Monthly Archives: January 2017

Ugly American

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Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. – Dalai Lama
I’ve noticed an ugly trend lately – America is getting meaner. For the past few decades, there had been what appears to be a shift in our culture toward the negative.

Social media is used to bully and demean, political parties resort to name-calling, violence is commonplace, and few even use the basic manners. The images I see and encounters I have on a daily basis feed the image of the “Ugly American.”

A prime example is how the Twittersphere lit up during the Presidential Inauguration. During the day’s events, a stream of tweets went out commenting on the appearance and behavior of a ten-year-old boy, Barron Trump. I will admit the media commentators have a history of saying negative things about presidential children, but these comments cross the line into the realm of bullying. Before the advent of social media these comments would have had a much smaller audience, today within seconds the entire world has been exposed.

I see it with my own students. The words “please” and “thank you” are not common in their vocabulary. Yesterday, when one literally knocked me over, his response was “by bad, ” and he kept moving. Many seem to think nothing of talking about threatening someone for the slightest wrong.  Boys speak of girls as if they were only good for one thing.

Many of the teens and adults meet as I go through my day, seem to feel any thought which crosses their mind should be spoken aloud, regardless of the consequences. And when the outcome is negative, they respond as if they are the victim.

This saddens me. There was a time I could have a conversation with someone whose point of view differed from mine without it turning into an argument. We could disagree without being disagreeable.

Maybe it is time to actively work to recapture that part of the past when we were polite to each other and treated our fellow citizens with respect.

When I was growing up my parents expected me to treat others, even those who showed me disrespect, respect.

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One reminder was the “Thumper Rule.” If you have seen the Disney film Bambi, you’ll remember this. In the scene where we meet the little rabbit, Thumper, he repeats a lesson from his father, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.

This was often repeated when I as a child when I would speak ill of someone. There is a difference between negative criticism and helpful comments. The latter is said with respect and love and not to tear the person down.

Another was “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it.” I find myself repeating this one often to my students and hearing my own mother’s voice as I do. I think she said this to me countless time. But it’s true, not every thought needs to be given voice.

When I was in college, I covered my dorm walls with inspirational quotes. One was a bust of Plato with these words: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. Everyone I meet is facing their own difficulties. I don’t know what they are, but I can choose to be kind and not add to their hardships.

In March of 2014, the Dalai Lama visited Capitol Hill and address members of Congress. During his speech, he said “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”   Even in the most heated of situations, I can choose to be kind and take about the facts and not make personal attacks.

Recently I ran across a poster that had a great acronym: T.H.I.N.K. Before you speak, tweet, post, Instagram, or text ask yourself – Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? In other words, why are you saying this?  I have it in my classroom, and it is often used to direct conversations.

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As Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” I hope my words, my writing, my actions are ripples sending kindness, love, and respect out into the world.

Until next time, remember . . .

The door is always open the kettle is always on.

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Sunny Days & Backyard Friends

ny Sunshine, beautiful, glorious sunshine! This weekend we’re getting a break from the storms, and it’s wonderful outside. It’s nice to be able, even in winter, to sit on the back patio with a cup of tea (Earl Grey today.) and work on my final touches to my WIP progress. It feels so good to be warm.

For the past week, we’ve had cold, clouds, and rain. The rain came in mists, splatters, and downpours. In many ways, the rain is a blessing. We have been in a drought in California going on five years now. Here even in the desert in good years, rain is generally a rare thing.

The drought has left my home showing the effects of little rain. I have ten stressed mulberry trees dropping small branches and bark. We’ve watered them as much as we dare but the rain will help.

The rain though welcomed, has also brought its problems too. For the community, the saturated ground can’t hold any more water so streets are flooding and higher areas have mudslides. At home, we discovered a leak caused by wind damage to the roof. (Ah, the joys of home ownership, but that’s another topic.)

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As I sit on my patio and take in the warmth of the sun, I can see over my neighbor’s rooflines the snow-covered peaks of the San Antonio mountain range. At the birdbath, sparrows splash. House finches and lesser goldfinches are at the feeders happily chirping. Hummingbirds are buzzing around me asking for their feeder to be filled.

On days like today, backyard bird watching is full of surprises. All winter long there are the usual variety of sparrows, finches, and doves. I have had western tanagers, Bullock’s orioles, and robins passing through. Once a lazuli buntings passed through, rare here in the desert, the pair stopped in my yard to rest while migrating.

Yesterday, as I sat on the patio editing my novel it suddenly got quiet, too quiet. No splashing. No cooing. No chirping. I looked up, and ten feet from me at the birdbath was a sharp-shinned hawk. He looked at me and then went back to drinking.

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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The peace was broken, when Rowdy Girl spotted the hawk. She thinks nothing of chasing down Rock Doves, Ravens, and Crows who dare to come into her domain. Off like a shot, she bounded toward the offending bird. The hawk gracefully went up on a tree branch, studied the barking dog for a moment and flew off.

When he had gone, the chorus of birdsong resumed and Rowdy Girl resumed her nap.

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Rowdy Girl

Wild birds bring joy with their beauty, grace, and song. They have even attracted the attention of my characters as they enjoy a lovely winter picnic.

From my WIP: The Princess of Sweetwater

 As they approached the sheltered mountain pond, Hiram said, “Close your eyes.”

Victoria squeezed them tight.

He brought the wagon to a stop and put his hand on her arm. “You can open them    now.”

She opened her eyes.  The sun glinting off the snow and ice made everything sparkle like diamonds. “It’s beautiful. It reminds me of the mountains near my home.”

They ate their lunch enjoying the antics of scrub jays and sparrows pecking at the frozen berries on the overhanging branches.

“Let’s go for a walk.” Hiram closed the picnic basket. He took Victoria by the hand and led her down the narrow trail.

Once in an open area, Victoria broke away from Hiram running ahead of him. She scooped up some snow and landed a snowball on his shoulder. In return, he sent one which knocked off her hat. On her next throw, she lost her balance and slid down the slope. Hiram ran after her catching her before a snowdrift engulfed her.

“Are you okay?” He laughed, gasping for air.

“Wet.” She took a handful of snow and tossed it in his direction.

“Let’s get you home, and you can put on something dry.”

On the ride back to town, Victoria sat nestled in Hiram’s arms. She had never felt so safe or so happy in her life.

We have nine weeks left of winter, time to enjoy the snow, the winter visitors in my backyard, but especially curling up on the couch in a blanket with a good book and a cup of tea.

Until next time remember –

The door is always open, and kettle is on.

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Carrie, me, and my dragons

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Here we are at the start of a new year and my first blog for 2017. I’m am finding this a difficult one to write because I am going to tell you something. I’m going to tell you my secret, well one of them anyway.

Back in October, I went to a writing conference in Los Angeles. A group of us were sitting together talking about, what else, writing. The topic came up about blogging. Most of us had a blog.

One gentleman asked, “How many of you are posting on a schedule?” Most of us had to admit, we weren’t good at that. Then he asked our reasons: “too busy,” “working on other things,” and “family” were the most common explanations given. Then he turned to me.

I took a deep breath and pushed down the fear telling me they really don’t want to know.

“I sometimes get swallowed by my own darkness.”

All eyes were on me, I was either going to get told that I was being silly, or they were going to quickly move on.

They did neither.

“Go on,” said the man who now seemed to be leading the discussion.

“Some days it’s hard to write when the anxiety or depression or both are controlling my thoughts.” I blinked hard, tears were threatening.

“Have you ever thought to write about it?”

“No.”

“Too close to home?” He had an understanding look in his eyes.

“That, and no one really wants to hear about it.”

“Maybe someone needs to hear it, you never know.” This from the older woman who reminded me of my grandmother.

That conversation was about two months ago, and I shoved it to the back of my mind. Then Carrie Fisher died.

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Carrie Fisher, who played the feisty Princess Leia, a damsel not-so in distress and who could also be the hero. Who fought her own battles with depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorders. She faced them bravely and unashamedly wrote about her experiences.

Her death caused me physical pain. I was surprised by the depth of my emotions at the news. Someone my age (she was only five years older than me) shouldn’t die suddenly. It felt like I’d had lost my sister. I never met her, but I felt I knew her, and that if we had met she would understand me.

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Now it’s time to tell my secret: Some days, I am fighting twin dragons, named Anxiety and Depression.

I am one of the forty million Americans suffering from anxiety and depression.

Officially my diagnosis is “mixed depressive disorder.” That means I suffer from both depression and anxiety.

I’m also considered “high functioning,” which means I can still function on my own without intervention, most of the time, without anyone noticing there is a problem. In other words, I’m really good at hiding it.

Depression, for me, shifts and changes. I can feel like I’m being forced to wear a heavy, lead-lined suit of armor all day and my whole self feels painful and exhausted. Sometimes, it feels like I’m hung over, my brain hurts, my body aches, light and sounds hurt. At other times, I feel like my soul has been pulled from my body and I feel numb.

Then the anxiety kicks in. It can be just a small paranoid voice saying I’m not good enough and other people are judging me, leading me to think I will lose my job or all my friends. It can be I’m worried or afraid for no reason. Or it can be full panic mode, especially if in large crowds like Comic-Con or Disneyland:  I’m going to get trampled. I’m going to get lost and never find my husband/friend again. The world is coming to an end.

When both happen at the same time the conversation in my head goes something like this:

Anxiety says, “The house is on fire! Run! Escape! Get the heck out of here!”

Depression responds, “So? It doesn’t matter. No, I don’t want to move. Who cares?”

How do I deal with it all?

For me, it’s a matter of diet, exercise, sunshine, and meditation. I do better when I eat a diet free of processed foods – no white flour, no sweeteners, nothing artificial. The exercise activities I find most helpful are walking and Tai Chi. Being outside enjoying my desert sunshine helps by body produce not just vitamin D but also brain chemicals I need to help my mood (really, I don’t understand how this works, but it does.)

You’ll notice there are no medications listed. Currently, I am not on any. I have been on some in the past but found two problems. The first was it sucked the creativity out of me. I didn’t write. I didn’t make music. I didn’t paint. And yes, I wasn’t “sad,” but I was never truly happy either. The second reason is, I developed an allergy to one of the anti-anxiety meds, and trust me, a head-to-toe rash isn’t fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying medication is a bad thing. For some, it is the only reason they can function. I say bless you doctors for helping develop those drugs. It is that, for right now, they are not the right path for me. The situation may change in the future, and I’m okay with that.

I take it one day at a time. Some days are better than others, but I move forward.

What can you do to help someone dealing with a mental illness?

First and foremost – listen. If they want to talk, just listen. No questions. No judgments. Just be there.

Second, encourage them to follow their treatment plan. Sometimes when things are going well the person with mental health issues may be tempted to stop taking their medications, going to counseling, or eat off plan.

Third, ask them what they need. Don’t assume to know what is needed.

And finally, don’t ask they why they feel this way. When I’m feeling anxious, I truly have no idea why. I just feel nervous and worried.

As I write this, I feel anxious. Tears are forcing their way to the surface. My heart is pounding. I want to delete this. Keep my secret to myself.

But I won’t. I need to say this publicly. There is no shame in my diagnosis and if I’ve let someone out there in the blogosphere know they are not alone, all the better. . . just as Carrie had.

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This is my path, with all its good and bad. I will walk it with my head held high and will hold the hand of any who want to walk it with me. And if I leave the path for a while, I may be off fighting my dragons again, but I’ll be back. I promise.

Remember, the door is always open, and the kettle is on the burner.

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