me to take nothing for granted, to be frugal and above all to be self-sufficient."

Jazz musician Roy Haynes says the Depression fostered his love of music: "Artie Shaw, Bennie Goodman, Irving Berlin. They were who I believed in. They were my shelter and my religion. It was a rich period."

Others talk about how the Depression led to them spend more time with their families, forced them to use their imaginations to have fun instead of relying on material things, and encouraged them to become closer to their neighbors. Many people would help anyone who needed it-- even though there was barely enough for themselves.

As country singer Ray Price put it, "I've come to the conclusion that hard times bring out the best in men, good times bring out the worst."

It's such an interesting lesson for today, don't you think?

I've heard the argument that people were more "innocent" back then--- "it was a gentler time" is the phrase I hear often (I think it might have been "gentler" for some people more than others--- but that's another subject for another time). And I also hear that people are just a lot meaner now than they used to be. I don't think that's necessarily true. Rather, I think we're just out of practice. IMO, for the past couple of decades we've been setting up a society that has caused us to forget how to socialize.

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I've always had a fascination with computers (ever since I first learned BASIC in the early 80's). I also love the ability to communicate immediately with loved ones. Trust me--- you don't want to be near me when my wireless router starts acting up. And taking away my laptop and/or my iPhone would be akin to taking away my left arm. Since I'm right-handed, I could function--- but it wouldn't be easy, and it would really suck.

On the flip side, don't get me started on how anonymity provided by the Internet has led to significant deterioration of people's social skills (ever visited a bulletin board? Or looked at the "comments" section of a news story?). And people close to me will tell you that I hate things like self-pay automated gas pumps and self-checkout stands at the grocery store. In my opinion, those types of inventions were the beginning of the end of courtesy and civility in our society.

Okay. I'll admit I'm being a little extreme here to make a point. ;)

But in all seriousness, one of the most pleasant conversations I have during the day is with the people behind the checkout counter at my neighborhood grocery store. I know them all pretty well. As the mother of a skinny six-year-old who can eat an entire pizza on his own--- I'm in there almost every day. I also enjoy talking/complaining about the weather with the clerk at my favorite gas station--- who gives my son a free lollipop when we come inside to pay.

I'm not saying that the world's problems will be solved by getting rid of automated tellers (although, those tellers are taking people's jobs away--- but again--- another subject for another time).

Nor do I think that every clerk you encounter will immediately start being your best friend. I hear some of the horror stories about customers who yell at them when they tell them to have a nice day--- so keep in mind that unless they know you, there may be a reason they aren't saying that phrase. But it's good to keep trying. And it's good to keep in practice. We--- as a society that values speed and convenience--- are out of practice.

Going back to the original point of this post, perhaps this recession will give us the incentive we need to slow down a bit and start talking to each other again. Perhaps we'll have more of a "we're-in-this-together" mentality that will help remind us that human relationships are key--- in the worst of times, and in the best of times. Some of the people interviewed in the Depression article say they've seen some signs that this is happening. And that gives me hope.

Looking back to my "power of positivity" post--- something as small as a smile and a kind word can be contagious. Pass it on.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Perfect Day

Happy New Year everyone! As you've probably noticed, I haven't had much time to get back to the blog lately. My apologies. When life gets busy--- it gets REALLY busy. I'm working on a project I hope to share with everyone some time soon--- but right now I'm sworn to secrecy. ;)

It's been more than a little stressful, though... so I thought I would take a small break from the craziness to re-visit something I wrote a while ago. And I'm glad I did, because it reminded me that I need to get back on track now that we've started another year.

I have a wonderful friend and mentor named Jess who urged me to do an exercise she says really helped her create a "map" of sorts in her life.

Years ago, she wrote down her thoughts about "The Perfect Day." Starting with the moment she woke up and opened her eyes... until they closed later that night. What she wrote was extremely detailed... she talked about the kind of sheets she woke up on, the items in the room, the sounds she heard around her, what she first smelled when she woke up, etc. This detail continued as she proceeded to write about the people she would spend the day with, what they would be doing, where they would be going. All of this was in incredible detail (with one exception I explain below).

Every once in a while she would pull out her Perfect Day and re-read it--- as kind of a reminder of where she wanted to be "some day."

One day, she woke up and started her day... and it didn't really register until a few hours into it--- but at some point she realized she was LIVING her perfect day. It started with her waking up in a beautiful room on special linen sheets she had bought in Ireland (something she had included in her Perfect Day, but hadn't actually bought when she wrote it), and continued to unfold precisely as she had written it.

This might sound a bit unbelievable. But knowing the type of person Jess is I have no doubt it actually happened... because she MADE it happen. By actually detailing her Perfect Day--- and studying it every once in a while--- she had made decisions and adjustments throughout her life that eventually led up to that day becoming reality.

Lesson here: It's hard to get where you want to be when you have only a loose idea of where that place is. If you have a detailed map, you can make the right choices that will get you there more quickly.

I wrote my Perfect Day a few months ago, and it brings me joy every time I read it. Probably because among other things, it involves spending time on a tropical beach and swimming with dolphins. ;) At this point, I have no idea if I'm any closer to it--- but re-reading it makes me think of things I might be able to do to move toward it. So I urge everyone out there to try it, too.

A couple of notes... I know I said most things should be in great detail--- but you should be more general when it comes to talking about the people around you. For example, let's say you are spending the day with your best friend--- and right now your best friend is named Lucy. Well, if you start talking about Lucy in detail you'll be tempted to insert some of her idiosyncrasies into the time you are spending together, little things she might say, etc... and at that point the day is not really about YOU anymore... rather, you're making it more about you and Lucy. This particular exercise should be all about you. Trust me, this is key. After four aborted attempts to write out my Perfect Day, I finally realized that I needed to drop names and faces and just write general things about the way the person makes me feel, such as "my best friend with whom I share everything" or "someone who makes me feel safe and loved." And try not to mentally assign that role to anyone specific.

Also, keep checking in on your Perfect Day every once in a while to see if you are still on the right path. If you realize you aren't, you can make adjustments in your life.... or if your view of what's "perfect" has changed, you can edit your Day. It's okay to change your mind--- after all, this is all about what makes you happy. And making those changes on paper could encourage you make adjustments in your life as well.

Once you've written it, you should have a wonderfully long day you can read over and over again. Something that will remind you what you are working toward. And if you are as determined as Jess to not be a spectator--- but actually MAKE it happen--- maybe in two, five, ten years... you'll be living it.

And thanks, Jess... for allowing me to spread your idea. Here's to more Perfect Days in your future. ;)
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