“Health for a Lifetime” Part III

In the first two parts of this essay, I wrote about a new Harvard essay offering scientific proof for what many of us have known for years – that eating in a nutritious way and getting regular exercise can prolong your life.  After looking at why it’s so easy to resist this common sense approach to life, I explained how keeping a journal in which you record everything you eat and drink and the activity you engage in each day can help you make small changes that will enhance your health, energy and lifespan.

When seeking a motivating reason to improve their health, many people say “I’ll do it for my children.”  I’m not sure that this is such a good idea, however.  You really need to make these changes for you – and not someone else.  It’s great to be a role model for your children, to encourage them to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime – but be sure to take these actions for yourself, not your children.  Do it because you acknowledge that you are important.  A lot of people – especially women – sometimes feel guilty if they spend even a moment doing something for themselves.  It’s time to get over that.

Also, support groups like Weight Watchers and A.A. can be helpful, of course, but I strongly encourage you to make sure that you’re making the changes in your life because you know that you deserve it and because you feel the results, not because – as part of a group – you’re “supposed” to be doing these things.  If you quit smoking for the benefit of your children, once they’re grown and out of the house, you may easily pick up those cigarettes once again.  If you’ve curbed your eating because you’re a member of a diet club, once your friend drops out of the club, there’s a great risk that you’ll fall right off the wagon yourself.

If you just look around, you can easily find plenty of reasons to motivate yourself to take action.  You can easily see what happens when people don’t limit the amount they eat each day, and you can see what happens when they don’t make exercise a regular habit.  You can also see medical photographs of the diseased lungs of lifelong smokers.  These are all compelling reasons to embrace a healthy lifestyle.  Also, if you’re not taking action for yourself, it can be very easy to join a friend in overindulging when life feels stressful – whether that means digging into a big carton of ice cream, or some other destructive behavior.  Misery loves company.

You need to step into these changes with strength and determination, and in a way that will last.  In the past, you may have told your friends that you were skipping dessert “because I’m on a diet.”  Chances are good that your friends were not surprised to hear this, because they fully expected that within just a few weeks you’d be back off your diet and joining them for dessert once again.  It’s time to stop this “yo-yo” behavior, and make a permanent change in your behavior instead.  Don’t “diet” because you want to fit into that special dress.  Instead, adjust the way that you eat on an ongoing basis, so that you can literally add years to your life.  Don’t experiment with “juicing” as a fad, but instead create meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables with the intention that you’ll be doing this for years to come.  Embracing these new habits with the right attitude means that you won’t be slipping easily back into your old habits.

This is a “back to basics” plan for health and fitness.  I’m not asking you to run a marathon.  I’m asking you to walk up and down a few flights of stairs.  I’m asking you to be observant, not in denial.  Pay attention to the number of calories that you’re consuming at each meal, and be honest with yourself about how they add up.  I’m also not asking you to deprive yourself of the things that make life joyful.  In fact, I think you’ll find that by making a few simple changes, you’re actually adding more joy to your life.

I use the word “joy” because attitude and emotion are important ingredients if this plan is going to work for you.  Just as you’re making careful notes in your journal, notice if you tend to complain a lot.  Complaining often leads to the behavior we’re trying to address here – overeating, drinking too much, and indulging in other bad habits.  Instead, tell people what you love about your life and what you’re grateful for.  You may find that this takes a little effort at first, but soon it will come easily and naturally.

For those of you worried that I’m asking you to make big changes in your life, I have some good news for you.  I’m actually opposed to making drastic changes that are big.  Those who are passionate about running know that it can be dangerous to overdo it.  Making little changes, however, can put you on a great path.

Like the mice in the Harvard study, it’s time for us all to start adding years to our lives – and adding joy and energy.  As I’m sure you’ve concluded, the most important ingredient to making this plan work is you.  I believe you’re capable of great things, and I look forward to hearing your story, and to celebrating your new life!

 

 

 

“Health for a Lifetime” Part I

Unless you subscribe to the scientific journal “Nature,” chances are that you may have missed the announcement of one of the biggest breakthroughs of our age.  Scientists at Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have concluded that it’s actually possible to reverse the aging process.  True, this breakthrough was discovered in a study involving mice — not human beings — but the finding is reason for all of us to be excited nonetheless!  The study echoes common sense, of course — because I think we’ve all known for many years now that if we quit smoking, get plenty of exercise, and eat in a healthy way, we’ll maintain a high level of energy and remain relatively disease free well into our later years.  What I find most remarkable, however, is not this dramatic news from the medical research community that it’s actually possible to “turn the clock back” and reclaim our health, but the fact that so many of us have been ignoring this common sense advice for years, sometimes decades.

Why, then, don’t we live our lives in a way that supports our health and wellbeing?  The simple and frustratingly illogical answer is because “it’s not cool.”  For several generations now, it has been “cool” to embrace a lifestyle that includes smoking, drinking and sometimes even (legal and illegal) drugs.  Most of us went through one or more of these phases too, so we’re not in a position to claim that we were immune from this pressure ourselves during our younger years.  The problem, of course, is that many young men and women who neglect and even assault their health during their younger years never change their ways.  They continue these destructive habits into their college years and beyond.

A lot of these bad habits offer us a much-needed escape from life’s pressures.  Young mothers often are embarrassed about the changes their bodies are (quite naturally) going through during this phase of life, and taking a cigarette break or joining the girls to enjoy a cocktail often seems to make it all easier to take.  Young men, facing the pressures of building new careers and still adjusting to the new demands of family life, succumb to the desire to escape too.  When it comes to over-eating, still an epidemic in this country, many of the so-called solutions turn out to be totally ineffective, with the result that millions of men and women are engaged in a lifelong pattern of frustrating “yo-yo dieting.”  As the mice in the Harvard study would tell you if they could, this kind of lifestyle is not one to aspire to.

Living a healthy lifestyle is easy for some of us, and harder for others.  When I was in my thirties, many of my friends were starting to get sick from neglecting and abusing their bodies and I didn’t want to fall into the same trap.  Around this time, I also began to notice that having a healthy state of mind could make a major difference too.  A number of my friends were good about exercising, but they were highly stressed and didn’t feel good about themselves – and they were getting sick as often as those who didn’t exercise at all.  They all had plenty of excuses, of course, but this didn’t really matter.  Many of these friends were suddenly showing their age, and even in my thirties I was determined to remain as youthful and energetic as possible.  I also believe that it’s easier to get on the right track earlier in life when it comes to taking care of yourself rather than trying to undo years of damage and neglect later in life.

Many of these friends frequently complained that exercising and sticking to a healthy diet is difficult, but I disagree.  The truth is that staying healthy is a simple matter of common sense.  As St. Augustine wisely advised nearly two thousand years ago, “everything in moderation” is the secret to a wonderful life.  My friends who frequently indulged in smoking, drinking too much and overeating – and those who did nothing to reduce the stress in their lives — continued to deteriorate.  Many of them developed arthritis, diabetes and a variety of other health problems – and they’re well on their way, of course, to paying the “ultimate” price for this kind of abuse and neglect.  It’s time for all of us to understand the consequences of too much sugar, too much alcohol, and too many calories – because failure to understand how the various pieces of “the health puzzle” fit together can literally be fatal.  On the other hand, taking action to incorporate this knowledge into your daily life can reverse the damage.  All it takes is simply being conscious.

If I’ve inspired you to ask what you can do to start reclaiming your health, the answer is simple.  Make a list.  For seven days, write down absolutely everything you eat and drink, and also make careful note of your activity – walking, using the stairs, sitting in front of your television for three hours, and so on.  During this week, don’t do anything differently because the idea is to take an accurate look at the way you’re living your life right now – and this assessment will probably shock you.

Now that you have your list, as you start your second week, it’s time to make one small change in your normal routine.  Remove one thing that is bad for you – something you eat or drink, or some way that you avoid exercise – and replace it with something that is good for you.  (Be sure to continue making notes each day just as you did during week number one.)

For example, if you’re in the habit of using the elevator at work, it’s time to start using the stairs.  Even if your office is only on the fourth floor, this simple change is an improvement over a daily routine that is completely sedentary.  You may be surprised to find other people doing the same thing, and you’ll start to notice that you have more energy at work.  With this new burst of energy, you’ll find that you’re more productive – and even your boss will be impressed.  This all comes from making one simple change in your daily routine.

In the next two parts of this essay, I’ll focus on why it’s so important to make these changes for you – not for your children or your friends, and not because you’ve been told that you “should” make these changes to your lifestyle.  I’ll also discuss why attitude is so important to successfully adopting new, healthier habits – and how these changes can bring a new, joyous edge to your daily life.

 

 

 

 

Part II “My M.B.A. in Life” Appreciation

In Part I of this three-part article, I described how the lessons I learned when facing a variety of personal challenges in my life turned out to be extremely useful in the business world.  I discovered that it’s all about people – connecting with them, appreciating them, and really making an effort to understand and help them.  As you’ll see in part two of this article, looking at challenges from this perspective can help managers and company owners handle some of the toughest business challenges we face today.

The respect that business leaders have for each individual member of their team can also make a huge difference internally, especially when challenges arise.  In my work with the U.S. Tennis Association, for example, I not only ran the organization’s membership department but I was also asked to assist in the delicate process of closing one of their Departments.  In mergers and consolidations, employees often feel shortchanged and mistreated, and I was determine to do everything possible to treat the employees in this department humanely and support them in finding fulfilling jobs outside the company.  In a department of 24 people, the organization was only planning to retain three of those employees following the consolidation.  Over an 18-month period, I retrained all two dozen of these employees so that they each had a strong and competitive resume and were better equipped to find a new job once they were let go.

Another thing I’ve learned in working with people for so many years is that we all need stimulation and variety.  It’s important to have a change in our routine every once in awhile, especially in jobs that are very repetitive.  Without breaking things up a bit and giving hard-working people a chance to catch their breath, there’s a greater chance for mistakes — and employee “burn out” is almost inevitable.  In addition, the most fulfilling jobs are those that allow an employee to be “a constant learner.”  We all need to grow and evolve.  (I certainly never thought that I’d be a writer, yet that’s the role I find myself in today!)  Also, when you give employees a chance to grow and learn new skills, it lets them know that you have faith in them and that they’re appreciated, and we all flourish when someone believes in us.

Just as everyone likes to be appreciated, no one likes to feel inferior — that they’re less important than the executives they report to.  In my work with the call centers at various companies, I made it a point to really get involved in the work that was being done at each center.  I’d handle customer calls myself, and join the employees in the lunchroom and in their training classes.  This sent the signal that we’re all on the same team and lets them know that their work is respected and appreciated.  Also, when the employees see that you can be flexible, they’re more willing to be flexible too — and accommodate changes that allow the company to grow and succeed.

Growth and flexibility are essential if a company is to remain successful, of course — especially when it comes to customer service.  The decline of the once mighty Kodak Corporation is a great example of what can happen to a company when it fails to evolve with the times, and fails to keep in tune with customer needs and desires.

We all need to evolve on an individual level too, not just as a department or as a company.  When I began working with the companies I mentioned earlier, the emphasis was on catalogs that were sent out to the customers on a mailing list.  Now, of course, that information is handled by computer.

The importance of caring about the individuals on that mailing list hasn’t changed, just the way that we handle that information.  The goal is still effective communication and a rapport that results in sales.  It’s still just as important to let each and every customer know that they matter, and that they haven’t been lost in the shuffle.

In Part III – the final part of this article — I’ll explain why it’s so important to remember that each and every person who comes in contact with a customer or client shapes that experience, for better or worse.  I’ll also discuss why it’s essential that we create opportunities for young people where they have a chance to bring their unique talents to the table and have a voice in the work that they do. 

 

“Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence”

For the past few months, I’ve enjoyed contributing to a wonderful website called HereWomenTalk.com.  When I learned recently of the horrific murder of a member of that online community – a beautiful, sensitive woman and loving mother whose life was brutally cut short by her ex-husband – my immediate reaction was anger.  More specifically, I find it disturbing and outrageous that over the past several decades we haven’t made more progress in taking a “Zero Tolerance” stand against domestic violence or abuse of any kind.

images-2During her 25-year run, Oprah brought a fair amount of attention to this issue, and way back in 1984 the courageous Farrah Fawcett starred in disturbing made-for-TV movie about domestic violence, “The Burning Bed.”  Now, it’s more than 25 years later, and not enough has changed.

The statistics regarding this kind of abuse are truly disturbing.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.  The National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year.  Further, a recent study by the CDC reveals that here in the US, 24 people per minute are the victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner.  That’s 12 million individuals – mostly women – every year, and this is simply unacceptable.

If we ourselves are fortunate enough to be free from this kind of terrible abuse, the odds are good are we have a friend, relative or co-worker who is caught in this terrible situation right now.  We need to open our eyes and look for the warning signs, and when we see them, we must get involved.  More than perhaps any other situation in which lives are in jeopardy, we seem to be blind to the warning signs – black eyes, bruises, burns, frequent visits to the emergency room.

The fact that one human being would cruelly inflict physical harm on another, when they have entered into what was thought to be a loving and supportive relationship is disturbing enough – but perhaps the worst aspect of a situation like this is when children witness this kind of abuse.

In their tender years, children learn so much from what they observe in the household – eating habits, how to manage money, the importance of being respectful of others.  In households where domestic violence takes place, they are very likely to perpetuate it.  (The heartbreaking experience of watching one parent physically abuse the other is bad enough, and the damage resulting from this kind of instability at home can literally last a lifetime.)

The perpetrators of this kind of violence are not always who you might expect.  We read about rap artists and musicians accused of this kind of thing, but a Harvard educated stockbroker can just as easily be guilty of this kind of horrific behavior.  One of Europe’s most esteemed financial leaders became the subject of front-page news last year when he was accused of sexual assault by a maid working in a New York City hotel.  Did the fact that apparently his wife was accepting of his philandering ways make this situation any less disturbing?  We mourn the death of a beloved singer, but when it was clear – years ago – that she was enmeshed in an abusive and controlling relationship, did any of us step up and intervene?  Now, of course, it’s too late.

Stories like these are still far too common.  Whether it’s the death of a talented musician or the abuse suffered by a friend or neighbor, we can no longer turn a blind eye to this kind of cruelty.  After all these years, isn’t it time to finally take a firm stand against domestic violence and abuse?

“The Power of a Moment: Part II”

Family at the Amsterdam Airport

My family at the Amsterdam airport (just arrived to spend the summer)

I was hesitant to go back to Holland.  It had been 45 years since I left.  Nobody I knew was there anymore and I thought it just wouldn’t be the same.  But when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the doors opened up for me.  When I mentioned who I was, people said, “Oh!  Your grandfather danced at my wedding!”  Others I met said, “I remember when your father got married!”  All of a sudden, I remember saying to myself, “Oh my God, I’m home.”  It was thrilling. The community actually threw a little party for me and I’d never felt more welcome anywhere.  In that one moment, my whole life changed.

Celebrating with Liejse (my cousin) and friends

We all have good moments and bad.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that out of the bad comes the good.  I’ve struggled through many hardships in my life, and with each one, I can tell you that when I took the leap to move past whatever was holding me back, it changed me.  It made me feel better and stronger.  It made me grow.

It’s so essential to keep ourselves open to every experience.  You never know where someone is going to lead you, but if you’re open and ready to allow the world to embrace you – ready to drop your expectations and follow where life takes you – you’d be amazed at where you might end up.

And yes, there will always be disappointments, but we must steel ourselves for those difficult moments and be ready to move on.  Your blind date may end up being your best friend or he may end up being a jerk.  Either way, the important part is that you tried.  You were open.  And if it doesn’t work out, you just need to cut your losses and move forward.

Sometimes we make good moments just by being ready for them.  I remember the day I walked into Freedom Academy as a guest speaker. It was chaotic.  The kids were all over the place, yelling and fighting, and the teachers were frazzled.  It was clear that no one was going to listen to the presentation I had prepared.  This could have been a huge disappointment; I could have run screaming from that auditorium.  But instead, I stopped and looked around me, and I realized that these were amazing kids.  They were intelligent and bright and they didn’t want to waste their time listening to someone who didn’t care what they had to say.  So I changed my plan, started asking them questions instead.  And when they opened up to me, I realized I had an opportunity to make a difference in their lives, to help them succeed.  Now there’s a moment.

The bottom line is that if you’re not open to change, it’s not going to happen.  You’ve got to know what you want and you’ve got to ask for it.  You’ve got to be prepared to take action when an opportunity presents itself, and you can’t be surprised if getting what you asked for takes a little longer than you anticipated.  I made the decision in 2005 that I wanted to become a writer. It’s 2012. It took me a little longer to become what I wanted than I had thought it would, but I did eventually reach my goal.  The path I took was a little more roundabout than I had expected, and if I wasn’t open to the possibilities, I would never have made it.  You can’t just wake up one morning and twitch your nose and all of a sudden have everything you want.  It doesn’t work like that.  Just as you can’t drive to across the country without a roadmap, I needed to put in the time and to set goals and to work towards them.

At Freedom Academy, I gave my 11th grade students each a folder and told them it’s their college prep folder.  This folder says to the world, “I am getting ready for college.”  It says, “I am getting ready to graduate. I am on track and I am working towards a goal.”  I told them that they can dream – that they can be anyone they want – but they’re not going to be anyone until they step up and own those dreams.

We each need to design who we want to be.  Just like I told my 11th graders, you can be anybody you want to be, but that dream has to come from your heart.  Write your list of what you dream of and every time you achieve one of those dreams, check it off the list.  Those are the moments you control.  Those are the moments you need to focus on.  Those are the moments you need to embrace.  Don’t stop yourself from going for what you want and being open to change.  Moments, encounters, relationships that you thought would be disappointing could turn out to be the best experiences you’ve ever had.  Those moments are precious.  They make you happy and make you proud and they evoke the most positive energies that you can possibly have.

beautiful summer day in Holland

My favorite moments are the ones where I sit back and smile and say, “I did it.”  Many years ago, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  I had two kids, fifty bucks to my name, a dog, and a tractor I didn’t know how to drive.  Today, I know how to drive that tractor.  I know how to earn money.  My children are grown up and their success amazes me.  I’m living my life the way I want to, but only because I was willing to take the steps and see the moments and see the joy.  There’s been a lot of adversity in my life, and I much prefer the successes and the joys.  But because of the lessons I’ve learned from those adversities, I’ve made it to where I am: finally enjoying the good moments.

“New People in the New Year”

I’m fortunate to have a long list of hopes and dreams and things I’m looking forward to in the New Year.  I’m eager for the kids at Freedom Academy to start their internship program, and I’m looking forward to watching them develop and grow.  I’m excited to continue my blog and to have readers who like my work, and I look forward to seeing my work in magazines and publishing my book. I’m dedicated to taking care of myself in every way – eating right, exercising, keeping my mind stimulated, and finding the balance between working hard and playing harder.  Most importantly – and most challenging for me – I’m putting myself out there like never before in hopes of bringing new and wonderful people into my life.  I spent much of my past hiding scared, but in 2012 I’m ready to confidently become a part of the world.  And it’s exciting.

Fireworks!

I started 2012 with fireworks and friends. Having never hosted a New Year’s Eve party before, I decided to kick off the year by inviting neighbors, loved ones, and acquaintances old and new to share sweets at my apartment and celebrate as the ball dropped.  My number one goal this year is to start socializing and meeting new people and dating again, so what better way to begin than by inviting everyone I know to a New Year’s bash?  This is my opportunity to shine, and I’m hopeful that I’ll find fun and romance along the way.

To even think of myself dating is a scary thought.  My life right now isn’t complicated, and dating is going to add a whole new wrinkle.  I love people, of course, but I still find that meeting new people is a bit out of my comfort zone.  It makes me feel vulnerable and anxious that I might be hurt again.  Like most people, the last thing I want is to feel rejected.  But that risk of rejection is also why dating is a rush.  Yes, there will be negative experiences, but I am ready to take them on, because otherwise I’d have to shut myself out and miss all the good that comes along with the bad. Feeling joy is an essential part of life, but we wouldn’t appreciate joy if we never felt any pain.

So I’m putting myself out there in 2012.  I’m bracing myself for the worst, but I’m really hoping for the best.  How wonderful it would be to have someone nice in my life, someone to share life’s joys and sorrows with.  At the same time, I’ll never allow myself to settle.  Instead, I will be resilient and remember what means the most to me: being free to be who I am and surrounding myself with people who respect me for it.  I’m going to give myself a chance to make this dream a reality, by going out and meeting people and creating opportunities for the right people to wander into my life, whether it’s two people or ten or twenty. Maybe I’ll fall in love with one of these people, or maybe we’ll just have coffee and watch a football game. Either way, I will know I made the effort to connect.

Creating a new life is not easy, of course.  The most difficult part is getting to know yourself and learning what makes you happy.  This is also the best part.  When we believe in ourselves and make the changes in our lives that we know we need to make, we make ourselves happy, and we make everyone around us happy too. When I feel good about myself and my life is balanced, the people I love feel that calmness too.  It brings calm to their lives because they know that I’m okay, and as long as I’m okay, they’re okay too.  And that’s a very special place to be.

Yes, meeting new people can be scary and uncomfortable, and I’d much rather sit at home with my dog, but I’m starting this New Year off by taking that first step towards putting myself out there.  My plan is to take it one baby step at a time.  Hopefully by March, I’ll have an even wider circle of friends and all kinds of new activities to enjoy, and an even better beginning of my new life. I’m going to stand tall and open myself up to the possibility of being liked, of being a new friend, and also of being a better friend.  I’m opening the door to happiness and success.  Yes, in this New Year, I’m going to do things a bit differently.

“Turning Off the Boxes”

In the coming year, I’m resolving to turn off my “boxes” – computer, TV, cell phone – a little more often.  Instead, I’m going to use that time to focus on connecting with a real, live person, whether that person is myself or someone else.  IMAG0393[2]

I confess that I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with computers.  Back in college, I remember taking a computer-based math course, and after only a few weeks of the course, I remember wishing for a tutor to save me from being completely overwhelmed.  I protested the existence of computers altogether because I thought they would destroy our creativity and social skills.  A few decades later, having seen how computers have been instrumental in enabling me to become a writer and to be successful in business, I have to admit that I owe a lot to the “boxes” I’ve worked with over the years.  But I can’t say that my initial reaction was entirely off the mark, either.

Computers do help us become more creative – and to tap that creativity in new and different and magnificent ways – but sometimes we forget that ideas start with a human being.  After all, what good is an Excel spreadsheet filled with numbers if you don’t know what those numbers mean?  And if we’re being honest, surely all of us must admit that we’ve taken to talking less since the advent of the cell phone.  Yes, we text, we email, we speak over the phone, but how often do we seek each other out for face-to-face connection like we did before these “boxes” became such a big part of our lives?

The problem with all of this digital “talk” is that there’s no real depth. I’ve noticed that on all these online dating sites, when I talk to people and they ask how my day was, if I go beyond, “Good,” they lose interest.  I worry that technology has made us lazy, and this laziness has carried over into the realm of our social communication.  We’re all become accustomed to instant gratification and speed and anything that will make our lives easier.  As a result, we’re not willing to put in the time to really listen and connect. Is a “smiley” emoticon really an acceptable substitute for a smile?

For me, it’s an essential truth that nothing takes away from the real.  Touching, feeling, being a part of three dimensions – there’s nothing like it.  Our boxes certainly make us more productive, but they’re also isolating us from each other. When you’re sad and having a bad day, it’s hard to curl up in bed with some great e-mails from your friends. Sometimes you just need real intimacy, and for that you need a person.

For that reason, a little while ago, I started turning off my boxes.  On one occasion I turned off the television for a day.  Then I turned off my computer for a day. It’s interesting what happens when you turn these things off and you have to amuse yourself instead.  You get creative.  You read a book or cook a new meal or simply spend some time outside.  You seek out other people, whether that’s calling your mom or meeting up with an old friend for lunch.  I found that when I turned off my boxes, that time became a gift.

I want to encourage everyone to give themselves this same little gift.  Every day, even if just for an hour, turn off your boxes. Just like a diet, it may be hard to stick to at first, but if you make it “a must,” I promise that eventually you’ll start really enjoying it.  You’ll become more selective about how you spend your time, and as a result you’ll use it more productively and focus more on the things that truly make you happy.  It’s very empowering to realize that you know what to do with yourself if and when the boxes go away.

We all need to devote a little time to ourselves, to doing something different and growing and discovering.  And when we do this, we find that we’re more open to other people as well.  We realize that we’ve been missing out on a lot of information, and all of a sudden we remember how to communicate, and how to let others in.

This year, let’s all stop hiding behind our little square boxes, whether it’s the computer or the television or something else.  Instead, let’s rebuild the foundations of our lives by seeking out more human contact, by getting emotionally involved and being open to deeper communication. There’s no substitute for a real experience, and no connection that can’t be enhanced by taking out the electronic middleman.  Let’s turn off the boxes and make better use of our time, together.

“Minute By Minute”

I painted my kitchen. It’s still gray, but it’s a different shade of gray.  It may not have been a huge change, but it took me a long time to work up to this.  My house needs repainting, but to paint the rest of the house will mean I have to get rid of things, and what I have to get rid of all the things that belonged to my husband before he passed.  I wasn’t quite ready to do that, but after I finished painting the kitchen, I felt cleansed.  It made me feel different and made me smile, and suddenly I was ready to start painting the rest of my house.  I love my husband, but I realized it’s time for him to move out.

Change is really difficult.  And scary. Moving my husband’s things out is very frightening.  I still live at the same address and I haven’t changed the apartment since he died, because I think somewhere inside I know that if I change our home, it will be permanent.  He will really be gone, and it will just be me and this new life that I’m living on my own, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that change.

Before I started painting, my house felt safe.  It was familiar and I could live the same way for years and years, and Sid would still be around me through his things.  But I’d also never grow, never move on, never life my life the way he would want me to live it.  I realized I had to take that leap, make the next step.  And so I started with the kitchen.

Was it easy? No. Does changing my apartment make me nervous?  Yes.  Is it sad?  Absolutely.  It’s not easy to box away good things, like what I had with Sid.  It may be even harder to box away the bad things.  But I guess the best way of looking at change is that at one time or another, whether it’s physically or emotionally, you’re going to need to box things up and seal them away. Those things will always be there, and you need to deal with that fact, but they do not need to be by your side as you move forward.  Change is when we stop letting our baggage move with us.  And we need to do this, because otherwise we can’t feel free and we aren’t able to enjoy the possibilities.  So we need to put our old things in boxes and store them in an appropriate place that allows us to move forward unencumbered.

Change is hard. Taking care of yourself and living life should be your top priority, but sometimes you can only deal with doing one thing at a time, minute-by-minute. After I lost Sid, I needed to live each minute on its own.  I had obligations, but I couldn’t look a week ahead and imagine doing them. So I started with ten minutes. I gave myself ten minutes a day to just go outside and breathe the air and let myself feel good.  Then my walks turned into 30 minutes, then an hour, and then one day I woke up to find that I was excited.  And I’ve just been working on it from there.

So Sid’s stuff is moving to storage.  I think storage is a good place for those boxes, because I know there might come a time when I just need a moment to be amongst his things, to sit there and feel comfortable because I’m in a place that’s familiar.  I made the arrangements and all I have to do now is take the boxes out of the closets and stack them up and someone’s going to come and store them away.  Then I get to start fresh.

Change is always a work in progress, and it’s always hard.  The scariest part is knowing that I can’t go back.  Change only works in one direction, and I can’t change what’s in the past, can’t undo what’s already done.  I can only look forward to the future.

“Small Town New York”

My hood

My small town

I live in a very small town.  Just like everyone else who lives in a small town, I wave to my neighbors on the street, I know the owners of the shops I frequent, and I’m up on the gossip about who’s getting married and who’s done what since high school and who’s newly single.  I meet my friends for tennis in the park and bring my dog for walks. Overall, it’s a very safe and happy little town. The only difference is that my small town happens to be located in the center of one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.  Welcome to New York’s Upper West Side.

View from my deck - roof top deck....

View from my deck

New York can be overwhelming.  But before you say, “Not for me,” you have to remember that I’m a girl from the country.  My dream was a 3,000-plus square foot house with a three-car garage and two acres of property.  Living in an apartment is never where I thought my life would go.  I love gardening, I love to grill, and I love to walk in big open spaces. To live in New York City, I had to learn to look at this city a little differently, to see my neighborhood – or more specifically, the 8-block radius around my house – as my own small town. And as soon as I learned to do that, all of a sudden I felt comfortable and at home.

Just like a suburban neighborhood, my apartment building has subdivisions.  They’re just vertical instead of horizontal. And just like I would wave “Hi!” to my neighbors from the car, now I say “Hi!” in the elevator.  I have a mall with all my favorite stores, but their storefronts are on a street instead of in a building.  I have beautiful parks and some fabulous grocery stores and great local restaurants, only now I walk to them instead of drive.  I hang out regularly with a group at the local bar.  I go to poetry readings and sometimes even brave “open mic night” with my latest blog entry.  I go for sushi with my best buddy and take walks and do those everyday things that small town people do — even though I live in New York, one of the biggest cities in the world.

Lincoln Center

 

Central Park

Central Park on my way to Mid Town

 

 

 

66th Subway Station

 

 

 

After getting lost on the subway or paying too much for dinner downtown, people get discouraged about New York, and then they give up.  But like anything else, New York is open to you as long as you give it an honest opportunity.  Doing the same things and living the same life is comfortable and safe, but it’s also boring.  If you live in the same home and work the same job and visit the same friends and go the same places and you’re unhappy, nothing is going to improve until you change.  New York, for me, was a great way to get out of a rut, and has proven time and again to be a great place to keep me from getting into a rut.  Yes, a city this size can be intimidating, but it’s all about perspective.  If you set the expectation that you’re going to start by learning your own neighborhood – your own small town within this vast city – you’ll soon see that it’s just like living anywhere else.

TRACT 187 CULTURE CLATCH Poetry readings

That’s not to say that New York doesn’t have its own special perks.  You can get practically anything you want at any time, even if it’s an ice cream sundae delivered to your door at 3 o’clock in the morning.  (This is especially fun if you’re hosting a sleepover for your kids.)  Where else can you walk eight blocks and find everything you need, from the everyday basics (grocery store, cleaners, pet store) to the delightful (theater, concerts, and world-class museums)?  And did I mention that I regularly walk my dog alongside legendary rock stars and Oscar winning actors?

I love New York, but when other New Yorkers ask me where I’m from, I inevitably mutter some version of, “Oh, I’m not from here.”  Over the years, however, I’ve noticed that they always reply the same thing: “I’m not from here, either.”  In reality, it doesn’t matter that very few of us were actually born here. What matters is that this is our home now, that this is where our families are and where our hearts belong.  New York is our small town, but it’s also much more than that.  New York is our new beginning.

 

 

 

 

 


“A Thanks to Those Who Came Before”

I’d like to take a few moments to say thank you to all the women who came before.  Thank you for standing up and teaching everyone that to be a woman is to be a multi-faceted human being.  Gloria, Betty, Margaret, Mary, Harriet, Patricia, Ruth… these women and many others beside them blazed a trail that has enabled all of us today to be anyone we want to be.  It took me many years to appreciate that, but I now know – unequivocally – that the things these women fought for have made me the woman I am today.

Growing up, I truly didn’t understand how feminism impacted me or the women I knew.  In fact, I’ll admit that I didn’t like feminists and actually went out of my way not to be associated with them.  I thought the women’s liberation movement was too masculine.  I thought they focused on things that weren’t relevant to me or my life.  But I thought wrong.

In my small town outside of Toronto, women would get married and we’d stay home and have kids and we could generally expect to be well supported by our husbands.  In my family in particular, women had the freedom to do anything they wanted.  My female relatives were all well-rounded, educated, active, and seemingly fulfilled.  So I didn’t understand what women’s lib was trying to change.  Everything seemed just fine to me.  What I didn’t realize until I was a broke single mother fighting for child support was that the reason women where I came from could do anything they wanted was because they were financially secure. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the experience of a working woman was worlds away from where it is today and worlds away as well from the experience of all the women I knew.  To be financially independent as a woman is everything.  But where I grew up, these things never crossed your mind, and so I just didn’t get it.  I thought women’s liberation wasn’t for me.

I was very lucky in that my mother and father taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. But they also stressed that being a mom was the most important job I could ever do, and doing it right would be crucial.  So I followed that path.  I got married and had two beautiful children, and to this day, I have to admit that I get more fulfillment and joy out of my children than anything else.  But after my first husband left me, I learned quickly that being a mom – especially a single mom – is about much more than changing diapers and making a nice meal each night.  It’s about making sure you have the resources to buy those diapers and get that food on the table.  For that, I needed a job.  And this is where Gloria made all the difference.

Unlike the women I grew up with, I no longer I had the luxury of a steady paycheck brought home by my husband each week.  I had to support myself and my family on my own, and once I got myself a job (which was much harder than it sounds), that job was everything.  I needed that paycheck, so no matter what happened, I had to stay at that job.  And my employers knew they had me, so they didn’t promote me, they didn’t give me a raise, and sometimes it seemed they didn’t even feel they needed to treat me with respect.  Despite this, I worked hard and gave it my best every day, because when you need your job, you do everything in your power to compete and stay ahead, because if you lose that job… well, it’s just not an option.

Over my lifetime, my experience as a working woman has changed immensely.  And much of that change – if not all – was due to the women who fought to put us on equal footing with men in the workplace. Looking back, I realized that these women raised me.  The words they wrote made me a better woman.  The policies they fought for made me a businesswoman.  Their experiences made me smarter in my own life.  And their passion made me able to survive in a world that forty years ago was very difficult for women, period.

These women made so much progress, but our job isn’t done yet.  It’s time for us to take the mantle and continue their fight. It’s so important for us to work together, to mend the rifts which have grown between us.  The career women and the housewives, the mothers and the childless, those who got married and those who didn’t – we are all women. And for any of us to succeed, we need to come together and complement each other and make each other’s lives easier instead of more difficult.  As Gloria and the others have shown us, women can achieve great things together. But before we can do that, we need to like ourselves and respect ourselves.  We need to own being a woman and be resilient against whatever the worlds throws at us.  And most importantly, we need to understand that who we are will trickle down to our daughters and the next generation.  We need to stop competing and move forward together.

Sometimes it seems like we’ve forgotten how to stand up.  Forty years ago, women stood up together, and we are where we are today as a direct result of their actions.  Now we know we can’t accept certain things, like being hit by a partner or harassed by a coworker.  Now we know we need education, to set the foundation for our careers and to fully develop ourselves as people.  And now we know we need support systems, both in our institutions and in our personal lives.  But we still have a long way to go.

And if we stand together for change, we have an opportunity to make things better for women and men alike.  I’m really excited about what’s happening with the protests on Wall Street right now because they’re taking a stand and they’re doing it well, with polite persistence instead of rioting and violence.  They make change look reasonable and welcome and right. So let’s go with them into this bright future – let’s stand together once more, as women, and demand that the world deliver on the vision spoken by Gloria, and by all of the others who came before.  And let’s thank those women for laying out that grand vision and paving the way for us all.