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Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015!

IMG_1048_Fotor monst

Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015

Tomorrow is the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it is also Halloween. Or maybe I should say it like this: Tomorrow is the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it is also Halloween!

All occasions and holidays have their own ambiance, don’t they? Halloween is supposed to be scary and frightful. It certainly can be! I have always felt that Halloween should be these four things:

safe

simple

fun

hilarious

I haven’t been able to enjoy too many Halloweens these past several years, but I plan on enjoying this one. We are going to see our grand girls, and the baby is going to be one of my personal favorite characters, Raggedy Ann. Her mother sent me a photograph this morning of trying on the costume; she said grandbaby loves the wig! Last year, when the baby was only twelve months old, she was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz; she cried because her dress felt itchy–it didn’t last long. She did, however, love the ruby slippers Grandma bought her. She wore those long beyond her first Halloween.

In just one year, it appears her imagination and tolerance has developed.

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

Seeing the photograph of our grand baby dressed as Raggedy Ann made me think of two other costumes I saw on Facebook…The Crazy Cat Woman and Cruella De Ville (sorry, I can’t credit the photographers..I just saw these as loose shares)…

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I have never been one to have much of an elaborate costume for Halloween. It seemed I was always too busy to spend much time fussing over it. The years I tried to get elaborate, I had more trouble making the costume than it was worth. One year, I tried to make my daughter a Little Mermaid costume, and I got so busy at work that I was still hemming the skirt when trick-or-treaters were ringing the doorbell. Even though I had picked the perfect fabric, running so far behind made me feel like a failure. I vowed to myself to simplify in the future.

It’s nice to have a great costume, but the focus is really on the celebration and the fun, or it should be. Here are some of the simple costumes I created over the years for myself to wear, using what I had available in my own wardrobe:

a hippie

a go-go girl

a nun

a farmer

a pregnant woman

The pregnant woman was one of the last costumes I wore before suffering an acquired traumatic brain injury in 2007. It was the easiest costume to put together, since I had an old maternity dress and a nice, big squishy pillow that I could anchor under my pantyhose. I got the idea to go as pregnant because my daughter’s boyfriend had a costume of a pimp, which I am pretty sure he and my daughter did not know the meaning of since they were still in high school; it was just one of those inexpensive ready-made costumes that they probably knew had some forbidden meaning. We needed something for my husband to wear, so he borrowed my daughter’s boyfriend’s costume (which may have belonged to the boy’s father, possibly), and we went to the party as a pimp and his pregnant girlfriend.

Because you know, Halloween.

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Everyone else at the party also wore simple costumes, but they all worked well enough, and together we made a pretty ghoulish crew. We had a lot of fun that night, but we usually did whenever we got together.  One couple brought with them a plastic monster–for whatever reason–because they had it? I guess to be scary. He had a name, which I’ve forgotten now. Maybe I was even the one who named him.

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We were enjoying visiting with our friends, laughing and talking.  The grim reaper you see above and I started acting out a scene of an obstetrician attending the delivery of a baby: that is, ahem, me trying to birth the monster…which of course, as parents, we all thought was pretty sassy.

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Believe it or not, we were not drunk! We were just having fun, being silly. I have long had a stand up comic routine I do about giving birth, which magnifies the experience as comedy does, but also illustrates how labor feels so much worse than it looks. I act out the physical pain and the voices of the doctors and the nurses, who can say some pretty funny things in their urgent ways. So that is part of what I am doing in the videos you see here (linked below), where I am both the nurse (telling the mother to PUSH) and the mother trying to deliver the baby:

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Oh, the hilarity!

The best thing about Halloween is that you can have so much fun, just getting wild with your friends.

That, and of course, the candy!

________

I hope you have enjoyed reading Stumbler. One more day to #31!

This is Day 30 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

In Praise of Aging

Romans

 

In Praise of Aging

Let’s talk about aging.  One thing that really upset me about getting hit HARD in the head was that I lost nearly a decade of my life to recovery from it.  I’m trying to be grateful instead of angry because, after all, I survived.  I know that far too many people do not, or they end up even in worse shape than I, losing even more years than I did.  That fact bothers me a lot; it also liberates me somewhat.  In my time of recovery from that head injury, I went from looking (and feeling) about 15 years younger than I was (50 years old, so really more like 35) to looking (and feeling!) 15 years older than I am (now 58, so more like 73 years old).

Even at 58 (or 73), although I often look and feel old physically, inside I am, as they say, always the same age inside. I’m still the 8 year old girl sitting on the school steps at the kindergarten door in the early morning, waiting for her patrol post to begin. Isn’t this the case for most of us?  We all have some fixed elements in our personality, temperament, intentions, interests…what we call the heart and the soul, and also in our intelligence quotients (which I was told concussion does not change).  As is often said by old friends after years apart: “You haven’t changed a bit!”  We all change, but we don’t change much.  People are who they are, evolved and mature or not. Often, it isn’t the circumstances that decide who a person is, it’s something much greater.

Look around, and you will see that no matter what age they are, many of the people you know have youthful qualities to them.  My mother and grandmother are perfect examples of this, and maybe yours were, too.  Or, perhaps your father or grandfather, an aunt, uncle, mentor or friend’s parent.  The problem is that most people ignore this factor, favoring fixed attitudes about age and aging.  For example, I recently observed someone mocking an elderly parent’s “to do” list, acting as if it was going to be such a drudgery and a ridiculous waste of time to do things for their parent, such as change the vacuum’s belt, empty the gutters, check the furnace filters…laughing at the parent’s needs and content of requests.  Such strategies seem like veiled attempts at ascendancy, to make one feel superior in some way.  However we take it, we can only hope to reach such a mature age, where we need to ask for help, which is never an easy thing for anyone to do.

Even middle-age people are recipients of age-discrimination.  The one that always strikes me resides in the romantic focus, most notably in the way men approach me.  As a young woman, I received unwanted attention from men wherever I went.  It was so obsessive, it was annoying.  It often made me uncomfortable, even though I knew I should take it as flattery. The thing is, you have to want to be flattered to feel flattered.  I could not sit in a restaurant without some man’s eyes distracting me from my company, nor leave an establishment without men’s heads turning to follow me.  I don’t mean to sound unappreciative or conceited, it’s just the way men were during my youth, or were with most young women, as far as I could tell.

Now, on the other hand, I may as well be invisible for all the attention I garner.  Men practically don’t even see me in most spaces.  They almost never ogle me and rarely if ever flirt with me, unless they themselves are like 90.  I like this change though, as I am not one for public attention–but, it is incredibly obvious.  If I go to the store with my daughter, they now give my daughter the same sort of looks and attention they used to give me. Sometimes I even find myself muttering under my breath, “You men are SO transparent!” Wherever we go, if there is a man involved, my daughter will get favors and things for free.  An oil change, a flight upgrade, you name it.  On the other hand, I have morphed into the proverbial chopped liver.  All I can say is that in a way I feel sorry for my daughter…and for all young girls (well, I guess except for the free stuff).  Unless a person is narcissistic, who wants this level of attention offered by strangers?  I always found it rather intrusive and unnecessary.

Of course, age discrimination is not exclusively male to female.  In any size group of woman whether it be two or twenty, the younger ones usually clamor toward each other, which leads to excluding older woman in undeniable ways.  Young mothers, for example, will read the works of or elicit the advice of other young mothers about every topic A to Z before ever considering to solicit any advice whatsoever from older, more experienced mothers, whether it be breast-feeding or a sick baby.  If you don’t find this to be true across the board, take a look at nearly any social media forum or watch more closely at any baby shower or bridal shower or workshop anywhere. And forget about unsolicited advice. If I tell my kids anything such as what courses to consider in college , they’re likely to tell me, “Mother, I need to learn these things for myself!” I mean, I was only a life long student and professor.  What do I know of such things?  My students were more eager to follow my advice than my own children were.  Again, it probably has something to do with that age thing.

Age discrimination goes both ways.  Reticence with “the elderly” just doesn’t always make a lot of sense to me.  Somehow, I have always valued older people and been interested in what they have to say.  I am not sure how I learned to value them, or how generations x, y, (and likely z) learned not to, but sometimes this just appears to be the cold, hard truth.  It also seems as though awareness goes a long way in how one sees things.  The more distracted or self-absorbed a person, the narrower their field of vision appears to be. I feel sorry for people who exclusively favor their peer group, because both old and young miss out on a lot of valuable information and experience.  Sometimes young people amaze me with their wisdom and insight. It makes me understand why they seem oblivious to us oldsters.  Still, I would be a better woman today if I had spent more time with my grandmother in her garden, or watching her bake bread, which she did better than anyone I have ever known.

Here is The Truth

The truth beyond age discrimination is that, at least for me, I do not mind being 58 years old at all.  I wish I didn’t lose eight years of my life to a dreadful condition, but now that I am back to the business of living life, the only part that bothers me is the not having as much energy as I once had.  Of course, people always discount the real contributor and say: “Well, you ARE getting older!”  Hmm, let’s see, 35 years old plus 15 would make me 50 years old today–exactly back where I started before losing 8 years.  Even all this denial has become familiar and is not in the end so bad, because the head injury did make me a lot lazier than I was before it.  I don’t mind sitting around so much now…even though I’d rather be like the old “old me” getting most of what I wanted to get done done, setting the world on fire with passion and verve.

Mary Engelbreit, artist. Gertrude Stein:"We are always the same age inside," author.

Mary Engelbreit, artist. Gertrude Stein:”We are always the same age inside,” author.

Being “old” really is not so bad at all, and everyone just needs to realize this.  When one has an active mind, a full heart and a joy in living, age just does not matter.  Last night, for example, we attended a housewarming party where we were among some of the oldest guests–you know, the dinosaurs from another era.  Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the music, the dance party, the conversation, the food, the energy, even the tattoo art, surely as much as any guest present.  When my husband and I attend a concert, a fun run or walk, a hiking trail, an organized bike ride, a workout facility, a shopping mall, or even a birthday party, we are nearly always among the oldest guests.  We don’t have this problem so much at the movies, because we usually go to the matinee where all the oldsters hang out.  We notice that we are among the oldest, or often the oldest, but we always congratulate ourselves for trying, for participating, for being able to participate.

With age comes so much self-satisfaction and wisdom.  I have actually never been so comfortable with myself or who I am.  After a lifetime of having to compete, measure up, worry, fret, stew, and work until I could not see, I can finally just breathe.  No one is looking my way anyway.  Sometimes, not even me.  I rarely wear makeup now; I spend a lot less time in the mirror or getting ready for an event.  All of this is a pretty great feeling.  No one cares much what I am wearing.  No one cares about my gray hairs or wrinkles…for sure, they are all too busy worrying about their own.  Or if they are like me, too busy not worrying.

Life is About Enjoying the Ride

ride

Life is About Being You, Whoever You Are, However You Are

toes

This is Day 25 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

The Email War Of Our Time

The Email War Of Our Time:  My Take on the Benghazi Hearings

The purpose of today’s Benghazi hearings is purportedly to get to the bottom of why not enough security was in place to protect the lives of four American diplomats who were fatally attacked while on assignment at the U.S. compound in Libya in 2012.  More to the point, whether there was a failure on the part of the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, which would leave her culpable and ultimately punishable for these tragic losses of lives.

Hillary Clinton says she takes responsibility for what happened under her watch, but qualifies that the deceased ambassador Chris Stevens did not communicate directly with her about security, but instead communicated those needs to the security professionals assigned to that detail, whose judgement she trusted and whom she expected to keep her briefed.

Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) complains that some emails were answered by Clinton while others were not, and he wants to know why.  He argues that former political aid to Bill Clinton and longtime confidant to Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, was the Secretary of State’s primary advisor, while she refutes that.  Gowdy’s impression that Blumenthal enjoyed a privileged connection to Hillary Clinton comes solely from the number of unveiled emails sent to Clinton from Blumenthal.

As such, Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails have become the basis of the Republican charge, as the Republican panel claims they found hundreds of email requests for additional security in Libya that received no apparent response.  Citing a book written by former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, “The Great War of Our Time” that purportedly claims some 20 attacks on Libya were made before the fatal attack, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) wants to know “how many” attacks would have had to happen before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took action and provided protection.

The complaint by opposing Republicans further centers around the content of Hillary Clinton’s personal email during the time of this incident. At the root of their complaint is that Hillary Clinton is a full on liar…by listening to today’s hearings, it becomes clear that that is what they are trying with all their might and evidence to prove.  Or, to disparage Clinton, as she is currently the front-running Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.   Or, both–that she is a liar that should not become President.  Your basic mud-slinging convention convened at the high cost of everyone’s time and money.

Halfway into the hearings, Mrs. Clinton is holding her own, and the Republicans have not yet proven their case.  In fact, Rep. Adam Smith (D) states at this halfway point that “what we have learned here is nothing, frankly.”  While “everyone agrees this is a serious matter and that there is no question that mistakes were made, spending 17 months and 4.7 million” plus dollars to continue this mission to “rip apart every email” to continue to try to prove that Hillary Clinton somehow did not do her job just shows, as Rep. Adam Smith points out, “the difficulty of [Clinton’s] job,” and that she, in fact, should be commended, not condemned.

Regardless of anyone’s political affiliation, whether you believe Hillary Clinton is honest or dishonest, the focus on email exchanges is unique to our times of changing technology, particularly because before such communication, few people were as readily or successfully scrutinized–we didn’t even have hearings after the terrorist attack of 9/11/01.  Such controversy tells us something of our times as it applies to our leaders and also to ourselves.

Are we to be afraid of using email as a means of communication?  Or are we, like Hillary Clinton, to use it as we see fit, necessary, and expedient?  Are non-threatening emails ever a full representation of our thoughts, actions, needs or ideas?  I don’t think anyone would ever say it is.  What email reveals is or ever revealed was only a piece or pieces of a puzzle, but it was never meant to be the whole puzzle.  If you receive an invitation to an event, it is not the event itself.  This blog encapsulates a few essays, thoughts and experiences of one writer, yet it is in no way meant to be fully representative of a life, a philosophy, or even the writer’s comprehensive experiences or ideals.

Could it be possible that the same diligence that Hillary Clinton exhibits during today’s hearings is the same sort of diligence she led the country with as Secretary of State?  Could it be that she did do what was in her power to do, and maybe that our country learned by the possible mistakes of this event or of her position or of her regrets?  Do we have to segregate everything into good and bad, right and wrong, truth and dishonesty just because it fits our need to know, to understand, to act and to react?  Does this sort of interrogation have anything to do with Hillary personally?

Life is complicated, our jobs are complicated, and even the discourse of email itself is complicated.  What is the first thing everybody always says about email and electronic text–that it does not carry tone; that we cannot read emotion or intention from it; that it is fragmented, pieced together like dialogue, with too much information missing.  No one uses email as the definitive transcription of any event in its entirety, do they? Would you want to be held accountable not only for every email you ever sent, but more to the point for every arbitrary interpretation of your email, sent and received?  Since it began, the use, purpose and value of email communication has had tentative designations.

In truth, as more and more technological forums evolve, email has become even less significant.  We reserve email for certain communications–but these days, we are so overwhelmed by modes of communication and by information that none of us has time to micromanage any of it.  We simply take our fill and use it all to our ability and discretion, hoping to accomplish our daily work.  Does anyone really have time to drum up schemes like the Republicans accuse Hillary of?  She’s a pretty busy and pretty accomplished person.  The whole premise seems a little far-fetched, but somehow some people are adamantly convinced of her masterminded evil.  Evil that has yet to reveal itself to me, who tries to watch carefully.  Evil, which at least at this point, seems as elusive as a ghost.

During a political season, it’s especially important to follow the rhetoric of candidates, political parties, and events such as these Benghazi Hearings so that the most informed decision can be made once election day arrives.  Since I am feeling a bit under the weather today, it has given me a golden opportunity to watch the Benghazi Hearings, which you can follow live, here. You can read more about the controversy here and here.

So far, with just a few hours of today’s hearings left to go, I have not been convinced by this Republican panel that Secretary Clinton was in any way remiss.  We have wasted nearly a year on this, trying to demonize a woman who appears to be committed to serving the United States with dignity.  Let’s quit reliving the Salem Witch Trials and return to 2015, which sorely needs our attention.

 

This is Day 22 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

Writing and Fatigue

papyrus

 

Today the New York Times announced its #WhyIWrite campaign, and here are a few examples from writers across the internet on

#WhyIWrite

More on this soon, but for now, I have a date with my CPAP machine…

 

 

This is Day 21 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

Cubs Win, Bernie Sanders and Anne Lamott

Tuesday, October 13, 2015–On this day in American History:

  1. The Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series. They now go on to play in the National League Championship Series, the winner of which plays in the 2015 World Series.
  2. The first 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary Debate was held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  3. Writer Anne Lamott gets sassy on Twitter.
  4. It was my first full day off of Facebook since I can’t remember when.

Having the whole day off Facebook went better than expected.  I stayed busy and on the go throughout the day, and even got my pantry cleaned, organized and looking much improved.  I didn’t check my phone repeatedly for updates, but instead talked and texted on it quite a bit, and a whole stack of mail was sorted and discarded.  So, really, the change initiated to help push past fatigue was quite successful. I’m doing it, and it’s exciting!  I was, sadly, too busy to get my full five mile walk in, but I am still on target for my weekly goal, fingers crossed.

I found I didn’t miss checking Facebook until it came time to sit down to watch the playoff baseball game and then the Democratic debates.  I missed interacting with friends, though team loyalty and politics are volatile topics on Facebook and not always pleasant.  To find the news, I checked Twitter, but much of it wasn’t as accessible to me as it is on Facebook, which has a selective newsfeed.  I’m not sure how I will proceed, but when it comes to information, being off Facebook already feels like a bit of a disadvantage.  I am also missing out on most of the writing challenge news, so that may drive me back faster than anything.

Yesterday’s Twitter included some haughty tweets by the popular writer Anne Lamott, whom I met last year at one of her book signings.  It isn’t unusual for Anne Lamott to be sarcastic. After all, she’s known for her wit and outspoken humor, but I was a bit miffed when she turned the sarcasm on the presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, because of what she characterized as his being too loud.

I guess I don’t really agree with this assessment. I see him as passionate about the issues; I see him as speaking to a large group of people; if he has a bit of a hearing deficit, I can forgive that, even overlook it entirely–if she’s even right, though I don’t think she is on this matter.  I listened after the debates to an MSNBC interview with Bernie Sanders, and there was no mistaking that Chris Matthews was louder than Sanders.  Lamott seemed to be reaching to have something funny or otherwise derogatory to say.  This made me think a little less of her, not of Bernie Sanders.  Women have been saying for years that they do not want to be evaluated by their looks or demeanor, hair styles or age, yet Lamott’s focus turns these tables on Sanders.  It seemed as if she was trying to make herself seem superior to him, a man of vast public service contribution as well as a graduate of the esteemed University of Chicago.  This time Lamott’s chiding just didn’t sit well with me–her varied and overdone tweets about what she assessed as his being too loud.

When Lamott said Sanders will never be president because of his shouting, one millennial tweeter who happens to be her son, Sam Lamott,  schooled her by saying, “never say never.”  When several people favored this tweeter’s admonition, Lamott reacted defensively (and again sarcastically), saying:

lamott

Of course, it’s supposed to be humorous…and I’m sure it drew several laughs from the crowd.  Yet, this sort of arrogance, to me, illustrates exactly what is wrong with social media.  The 162 you see beside the star (*162) naturally represents people with well over 40 followers favoring Lamott’s quip.  They clearly want to be included in the big group, the “in” group–the group of tweeters who have lots of followers, not just a few (under 40, in fact)…and more importantly, to be aligned with her via her opinions–or, in this case, attitude. This approach proliferates a class system where more is more, based on ego and an otherwise utterly vacuous measurement, because then (if we have lots of followers) we can feel smug and self-righteous and as if we have arrived.

In this mentality, everything’s a competition…and that fits right in with playoff games and presidential debates; might as well take it down to the level of social media, where people are supposed to be “connecting.”  Hundreds of twitter followers clearly means we are smarter and happier and probably even wealthier than those with much fewer.  This is a reductionist philosophy if there ever was one.  Akin to the Facebook “like,” the number of followers (like the number of “friends” or the number of “likes” accumulated) becomes a measure of one’s worth, one’s identity.  Social media is the new country club.  Status is everything; how many followers, how many friends, how many likes, how many pins, how many favorites…which all have their own complicated cultural qualifications.  This is the sort of silliness that annoyed me on Facebook.

It seems arrogant and sophomoric, not to mention short-sighted, to believe one’s worth is congruent to the number of followers, as people come to Twitter at different times and sometimes very briefly.  As one tweeter from Maple Grove, MN pointed out in response to Lamott’s address to “annoying people”:

“@ANNELAMOTT, weird that the word “follower” is used when really

we are curious about what ppl can express in 140 characters or less.”

Likewise, if a person is new to twitter, or if they are trying to keep a low profile maybe expressly because they do not want to play the game, they naturally may have few followers..it could be by choice, and have little or nothing to do with their ability to secure an audience.  In the aggregate, a large group of tweeters with few followers is still substantive; those opinions are not necessarily diminished by their lack of volume.

And why the elitist stance coming from Anne Lamott after all?  I imagine she would just laugh incredulously at my reservation here, saying, “I was joking, dumbhead!”

I know I’m not going to win any fans by criticizing Anne Lamott (whom I like (!), as she says about Bernie Sanders).  Perhaps she is just a Hillary supporter.  Perhaps she decidedly set out to make Bernie look bad just to keep him out of the running…or to knock him out of Hillary’s way.  If so, I think both she and Hillary herself took care of this matter.  I wouldn’t say Sanders is out of the running, but I would say that between Anne Lamott’s Twitter and Hillary’s live vitriol, Senator Sanders looked like a bullied middle-schooler just wanting everyone to get along.

 

This is Day 14 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

On Going Off Facebook

IMG_0085_Fotor Dorothy

Something odd happened to me today.  I no sooner got finished telling someone how happy writing makes me, than within hours I felt sick of it.  I thought maybe I would drop out of this challenge, even though I never had that thought before.  I thought maybe I don’t really like the activity of writing so much that it eclipses all other activities.  I thought maybe I don’t really want to publish a book, after all.

I got busy with my day and didn’t think too much about it again until I sat down to write my post just now for Day 13.

A question came up on Facebook on our Write31Days group page, and yet again the very defensive administrator with a lot of bravado was rude in response to my follow-up question.

I decided just to think about her retort; perhaps to address it tomorrow, if not disregard it altogether.

Then I poked around for a bit, and independent of the thought of her curtness or any other specific impetus, I decided on a bit of impulse just to deactivate my Facebook account.

I’m really surprised I did this.  And yet I am not at all surprised.

Ever since I started this challenge, and the actual putting into practice-do as I say Breaking Free from Fatigue-I have really been too busy for Facebook.  And I also have not been as reliant on it…

Facebook was a perfect go-to when I was fatigued, but now that I am trying so hard to push past the rest it required, I find I not only don’t have the time for Facebook, I also find I am losing interest in it.

For one thing, I have a stack of books I want to read, a party to plan, a bunch of writing to do, and a house to prepare for guests, along with meals to prepare to feed them.  Plus, I am still trying to walk 5 miles a day.  Just the party prep could take me the whole of the rest of this week.  I wonder what life will feel like without the daily connection that is Facebook?

Actually, as this 31 Day Writing Challenge continues, I think going off Facebook is the perfect thing for me to do.  It’s such a perfect idea, I really don’t know why I didn’t think of it in the first place.

Perhaps it was because at the time this writing challenge launched, I was involved with 100 Days of Happy Photosand wanted to finish that challenge, which was also initiated on Facebook. In fact, tomorrow is our last day: it will be exactly one hundred days that I’ve been sharing in the group, mostly daily, photographs of things that bring happiness my way each day (the featured photo above is one I took for this group).  I feel a little badly about abandoning the 100 Happy Photographs project, but I can always post my photo(s) here, if I want to. Or, I can explain when I return.  I will go back on Facebook in time–I just don’t know when.  Perhaps I will wait until this 31 Day Writing challenge is over.

Most importantly, being off Facebook will give me more time to focus on the new habits I am trying to build, in order to replace the physical rest that dominated my days.  This will be a great day for me, if not being exhausted ever occurs–a day I’ve long awaited!  In addition, I feel burned out on the pettiness that happens on Facebook, which I try most of the time to ignore.  I get tired of the superficiality and some of the practices that goes on there.  I feel as though I am looking for deeper, more meaningful connections, as I have always had in real life, since I try to avoid wasting time frivolously.  When I was fatigued, I had a lot of reading time but not always the best concentration.  Facebook was great for little blips of interest, even though I often fell asleep laptop in hand.

Yet, being as communicative as I am, it is difficult for me to spend five minutes and then disappear for six days–or worse, just to post a photo of a contorted cat that says, “Hang in There,” or some such thing, and then move away.  I don’t think in soundbites.  I may be too expressive for Facebook.  Too contemplative, maybe.  I don’t like the rituals that remind me of junior high/middle school, even though, again, I rarely let myself be bothered by them.  I’m just aware…and I need a break from all of it, apparently.

Besides, now that I am finally beginning to feel like a normal person, I want  to return to in person relationships, not just virtual.  I think this break is going to be beneficial, although I will probably miss all sorts of important news and changes in people’s lives.  I guess someone will have to call me, or I just won’t know…

This move is a big change for me, as I have been reading Facebook posts nearly daily for the whole latter five years or so of my recovery.  The operative here is “move.”  Alas, movement!  This has been my goal for so long.  It is exciting to be finally achieving such an important goal (even as my head hurts just a bit still).

Indeed, while almost completely unanticipated, going off Facebook feels like a huge evolution.  I mean, I knew I was aggravated with it at times, but I never realized I would be able to make such a swift, clean break.  I also guess I never let myself realize just how aggravating it has become.  I always tend to focus on the positives, and there are many positives to social networking.

Perhaps blogging fulfills a similar sort of social need that Facebook does?  There certainly is not the same amount of interaction.  Same with tweeting, I suppose, which is also different from the Facebook culture.

I do worry somewhat that people won’t know what happened to me, since I made no announcement of my leaving, and maybe even that I will lose “friends” I don’t want to lose.  But anyone who cares should know how to find me here; at least they say they are reading my blog.  All and all, if they really want to connect, I’m sure they will be able to find me some other way other than Facebook.

I don’t think anything urgent will happen while I’m gone–except, OOPS, I was supposed to go pick up a Halloween costume for $6.00 for our granddaughter from someone I don’t know and will no longer have contact information for.  Oh, my.  Like I said, I really didn’t think it all the way through.  At the time, it just seemed like the perfect thing to do.  Surely it is better than stopping my writing challenge, no?  Better than giving up writing for good?  And by for good, I mean for forever.  If I have to choose between writing, moving and Facebook, Facebook is going to lose every time…

I do wonder how much time will pass before I return to Facebook.  I’m hoping that I at least take the rest of this month off.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?

This is Day 13 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

Remembering John Denver

 John PEACE

Today is the 18th anniversary of the fatal air tragedy that took the life of popular American folklorist/singer/songwriter John Denver.  You can find a vast amount of information about John’s accident and his career on the internet.

I have also written about John Denver frequently on this blog.  A lifelong fan, I was led to an even deeper appreciation of his work during my recovery from acquired head trauma.

Please feel free to remember John by visiting any of the following links:

On Tributes, Love Letters, and Sentimentality: To John Denver from Aspen

On Writing It Down

Aspen In October 2012, Introduction, Part 1

(there are three posts that follow this):

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Talk About Opening Doors: A Tribute to Steve Weisberg

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This is Day 12 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

The Space that Keeps Us Honest and True: Last Night and This Morning

DSC03123_Fotor john prine

John Prine fans love stories.  Beyond the American folklorist’s songwriting success is a fundamental interest in writing, as described here: “I guess I always loved to write, but I never had anything to really encourage it. I never thought I could be a journalist or novelist or anything, I just had a wild imagination and songwriting gave me enough rope to run with it.”  This doesn’t sound exactly like an authentic John Prine quote to me, maybe it’s a paraphrase, but there is no disputing that John does have a wild imagination, and no doubt John experienced an early interest in writing.  He and I certainly have that in common, even though he makes a lot more money than I do.

Indeed, John Prine generally has had greater fortune than most of us.  Like some of us, however, the famous lyricist has had his share of health scares, and like some of us, he continues to work hard to persevere.  Without any of these challenges, he would still be admirable. Yet, I might point out that his health challenges likely include the sort of debilitating fatigue that is the focus of this 31 day writing challenge for me.

Certainly it feels a bit disingenuous to be comparing myself to John Prine, but as a writer, comparisons and differences come automatically.  They are instantly recognizable, and then sometimes, well, undeniable. The fact that one of  the greatest living songwriters of our time shares interests and ailments in common with one of the most unknown bloggers on the internet seems a rather compelling synthesis–and this connection with the ordinary person explains, in part, what makes John Prine’s writing so successful.  His humility enables him to identify with his fans, and we in turn, identify with him.  He comes before us as a regular guy, albeit in his trademark black suit and carrying his guitar or guitar case, but on stage he laughs with us, he connects with us, and even shows his appreciation for us.

In all the John Prine concerts I have attended, my favorite ones have occurred since my head injury. Because of my growing adoration for him, my gratefulness to still be here able to enjoy art, and at that very moment, his music in particular…or maybe just because of the emotional lability that comes from concussion, after his finishing a song with his band (which is awesome and worthy of its own post), I have screamed to him on stage at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE YOU, JOHN! I LOVE YOU, JOHN!”  During last summer’s 2014 concert at Red Rocks near Denver, Colorado, he clearly heard me (we were in Row 11; although I am pretty sure he heard me at other concerts, too; it may have been that he even recognized me as that screaming fan again), to my surprise, he didn’t turn away or act annoyed, but instead looked right at me and said with love, “Thank you.  We appreciate that.”  The man has a heart so big that he truly appreciates his fans’ appreciation. Like all great artists, neither joy nor sorrow escapes him, and we hear this in his music, we witness it at his concerts.

One characteristic most praiseworthy about John Prine’s work is that he takes cliche’s and spins them into extended metaphors of high art.  Or to borrow a teaching metaphor, he turns “D” writing into “A” writing. I’m not sure he has to work all that hard to do this; at least he makes it appear effortless.  His Irish whimsy and sense of the absurd seem ever present, and this elevates his language from prose to poetry, as if his inner William Butler Yeats is always there having a beer with him.  His lyrics are filled with literary embellishment that employ tropes, wit, satire, sarcasm, irony, and even once in a blue moon, allusion.  The best thing is when he draws his own characters, real or imaginary, such as “the oldest baby in the world,” “Sabu,” “Mr. Peabody,” the “big old goofy man dancing with a big old goofy girl” and “some humans [that] ain’t human.”  Like a fine novel, his songs will make you laugh and they will make you cry.  He’s like a modern day Dickens contrasting the great expectations of a people, large and small–but mostly examining the life of the small.  Or, as John Prine plainly puts it in “Humidity Built the Snowman, “The scientific nature of the ordinary man / Is to go on out and do the best you can.”

That idea is certainly the philosophy behind Stumbler.  We live our lives, take a few hits and a few falls, pick ourselves up as long as we can, and keep trying.  That’s what’s happening with this piece, too, as I write spontaneously and a bit rushed to finish it a day later than hoped–hoping to have the day I hope to have today.  Yesterday, I just got to busy living and then too tired to write about it. So, because writing is what matters here, this is what I stitched together last night–after the Cubs beat the Cardinals 6-3 in the second of five games in the National League Divisional Playoff Series–Lord knows (and John surely knows) that that was rare tv worth watching.  Even though it was his birthday, John even may have been following the game himself…

________________

 

It’s just past ten o’clock on the 10th day of the tenth month of the year, October, 2015.  It also happens to be the tenth day of my 31 day writing challenge and one of the busiest Saturdays this woman has seen in a long time.  I completed Day 9 of this writing challenge at about this same time last night, however mostly with my eyes closed.  I’ve got no guesses as to what all of these tens could mean, but hopefully I will figure out something.  I’m a little slap-happy here, but let’s see what happens.  We can relax, because even though we’re on the internet and all, it’s only blogging.  And we don’t really care that much; the point is to write.  Sleepers may sleep, but we writers–we don’t sleep.

As I fight the fatigue that has plagued me for so long by forcing change in the ways I have been discussing on this blog and more particularly in this challenge–and mostly by just good old fashioned keeping busy–I find the days flying by, seemingly as quickly as the years that are already gone, including the long-suffering ones which were all but lost entirely.  The decade and the decades–gone in a whoosh!  But that’s cliche, I know.  So I hope everyone will forgive me if nothing gold comes from this keyboard tonight–because I really hate to have to be writing this on the fly.  Real writers write ahead of schedule; they make no apologies, but I’m just working a  writing challenge, trying to figure out what all to say, and mostly trying to make my deadline by midnight tonight, because…

Today is the birthday of the great American singer/songwriter John Prine.

That is 10/10/46.

He is (or was) 69 years old today!

You would think that on such a great writer’s birthday I could get it together to permit the possibility of writing earlier in the day when one hopefully suffers less fatigue…but alas, I could not.  I’ve been busy planning another birthday party; in fact, this one for my father’s 85th–a mere one week away.  I had to get the cake ordered, the balloons, the photos…and there’s been some drama.  So, stay tuned for all of that.

______________

I just figured out the significance of all of these tens…even though it’s probably passe’ to say it now,

John Prine is a 10!  /  John Prine is a 10!

So, please allow me to trace, if you will, a summary of my affiliation with “John,” as most of his fans know him.  I first heard John’s music coming from my brother’s bedroom stereo around 1971.  Back then, I didn’t pay much attention; my brother was always listening to music; I just heard it enough to notice that it wasn’t Cream’s “White Room” or Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”  I remember lifting my head toward the newness, then I kept right on staying out of my big brother’s hair, the way he and I both preferred.  Most likely, I was on the phone.  The land line.  We called them house phones back then.  They plugged into the wall and they had cords that were coiled and cords that were extenders, so we could walk around the room, kind of like we walk around the mall now, phone in hand.  I had a phone that was pink.  It was called a Princess Phone, and it had a rotary dial.  I wonder whatever happened to all the phones people had.  Was there a telephone landfill?  John Prine started out as a mailman.  I don’t think he ever worked for the telephone company, though lots of people did.  Telephones have changed a lot over the years.  I don’t think John has ever written a song about telephones.  Maybe Bonnie Raitt has.  If you know, you can tell me in the comments below.

So, my brother was a senior in high school, a gymnast, and four years older than me.  John Prine was six years older than my brother; that is, the “middle” one–I had two older brothers, so one year older than my oldest brother, I would later learn, and also, whadd’ya know?, a gymnast, as both my brothers were–which was a huge deal in our family–and at a high school not twenty miles down the road from where we lived. I’m not sure what all these coincidences mean, other than it must have been meant to be that I found John Prine.  I’ve got to be one of his biggest fans, in my way; certainly much bigger than my brother who still listens to him, but has become more like one of the people John sings about…

But back to then, the 1970s and 80s–years that felt like days passed….I didn’t hear John Prine’s music again until I was with my brother during his senior year and my freshman year of college when we were driving the long distance back home from the university we both attended (because my parents, imagining he would look after me, made me go to the same school as my brother).  Of course, he didn’t look after me at all…but we did drive to and from school together whenever the occasion arose.  Actually, he drove while I endured his driving.

So, one spring day toward the end of the semester, we were driving along in my brother’s old Pontiac Catalina convertible, listening to an 8-track audio tape of one of John’s most famous songs, “Illegal Smile.” Since this time I was stuck in the front passenger’s seat of the car with nothing but time, I now listened more carefully.  My brother has always been more prone to “illegal smiles” than I, but to see us both, you would expect that even this first time listening that I was enjoying the song every bit as much as he was.

I remember how my brother and I laughed when John sang the surprise ending, which includes the words–with a big, sloppy caesura, a catastrophic pause to set the scene–

“Sonofagun /my sister / is a nun!”  

We laughed at the irony of the tale of a stoner pulled over by a cop, nervously reciting all the excuses lawbreakers do to try to persuade cops to let him off the hook…because way back then, marijuana was not even close to legal.  We laughed, too, at the wordplay of the sister being a nun, since as Catholics we always knew nuns really to be sisters…and of course there I was in the flesh, the always holier than thou, in fact biological, sister!  If neither one of us was stoned at the time, we both certainly were beginning to feel like we were.  As we laughed, we were bonded in a collision with our innocence, and I always remember this as one of my favorite memories of being with my brother.

The years went by, and we experienced tragedy in our family.  Above all, we lost our oldest brother, whom we were both closer to than each other.  It ripped the hearts out of my brother and me, and of course out of both of our parents.  We all dealt with it in the individual ways that people do, and before we knew what to think anymore, my brother and I; that is, my only living brother and I, had grown divided and stopped speaking to one another altogether.  In our disunity, we both remain John Prine fans to this day, some thirty years after the drive with Sam Stone in my brother’s convertible.

Here is a John Prine song that encapsulates some of these sorts of experiences between siblings, between me and my only two older brothers, both of them now gone from me.  It has the lines, “We lost Davey in the Korean War / We don’t know what for / Don’t matter any more,” called “Hello In There.

Hello In There

Here is another song I shared yesterday on the John Prine Facebook page, called, “All the Best.”

All the Best

Awww, shucks, this has been fun.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking of John on his birthday and then throughout the day.  What I’ve found is that I could just write and write and write about John Prine.  Maybe I will have to write about him again another time.

Fortunately, thank the heavens, I got some living to do.

Fortunately, thank everything I know, I got some gold inside me, too.

Here’s to all of you, John Prine fans old and new, remember always “You Got Gold.

You Got Gold

This is Day 10 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

U.K. Celebrates National Poetry Day

internet image, source and photographer unknown

internet image, source and photographer unknown

I am going to interrupt my regularly scheduled blog post on this 8th day of the Write 31 Days challenge, because today is National Poetry Day in the U.K. and Ireland.

It is always a good day to celebrate poetry.  Poetry helps not only with fatigue, but really–with everything.  If you know me at all, you know that I am all about poetry.

I write it, I read it, I study it, I teach it, I live it, I love it.

Poetry has sustained me throughout my life, including the darkest times, which include my recovery from acquired traumatic brain injury.

I encourage you to read and even share some poetry today…

You can find posts online under the hashtag #NationalPoetryDay

Here are some poems to get you started, the favorite poems of a collection of readers and writers.

It is difficult to choose a favorite poem; much easier to choose favorite poems, but I suppose it could be said that what follows is my favorite poem of all time.  But only if I have to pick a favorite.

This poem, Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour, happens to be by an American poet, Wallace Stevens.  It contains a line that I chose to be the name of this website, www.firstlightofevening.com

I hope you will enjoy this poem.  Let me know what you think…

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Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

                               — Wallace Stevens

 

This is Day 8 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

The Shame We Don’t Discuss

three in autumn

The Shame We Don’t Discuss

Fatigue is a complex condition that is sensitive to several influences, not the least of which include stress and anxiety.  A person does not have to suffer the intense level of anxiety brought on by an illness such as cancer or by conditions such as post-traumatic stress to know the distraction and sometimes debilitation anxiety can produce.  Nearly all humans experience circumstantial stress and anxiety to some degree. Stress and anxiety also worsen compromised health conditions, creating additional complications.  The problem intensifies when a person addresses such discomfort with addictive substances, which ultimately develop dependency.

Early on in my convalescence, I noticed the lack of information nearly everyone had surrounding head injuries. It also wasn’t hard to miss the high level of discrimination that matched the ignorance.  The level of processing and tolerance it takes to understand people’s biases just compounds the stress most survivors experience. While each injury is unique, closed head injuries do not typically lead to insanity. stupidity or even aggression, as is often characterized.

People with closed head injuries can still be cognizant and perceptive, despite compromised interactions with others.  Most brain injured find themselves laughed at and patronized, even though they can still distinguish many nuances of thought, and genuine concern from criticism.  With respect to the sophomoric ribbing that typically accompanies the condition, one’s illness is never a joke–unless you’re the one not suffering it.  Ironically, one might ascertain that the common misconceptions forced onto the victims might more persuasively be reflected back onto the unenlightened.

Fortunately for me, I learned at a young age the value of calmly addressing both the anxieties of myself and others.  From the beginning, this premise influenced my response toward the effects (that is, once I broke my own initial, and realized I wasn’t going back to work the next week, as I tried to do).  I never hid what had happened to me, nor did I or do I carry any shame.  I know, perhaps better than most people, that what happened to me can happen to anyone. The Center for Head Injury Services states that in the United States, a head injury occurs every 15 seconds.  According to the Brain Trauma Foundation, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death in children, adults and the elderly. If you have never experienced a serious concussion, you want to keep it that way, if you can.

book cover patrick kennedyWith these thoughts in mind, I recommend viewing this Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with Patrick Kennedy about alcohol, mental illness and his family, as outlined in his new memoir entitled, “A Common Struggle:  A Personal Journey Through the Past And Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”

Although my struggle has not been exactly the same, there are enough overlaps among the stigmas.  As Kennedy points out, the problem centers around what we all know, but are reluctant to talk about.  His coming forward has caused a rift in the Kennedy family, he says, because they “do not want to be associated with a medical illness. That should tell you something about the shame and stigma that still surrounds these issues.”

Similar to concussion or perhaps more so, all individuals and families are in some way affected by mental illness or addiction, if only secondhand through their relationships with those who share the curses.  Especially notable is what Mr. Kennedy has to say about the shame and impact that accompanies these lifestyles, and how it is time to stop hiding from what makes us uncomfortable, and start discussing what we can do to make things better for all concerned.

With so many mentally ill and addicted people unwilling to receive help, it is often up to friends and loved ones to offer support and encouragement…or to suffer the frustration of not knowing how to help.  Kennedy also emphasizes that “there is hurt to keeping this secret; if you don’t talk about it you’re in trouble” in part, because of the delusional nature of these illnesses.

What about you?  Here are some journal questions to explore:

  1. Are you open to discussing your problems with a trusted friend or family member?  If so, who would that be and why?  If not, why not?
  2. If you are not able to do #1 above, what makes it difficult?  How did this come to be, and how can you change things so that you are freer to speak authentically about your feelings, needs, and concerns?
  3. If you are not able to discuss problems, what do you to cope with the stress and anxiety?
  4. Is there anything you feel you need to help you improve and move toward better, more fulfilling health?  If so, how can you secure these things?
  5. If your health doesn’t feel compromised, what about your work, your social life, your relationships?
  6. Are you as healthy and as happy as you want to be?
  7. Write a script of what you want to say to yourself or someone else about a feeling or a need.  Include others and what you imagine their responses would be.
  8. Ponder some health goals for the coming year. Include mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health as well as physical fitness.

Following is some video coverage of Patrick Kennedy’s call for awareness:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/patrick-kennedy-shares-secret-family-struggles-in-a-common-struggle/

You can see the 60 Minutes interview from Sunday, October 4, here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/patrick-kennedy/

This is Day 6 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

Oh, Those Sister Wives

Oh, Those Sister Wives

One remedy for breaking free of fatigue is to find a way to be amused.

Millions of women have somehow become interested in the TLC Sunday night show The Sister Wives.  If you ask these women what the show’s appeal is to them, they say they don’t know.  They’re not exactly sure why the series fascinates them; they’re not planning on joining the polygamist lifestyle, nor are they studying world religions, which is just as well because religion really isn’t the focus of the show, anyway.  Most watch the “reality-based” episodes to study and albeit be entertained by the complexity of the interpersonal relationships this peculiar dynamic engenders.

The peculiar dynamic resides between the four wives–Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn–as well as their occasional interactions with the 14 children among them, interesting in itself, and most especially the one husband in command, Kody Brown–the self-proclaimed “guy with the big boy panties” at My Sisterwife’s Closet, the ladies’ latest entrepreneurial endeavor.

There is a lot to be amused by in this television show.

While women viewers may get sidelined by the appeal of having girl time together daily, the price of a few laughs and a good vent with the girls gets murky for viewers when the requirement is that each woman has to be intimate with the one husband who is husband to all; that’s right, husband-sharing.  A bit of a deal breaker for most of us, but not for these sister wives, however.

Yet, the true comfort level of each sister wife is really the center of the question, and probably what has us watching so closely. While they each proclaim repeatedly that they believe in the polygamist lifestyle, most Sister Wives’ viewers are pretty confident it’s doomed to fail.

As we watch, count up the failures do we do.  The women are often crying, sometimes bickering either with the kids or each other–and lately, with the master hair-tossler himself, their shared husband Kody.

Interestingly, Kody has a mop of blonde hair that rivals any of the women’s tresses in beauty.  He keeps it sun-kissed and shoulder-length, perhaps as an apparent sign of his virility, but also we see, to disguise the balding head we know is just beneath it.  This physical characteristic seems emblematic of his persona, which also carries an undeniable air of deceit.  Somehow, we get the impression that Kody’s jovial, child-like playfulness is fooling no one but himself.

Most of the sister wives at any given time seem depressed; yet, they are full of smiles and long in-his-eye gazes whenever Kody is around. Perhaps it’s the competition to look and behave like the perfect wife as defined by their own family standards, or maybe it’s just that absence does make the heart grow fonder. With various commitments to each wife and the children she bore him, Kody flits from house to house in episode after episode, which appears to viewers more the attempt at creating the impression that he is all in.  Indeed, Kody Brown’s visits give new meaning to the term “bosom buddy.”

The show can be confusing, and feminists especially can find themselves outraged by the subservience both handed to the wives by Kody, and so readily taken on by themselves.  Viewers are constantly wondering what the women could possibly be thinking.

It is nearly impossible to tell what each of the wives really thinks, because they work so hard at going along with the tenants of the polygamist lifestyle and the expectations of the husband, Kody.  In a most recent episode, for example, the #2/4 wife Christine finds herself frustrated with Kody after they share an anniversary trip away from the rest of the family.  (It is Christine and Kody’s 21st wedding anniversary, and each wife has her own wedding day and anniversary date and celebrations.)  Kody makes the mistake of saying at the start that it is his and Christine’s 22 anniversary, and when she quickly corrects him, he jokes, “Whatever; okay it’s our 100th anniversary!”  Female viewers, and apparently Christine herself, find his childish retort exasperating.  Shall we just say that Kody could use a few pointers in the art of foreplay?

To cover his slip-ups, Kody likes to pretend that he is above pedestrian concerns, such as how many years he’s been married to his first three wives or which wife he made love with last, whatever the inconsequential case may be (to him). Kody’s clearly got bigger things on his mind–which generally seem to center around himself, his beard or his hair.  Nonetheless, he seems to want us to believe that it is “the family” that is the big picture, and the decided object of his concern and passion.  Of course, we never really seem to see him go to work to provide for this ever-increasing family, as most of his time on air is taken up by trying to placate one of his tearful wives.

And, Oh, there are a lot of tears shed on the set of Sister Wives.

In some moments, one feels incredible compassion for the women, but in most one feels even greater frustration and anger that each of them seems so un-evolved for a woman of the 21st Century.  Between their denial and Kody’s audacity, we end up “hate-watching” Sister Wives, even as we yell at our television sets for somebody to wake-up and leave, or at least kick this man to the curb.

The attention from Kody never gets divided fairly among the wives or the children, but how could it.  He is, after all, human?  Interestingly, Kody addresses this problem and any complaints that come his way by demanding family unity.  When on their brief and unsuccessful anniversary trip, Kody’s and Christine’s marriage therapist (you read that right) assigns the couple the task of building a tower from rocks on the beach, Christine complains that she has to do everything Kody’s way and that he doesn’t bother to consider her thoughts or desires.  She tells Kody, who dominates the endeavor and makes the project a facsimile of the family, that she wishes he put the focus a little more on her and on their relationship because it is after all, their time together, and she would like some reassurance of his love.  Kody shames Christine for speaking up and basically for putting their marriage before the family by being quick to tell her,  “I am looking for a solid structure in our family.  Honor our ENTIRE family, and I will love you.”

You get the formula:  “Everybody has to love everybody, but I get a pass, while most of all, everybody has to love (and obey) me.”

Once one gets past the unnerving tone of Kody’s words to Christine, one can see that Kody’s agenda is to force her acceptance, bonding and cooperation of the other wives.  In other words, by “honoring the family,” she must express no protest to anything Kody has to do in the name of keeping the other three wives happy.  Naturally, because she really is human (while somewhat misguided), Christine responds nearly in tears, saying that she needs Kody to trust her, and she emphasizes the word trust.

Christine wants to assert that she is a good girl, a team player, fully on board and cooperative to his expectations (and really, demands).  Yet, the irony is not lost that she is asking the man who kisses other women right in front of her and oh, lord in her pesky imagination to trust her, even though he’s the only man she’ll be kissing until the end of time.  Still, Christine wants to underscore that she wants Kody to trust that she indeed loves her sister wives…

For her cooperation, Christine gets from Kody her first smack/peck of the filming, almost on the mouth but not quite–although it happens so fast it’s nearly missed entirely.  Viewers have to wonder, probably along with Christine who’s got to feel it deeper within, what the *#@%’s  up with that?

It’s hard not to get frustrated with Christine’s tolerance and regret, particularly when she pleads Kody’s forgiveness for “just not getting it” about the crucial intent of being tied into the family (which is really Kody’s intent).  And it’s really hard not to get frustrated, if not angry, with Kody.

One has to wonder what Kody is avoiding; what he is trying to secure.  The answer, as everyone seems to complain is the case, is that he favors #4/4 wife, Robyn, thus keeping a noticeable distance from the other three wives, both emotionally and physically.  And herein the proverbial plot, as it were, thickens.

The truth appears to be that three of the (older) wives are all at least sub-consciously aware of Kody’s disinterest in them and his undeniable favoring of the fourth (younger) wife Robyn.  As a result, there is a good deal of tension and frustration in each household and each of the wives seems increasingly depressed –including the fourth wife Robyn, but only because she’s taking a lot of flack these days for being Kody’s chosen girl.

Robyn’s perch shows us that in fact all these women are at the least psychologically and emotionally abused, because even the “winner” of Kody’s attention and affection is also naturally a “loser” when she is put in the position of being resented by the other sister wives. How are you going to get along with the family when nobody trusts you? This is to say that Robyn’s unique and also controlling personality plays right in to Kody’s mis-conceived agenda. As a result , polygamy ends up looking like a lose-lose-lose-lose, for each of the four wives and many more losses for each of their individual children. Kody is the only winner, and yet with most viewers, he is really the biggest loser of all.

 

This is Day 5 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

Day 5, #write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

How to Call Up Your Happy: On Writing and Identity

BUGLE CORPS

What do you do when something terrible happens?  When the bottom falls out, and you just can’t imagine a worse case scenario?  How do you get through?  How do you restore yourself?  Do you have good resources available that you can count on, or do you fall prey to self-destructive habits that only make matters worse? What if there are no answers?  If it just is what it is?

I have suffered a heartbreak this summer, and along with that received some rather devastating news. Whenever things unravel in these ways for me, I think hard and fast about how I am going to hold on, how I am going to get through the necessary adjustments.  It’s never easy, but one thing that always helps me is to write.

I have been wanting to get back to journaling for forever, and when one has fallen behind, trying times are always the perfect place to start anew.  In addition, blogging helps because it requires focus and creativity, and it renders a kind of artwork that feels like an accomplishment.  It takes all sorts of courage to share a blog post.  Yet somehow all it takes is the mere completion of a post to make me feel back on track.  Like I’m going somewhere, moving forward somehow.  When I am lucky I might also get one or more kind words about something I’ve written, which is more than enough to make any writer’s day.  The exchange of writing to posting, you might say, pays dividends.  Something about the simple delight of sharing electronically–so fast and so certain.  While one creates, one provides.  That is the sort of zen of all artistry.

In providing for others, we can heal ourselves.  As I enjoy journaling–which is for me alone, no one else–I also enjoy blogging.  Perhaps I just like placing words on paper, typing words on screens.  The fewer words inside, the lighter both my head and my heart feel.  I also enjoy scrapbooking.  The more design we add to images, the more they tell a story.

When we’re hurting, it is important to hold on, dig in our heels,

and try to do what we enjoy.

One of the first things I did after the horrible news came was to plant flowers.  Flowers can be therapeutic, just as mowing the yard can be.  Planting flowers always reminds me of my grandmother and other soothing memories filled with sunshine.  Planting flowers somehow feels like one of the most liberating acts we can do. Like giving life when we feel dead inside.  Cradling our creativity in an earthy collection of color.  I love yard work, so this week I mowed, picked up sticks from the storms, and planted flowers even as my throat tightened and my chest heaved heavy sighs.

Another thing I decided to do to find strength was to join an online photography group, where starting today and for the next one hundred days we share one photograph from that day that brought us joy.  The idea is that what you focus on multiplies.  So, if you’re always looking for something to delight you, you will experience more delight.

Lord knows that when a heart is broken, one needs all the balm it can find.  As today was the first day, I thought I might blog on some of my discoveries in the days ahead.  That way I will be looking for happy photos, AND blogging about them.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 to allow same sex marriage in all fifty U.S. states, my husband and I have been honoring marital privilege by trying to spend more focused quality time together each day. Because this ruling occurred before my bad news hit, some of that quality time together has been spent simply by holding each other while I cry.  My husband is a compassionate soul, but much as he tries to understand what I am feeling, it is really my burden to carry.  He aches for me, but he can’t change the circumstance any more than I can.  All he can do is be witness to my heartache and try to help distract me from it.  One of the things we started doing to help is to walk five miles per day.  That is how much I walked daily before suffering a head injury that changed everything; it has been a long anticipated goal of mine…and at this point we really need one another to stay motivated to complete the distance.

Today, we incorporated our walk with my photo sharing     group.  I started in town by taking this photo of some potted flowers by city hall.       The colorful arrangement brought instant happiness to my eyes, and I was grateful for that.  I leaned in to get a closer look.  We continued on our way in 90 degree heat, making our destination my high school alma mater, which we are near only because we moved back to town temporarily to help my aged parents.  As we approach the 40th celebration of my graduation in 1975, we were enthralled to see the construction at the local high school for installation of an underground pool.  So much so, I thought THIS might be the photo I would share with my 100 Days of Happy Photos group:

swimming pool construction

But then we came home and I checked my Fitbit dashboard.  For the eighth day in a row, we had completed a walk of three miles or greater.  My body had various aches and pains, but I had managed to lighten some of my heartache.  Reaching our step goal made me feel hopeful.  I found myself posting this rather pedestrian photo for my first day:

How can anyone not be cheered up by those lime green smiley faces with their big, happy smiles?

After I posted to the group, this meme appeared in my newsfeed:

15 Writing Ways

It reminded me that I am first and foremost a writer.

It reminded me that I am inspired.

It reminded me that I have #1 in the bag, as I have already started looking for things to smile about by participating in One Hundred Days of Happy Photographs.

It reminded me that I do, indeed, feel pain deeply–that this is what writers do.  And this slightly lifted the burden of my devastation; maybe it’s okay to feel distraught…depending on circumstances…at least for a time.  Maybe I could hold on.  And maybe this is how we write, by waiting; by knowing; by enduring.

It reminded me that I am always going below the surface of things, that I rarely live on the periphery–that my heart and my imagination drive me right smack to the middle, whether it is the desert or the garbage dump, I am all in.

Perhaps most importantly, I smiled again.  As I read #4, I had to admit that I do, indeed, study people.  It is something I always do whenever we are anywhere, particularly in restaurants.  While others are on their cell phones, I am inventing profiles, scenarios and dialogues with the people I observe either nearby or across the room.  My husband and I always laugh about it.

Sometimes I share my observations, but when I am silent and deep in thought, my husband will occasionally interrupt, saying with an emphatic smile, “Oh, you’re writing…”

“Yes, that’s what I do,” I admit proudly.

“That’s just who I am.”

 

When we feel gutted, when we feel lost, it is at least good to know who we are.

______________________________________

                                                    © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.

 

Life from Both Sides

“So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.”

Yesterday, I ran into a man I have known since I was 18 years old…that’s four decades ago. It brought back a torrent of memories from a life that wasn’t always easy, but nonetheless has changed in every way since.

I wondered if seeing me had half the impact on him that seeing him had on me.  I doubt it.  Still, so many memories swirled through my mind…did he remember any of them? Surely he remembered some. We were both dignified in our meeting, never showing to any of our family members the intersections our lives had passed. All these years later, would our families even care anyway? I tried to tell my father, who happened to be with my husband and me: “Dad, I’ve known that man since I was a college freshman. He knew both your sons, too,” I said, wondering what thoughts might have crossed this other man’s mind as he sat across the restaurant from the father of three kids he generally liked, respected–you might even say to some extent, admired.  “You ought to go to law school,” this man once told me.  “I thought of that,” I answered, “but my brother’s a lawyer, and he’s an asshole.”  We both laughed–as did my dad when I relayed this story at breakfast.  Because, you know, lawyer jokes.

For me, even if I had been this man, such a meeting would have been a meaningful encounter.  I mean, if nothing else, it was like “WHOOSH–Here is your life, fast-forwarded.”

I cannot say that the meeting wasn’t equally resonant for him; I just do not know.  I would never now invite such thoughts from him, nor have the opportunity to hear them. I might have changed this in our meeting, but I didn’t.  It actually did not even occur to me until he was preparing to leave, knowing this could be the last time I ever see him, which was a thought I really did not want to entertain. More precisely, I suppose I already knew that some things are best left in one’s memories and in the past.   I’m comfortable with that, although I like this person.  If things had been different he would surely still be my friend…I mean, actively, not merely by consequence.  This chance encounter certainly has me thinking some about change…about time.

All this month, I have been participating in a photo challenge called April Love, and lo and behold, we are Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 11.28.20 AMalready on Day 28.  Each day we are given a pre-set photo prompt, provided by everyone’s favorite online creative goddess (or at least mine), Susannah Conway. We take or find a photograph and then share it either on Instagram, Flicker, or Facebook.  Most of us use our own original photographs, and sometimes we share personal details from our own lives.  It’s amazing how one photograph can stir so many thoughts and so much dialogue.  It’s amazing how much fun it is, how the creative process works.These images become intriguing prompts for reviewing one’s perceptions, but more notably they become great prompts for writing.  I have been amazed both by what they have allowed me to say and by what others have shared. As such, we are meeting people (mostly women) from around the world, and we have become a new tribe of sorts–so much so that we have agreed to continue sharing far beyond this month–weekly instead of daily, with prompts already reserved for and continuing into the next year (at least)!  It’s been a fun and enlightening experience with new, mostly unanticipated, friendships being formed and still forming.

The focus of April Love on self-love has given me much to think about with my accident (see previous posts–not an automobile accident–I was hit by a malfunctioning electronic steel door while exiting a retail store). Some things I really should blog about (self esteem, self-love, self-care–so much to say about all of that). As I continue to work to come to terms with the physical changes that that incident brought, I find some relief from my former profession of university teaching.  Teaching college English had many requirements, unlike the fully-creative life I have adopted in its place, which joyfully allows me to stretch beyond pedagogy.  Not that pedagogy is a bad thing.  I love pedagogy.  It’s just that sometimes students begged me to do some of the things I do freely now and would have done freely then, that really had no place in a college course.  At least not the ones I was being paid to teach.

When I taught, I gave my students photo prompts to write from, but they were nearly always of famous works or even of media propaganda.  The aim was to try to get them to think and to sharpen their critical, analytical and expository writing skills.  It wasn’t solely my preference; it was in line with the courses I was assigned to teach.  Students were discouraged, in fact forbidden, from writing expressively about anything personal, as the objective was to get them to look outside themselves, to see beyond their young cocoons, to find the bigger picture and to examine it intellectually, not just feel it on an emotional level.

Expository writing certainly has its place, and I don’t feel I did anyone a disservice by teaching it.  It’s a crucial step toward becoming an educated person and securing a college degree.

However.

Once a person has been broken by one tragedy or another, it is important to process and to move forward…therefore, to see things from their origins.  To look carefully from the heart and in the soul…and to see just where they land–in the mind, and in the heart and in the soul.  Simply put, not everything can be processed from the mind alone–or from the mind first.  For me, April Love encourages this vision…one that looks outward to the image, then back in to one’s perception.  While the discoveries aren’t generally political, they are somewhat social–certainly more universal than strictly personal.  In some ways, it is a catalog into the lives of women.  We aren’t solving world problems, but we are solving our own–and indirectly, one another’s.  Even more than solving anything, we are just sharing.  Sharing through the art forms of photography and language, and acknowledging the world as we see it today–which is usually much different from how we saw it at one time.

In many of our shares, there is a collective sigh.  We are all living in the moment, taking a subtle backward glance.  It is funny how relieved many of us are to leave some things in the past.  And then, too, how much of the past still warms us.  We are still learning, even from what we thought we already understood.

Today’s prompt was pedestrian enough: it was “Clouds.”  At first, I shut completely down and said I wasn’t going to participate. I’ve got nothing against clouds, but…too cliched, perhaps?  I’ve been taking photographs of clouds for years.  I thought it would be best to be a sort of non-active participant; just to read and enjoy others’ posts.  Somehow, I admit, I thought, “Ho Hum.”  That was scary…because that is not like me at all.  Instantly, my own attitude reminded me of a friend I once had who couldn’t be encouraged to enjoy the sunset. “I’ve seen sunsets before,” she grumbled.  What a horrifying stance, I thought–I certainly do not ever want to become that jaded…

Fortunately, immediately following my reticence, cloud shots from days passed moved through my mind like a slideshow.  I still thought I wasn’t going to share anything in the group, when suddenly a favorite came to mind–a gift, actually. I wondered if it would be acceptable to share a gift.  I had received this photograph from a student the summer of the last spring semester I taught.  He said he had been driving to work early one morning, saw this image and instantly knew I would like it.  He emailed it, and said it made him think of me.  The magnificence of the shot impressed me, and it meant a great deal that when he had nothing at all to gain, he still wanted to share it with me.  It let me know that I had taught him something beyond expository writing.

Here is that photograph, taken with his cell phone:

mathias' clouds

It is funny how our paths cross and how our lives play out, what we think and what we realize.  How beat up we get.  How we recover.  As I write this, the legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is fighting to recover her own health.  I have been watching the news for updates, reading online about her, watching videos, replaying “Shine” (my favorite CD of hers), and adding to my reading list her biography by Malka Marom, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words.

Then today, on the day I thought I would not participate in April Love as I have done all month, with the prompt being “clouds,” one of the participants shared this video.  So obvious, right? And yet, the video stopped me cold.  So many connections.  Is it any wonder we look to the clouds to see what we already know?  What could or should ever be more obvious than the clouds?  How can we possibly overlook them…in any way, really?

And that is how one spring day I went from not sharing a photograph to writing a whole blog post.

May all your Aprils be filled with love.

Both Sides Now lyrics

Additional reading:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/04/not-easy-to-be-joni-mitchell-fan-but-illness-devastates-me?CMP=share_btn_fb

© Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.

Beyond Family Conflict

family is everything

via Google images

 

How many dramas can you count in your family?

By dramas, I mean those petty differences that grow to full-out rancor.  You know, the kind that leave you not speaking to someone or not wanting to, dreading holidays and birthdays, possibly wanting to pull somebody’s hair (if not your own), perhaps moving across the continent.  You know, something notable.

You hear the stories all the time.  It seems that no family is immune. Everyone has someone they just cannot get along with or won’t get along with, for whatever reason.

blog nasty people

via Facebook images

 

Some people seem to thrive on creating havoc, generally for reasons that seem arbitrary and unfair. Some unfortunate families are even cursed with more than one such instigator. To everyone’s dismay, these flawed characters create flawed relationships that uncomfortably reach beyond just trying to remain civil with the perpetrator.  All too often the damage incited is irreparable, which can adversely affect family dynamics for generations.

This sort of discord is such a common phenomenon that by now you’d think there would be websites called Adopt a Family or Find a New Daughter-in-Law.  

I recently met a mother who told me about another woman who was making her daughter’s wedding planning a living hell. The troublemaker turns out to be her daughter’s future sister-in-law; so, two women marrying two brothers. Already both, the woman I just met and the mother of the future grooms, have taken up armor against the accused malcontent, while dubbing the ill-fated husband-to-be as complacent–“whipped,” in the typical way that many men who marry such vixens get labeled.  You can already see where this family is going even before it gets started (insert OMG emoji).

In the news this week, the deceased singer Whitney Houston’s only offspring, Bobbi Kristina Brown, continues comatose from rumored domestic violence by her not-quite-legal spouse, while in a nearby hotel Bobbi Kristina’s visiting relatives broke into a bloody brawl that left one family member needing stitches.

In another news story this week, Rosie O’Donnell is leaving The View again–this time amid rumors of a second divorce with teenagers and a small child needing her at home, along with reported strife between O’Donnell and co-host Whoopi Goldberg. Some people just can’t catch a break (or give one).

Beyond the obvious reasons, I am not sure why so many women consistently sabotage one another–or how they have succeeded to do so through the ages.  Yet, as a stepmother and the only daughter in a family of married and divorced siblings, I unhappily acknowledge that family drama is no stranger to me.  In one way or another, it seems we are all heirs to some measure of family turmoil.  Some families even have men creating the drama–it’s really not gender-specific.  People lash out.  People create harm.  People get hurt.

breathe blog

As one of the grown-ups now in my own family, I think of the children who know and understand little about the chasms that lurk behind and around them.  Surely someone must think of the children.  Family strife begets family strife, and usually all we are teaching our children by our own conflicts is how to argue, how to hate, how not to get along.  We all must have boundaries, of course, but we also can’t exactly ignore the scores of children who do not know a grandparent, an aunt or uncle–their own blood, because of something someone said or did at some occasion now a distant memory to all.

Why do we complicate life, when it could be so simple, so easy?

When trust is forever broken by the egregious behavior of one misguided, self-centered, out of control lunatic, everyone ends up feeling at least a little crazy.  So how do we compose ourselves and maintain normal when the cray-cray comes to call?  The answer, it seems, has to be one of focus.

focus blog

“Align your focus with the solution,” yes–but sometimes, as many of us have learned, the knot only becomes more gnarled the longer we try to untangle it.  Those of us who have tried our hearts out know that strife does not end simply because we want it to.

The focus, then, and true cause for celebration must reside in those family members capable of participating in a healthy way.  When someone in any family honors the dynamic simply by cooperating–by welcoming and even accepting new family members and personality differences; by averting trouble instead of causing it; by not being divisive and petty and small, but instead by contributing in a positive way–they become an actual hero in that family.  Note:  A family really can never have too many heroes.

Think about it.  What one does, says, contributes, and encourages makes all the difference.

Where in the great family paradigm do you fit?  Are you a lover or a hater?  A contributor or a complainer? A gossip or a supporter?

Are you misunderstood, misread, respected, or avoided like the plague?  If so, by whom–and why?

One of the important factors toward emotional well being is to know your place; another is to honor your own personal beliefs.  Are you true to yourself?  Can you be true to yourself without disrespecting others? In the following quotation by Zig Ziglar, where has your family journey left you?

family post blog  zig ziglar

If you could, what change would you bring about in your family?

What hope are you yearning for on the road ahead?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As we each endeavor toward a greater good, every family success is worth noting.  In my next post, I will share with you the grace of one of my favorite family members.

 

 © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved

Finding Happy in the New Year

“Our inner artist responds to small acts of luxury.”  — Julia Cameron

We are well into the new year of 2015, and many of us are still processing 2014. How is your year going so far? Are you off to a running start, or feeling like you’ve already fallen behind? Have you already had your share of life’s surprises, and/or do you feel confident that you are braced for whatever comes your way? What changes have you made this year, or what changes are you hoping for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section that follows this piece.


I am a happy planner, but 2013, my first full year of retirement from teaching, didn’t turn out any way that I planned or expected–and 2014 was every bit as shocking and exhausting. Just to give you an idea, 2014 began with a hard fall on the ice, and ended with a broken toe that is still healing. Much of my year was spent in physical pain and debilitating fatigue. And there were other nightmares I’ve yet to write about. Perhaps by writing about them I’m afraid I might jinx myself further?

This bad fortune clearly has to change. But this is not the first time I’ve felt this way. How about you? What do you do to rid the negative energy from your life? …Please tell me I am not the only one who has bad things happen to her. Often.  It’s a good thing we are high-spirited people, right?!

Feeling wiped out by the trials of 2013, and before the year even ended, I decided that it was time to force a positive focus for the upcoming New Year. Desperate to shift the winds of fortune last year, at the beginning of 2014, I resorted to a sort of pagan ritual–creating one of those “Happiness Jars,” where each day you record the best thing that happened to you–something that made you feel happy–and place it in a jar. What could it hurt, right? After all, at the time they were all the rage. I’m not exactly sure where happiness jars originated, but Elizabeth Gilbert takes credit for them here, and you can find them growing like a social movement here.

Anyway, the immediate shift in energy amazed me so much that I started making Happiness Jars for friends and family, even the receptionist at the doctor’s office who was having a hard year herself. And of course, my generally exuberant daughter, who maybe still has it displayed on some shelf somewhere.

What can I say; happiness is contagious, right?

I am certainly okay with anyone who has an abundance of positivity going on, and therefore no immediate need for such measures. That’s just not me, or wasn’t me the past two (to eight) years (ha!). Based on their reactions, my recipients clearly did not infuse as much hope or honor into their Happiness Jar as I did into my own–and that, too, is okay by me.  After all, such an abundance of positivity is the aim of all Happiness Jars, Gratitude JournalsBucket Lists, you name it. I realize that some people have better luck and less time for such frivolity. I once had less time and better luck, too. These tools are meant as guides and game changers for those of us who find ourselves somehow stuck, mired, or otherwise buried—all in the metaphorical sense, of course.

IMG_6668

Fortunately, however, I was able to see this reticence toward the promise of joy as delivered through my self-crafted mason and pickle jars eclipsed by one notable exception.

I made a jar and gave it to a favorite physical therapist, who was having some trouble that winter with her young daughter. And yes, since 2013 and 2014 seemed to be the years of physical therapy for me, all of this is somehow circular, if not labyrinthine, right?

Well, to my *surprise* (the good mojo was obviously already appearing), my physical therapist told me that her daughter was so delighted to discover this Happiness Jar that she immediately took ownership, locating then placing it in her own special spot, and that the minute she arrived home from school the daughter would not only look forward to recording her own daily joys on the included pre-cut papers, but also encouraged her mother to do the same right along with her.

The mother said her daughter’s enthusiasm led to increased communication and a magical connection between herself and the daughter, who notably brightened by the practice. It seems the Happiness Jar gave this child some hope, too, and these success stories generously shared by the mother in several physical therapy sessions also doubled both her joy and my own.  One time the daughter even reportedly took the mother, who was herself out of sorts from a bad day, to the jar to select one of the recorded papers, instantly brightening her day.  And when the mother generously prepared the daughter’s favorite entree, the daughter declared it was the Happiness Jar that brought her such fortune.  Happy anecdotes like these warmed my heart, and set the tone for many a cheerful afternoon.

You know how it is, though; things come up; we get distracted; the idea gets set. Eventually I myself abandoned the practice and simply allowed this newfound energy to lead me. Perhaps that is the point of the Happiness Jar—although it is said that the point is to read the slips at the end of the year to reflect on all the awesome that has accumulated. A crucial step, I suppose, that I have yet to get around to doing. Something to look forward to!

So now it is 2015—the year preceded by the popular Happiness Jar technique.

Starting the year off with a forced shift appears to have been successful overall.

After all, I ventured across the Atlantic Ocean all on my own to attend a retreat for creative types like myself. Though I have attended retreats in the past, and even added the activity to my lists of things to do in upcoming years, this retreat was an unanticipated excursion. What made this a landmark experience was that it was the first retreat I traveled to alone since my head injury–something that had become dangerous and ill-advised. And yet this year, albeit after many years of recovery, I was not only willing, but apparently ready. It wasn’t easy because I was rather anxious about it, as I still have some residual deficits that I knew would throw some curve balls, and did. But I survived and that makes it a victory in my book, despite and maybe in spite of the debilitating fatigue that plagued the trip, both leading up to and following it.

Above all, the accomplishment left me desiring further internal shifts into 2015.  So far—perhaps magically and in part thanks to the initial practice of the Happiness Jar–these have been delivered.

In my next posts, I’d like to reflect on the best thing that happened to me in 2014, and reveal to you my “Word of the Year” for 2015.

Happy New Year, and I hope you are off to an exhilarating start!

If not, send me an email or tell me in a message, and I will send you two modifications I wrote that you can use to create your own Happiness Jars.

 

 

 

© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved