Swimming With Sharks and Taking a Risk

When the movie Jaws was released in June of 1975, everyone was terrified to go in the water. It wasn’t safe. So, instead of going for a refreshing swim in the ocean, beach goers sat immobilized in the sand and sweltered in the hot sun, dreaming of the day when it would be safe to go in the water. If ever.

The following summer, people began to dip their toes in the water. After all, you can only be immobilized for so long before the desire to return to normal becomes overwhelming, and you’re willing to take a risk. Eventually, swimmers went deeper into the water, and they survived. The water was filled with happy swimmers, bobbing in the surf.

But, just when we finally forgot the horrors that lurked just below the water’s surface and began swimming again, Jaws 2 was released. Damn! It was like getting a booster shot of a syringe filled with fear, anxiety and a not so healthy dose of panic as well. Because you just never knew what was hiding in the ocean, waiting to kill you. It was safer to sit on the beach and sweat. Nothing was worth the risk of stepping into the water, not even to get your toes wet.

Fast forward to the present day. We have been through a terrible pandemic. And we have all been locked in our own homes, unable to go to school, work, the hair salon, the gym, bars, restaurants, the dentist and the eye doctor. And this was just a week or two after we were told that we had nothing to worry about. You remember, “Go out just like you normally do…..go to restaurants, bars, socialize, shop, party, and have a good time. There’s nothing to see here.” The people listened.

Then the “experts” told us that we had to stay home and were only permitted to go out for groceries and medication, or to the pot shops and liquor stores. And make sure you wash your hands. A lot. But, don’t wear a mask. Masks don’t work. The people listened, and they complied.

Two weeks later we were told to shelter in place. Just for 2 weeks. Then it would be safe to go out. Like responsible citizens, we did. Two weeks turned into 2 months. Restrictions are slowly being lifted, businesses are opening back up again (at least the ones that didn’t go under during the lock down), and we can now get our hair cut and our teeth cleaned. As long as we wear a mask. Because the “experts” have now determined that masks are mandatory. For everyone. Everywhere. Even when you go to the beach, and in the water, but they’re still not sure it’s safe to go to the beach and play in the sun. So, we should stay inside instead, just to be sure.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to get our feet wet. People aren’t stupid (for the most part), and staying inside isn’t healthy. Neither is isolation, especially when it’s forced. Besides, there is always something lurking beneath the surface, ready to kill you, even in the privacy and safety of our own homes. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to go back in the water. And out in the sun. Because I refuse to have the “experts” tell me that I have to live my life in fear, or that they know best. It’s time to go swimming and take a chance with the sharks.

The Eyes Have it

Making eye contact with another person is crucial to the human connection and establishing a relationship. Averting one’s eyes makes you appear suspicious, furtive, unapproachable, and even dangerous. Or it can communicate to strangers that you are insecure, vulnerable, and an easy target for perpetrators.

However, when you look someone in the eye, there is an immediate connection, and an exchange of information. Your brain processes this information, sending electrical, chemical, and hormonal signals through your body how to react. Eye contact gives you an instantaneous respond as to whether this person is a friend or foe, safe or threatening. That’s why it is so dangerous to walk around in public with your head buried in your cell phone.

First of all, it’s not safe. Second, it desensitizes you to the human experience and the human connection. Third, it’s creepy. But a few days ago I experienced something that was beyond creepy.

I went to the grocery store with my husband to pick up a few things. Much has changed in the past several weeks due to the COVID19 pandemic, and we’re all used to the masks, the social distancing, the hand washing, etc. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in the store that day.

Just a few days earlier, people were looking at each other, making eye contact, and even smiling at each other. The unspoken message was, “Hey, this is kind of weird, but we’re all in this together and this soon shall pass.”

But on this particular day people were social distancing, wearing their masks, and avoiding eye contact. Many of them were averting their eyes, furtively looking away and even turning their backs when another person walked by them. It was creepy, incredibly disturbing, and dehumanizing. I felt like I was in a store with a bunch of zombies, or maybe even a few mass murderers. People behaved as if each one knew that the other had a deep, dark, horrible secret that they were trying to hide. I couldn’t wait to get out of the store.

On the way out one woman stopped at the entrance to dig in her purse, creating a back log of shoppers behind her. We tried to go around her, but we were trapped. I glanced at the police officer guarding the entrance, but she turned her back on me when I looked at her. So much for guarding the store. Shoppers were trying to get in, others were trying to get out, no one was looking at each other and no one said a word. Not even an “excuse me.” It was surreal.

When we finally broke loose and made it outside I was disheartened and depressed. Is this where we are now as a society? That we are so disconnected from each other that we walk around like zombies or robots, not looking at each other and not speaking to one another?  What has happened to the human connection?

But then magic happened. As we pulled the bags out of the cart, a man walked briskly around the corner, saw us with a free cart, looked me in the eye, gave me a big smile and said, “Are you done with this?” “Yes,” I replied, “Here, let me clean it off for you.” And I whipped out my spray bottle of alcohol from my purse. He continued to smile at me, and still holding my gaze said, “Nah, I’m good!” I sprayed the cart anyway.

That man made my day. Because in that simple encounter, he lifted my spirits, and restored my faith in humanity and human dignity. All because he made eye contact with me. And gave me a smile.

Patience, Perseverance, and Number #1 Best Seller

Patience and perseverance are two valuable principles I learned in my martial arts training. It means that our focus is on the journey, rather than the end result. And it explains why the students that come to our dojo with their primary goal of becoming a black belt are usually gone in just a few months. Because everything takes time and effort.

The same applies to every aspect of life. Focus on the journey, put in the time, the effort, and see what unfolds. That’s exactly what happened when I published my first book. I just focused on the journey, even though it was incredibly labor intensive.

When I heard that the “real work” in writing a book begins after it’s published, I found it hard to believe. After all, it took me two and a half years to write it. In reality, it actually took a lifetime, since it was the result of a culmination of life experiences, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When the book launched, I was delighted with the number of sales I received, as well as a few great reviews. And I was over the moon when I received two awards.

But then, sales dropped off. I spent hours of my time promoting the book, giving endless talks and presentations. I talked until my throat was raw. And I sold a few books, here and there.

It was frustrating. It was discouraging. But I never gave up, because I truly believe in my message. Patience, perseverance. Time, effort, mindset. Persistence. Incomparable stubbornness. I just knew that my target audience was out there, waiting to hear my message.

Finally, three years after the book was launched, my persistence paid off when I became a #1 Best Seller on Amazon in EIGHT categories. It was amazing. It was humbling. It was a miracle. But it took patience, perseverance, and a little help from my friends. Especially from the incomparable Polly Letofsky, who is the master of focusing on the journey. She is the first woman to ever walk around the world, and no, I am not kidding or exaggerating.

She also is the founder and owner of My Word Publishing, a company that helps newbie authors like Yours Truly get their work out into the world. And she certainly does it well. Thanks to Polly along with a healthy dose of patience, perseverance, persistence and unbelievable stubbornness, I am now a Best Selling as well as an award winning author. And, as you can see from the photo, I owe her lunch. And that’s one tab I can’t wait to pick up!

Groundhog Day–Again

It’s Groundhog Day. Again. It always reminds me of the movie with Bill Murray where he finds himself reliving the same day over and over again. Repeating the same day and the same patterns drives him bonkers, until he sees a way of turning the situation to his advantage.

Quite simply, he changes his patterns, and magic happens. We all get stuck in habits and patterns that aren’t serving us well, and we end up getting stuck in a rut. The good news is that we can crawl out of that rut with just a few simple changes.

Here are a few tips that sound really easy and downright silly, but trust me, they work.

1). Sleep on the “wrong” side of the bed. It might sound strange, but it can give you an entirely different perspective on bedtime. You might even sleep better.

2). Change your morning routine. Instead of turning on the (ack!) news or checking your email, turn on some music instead. Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy the morning and wake up gently, rather than jarring yourself awake with a cattle prod.

3). Use your non-dominant hand to comb your hair, wash your face, and brush your teeth. This lights up your nervous system in a gentle way and makes you more alert, aware, creative, and curious.

4). Drive a different route when you drive to and from work. This increases your cognitive awareness, makes you a safer driver since you will be playing closer attention to your surroundings, and can even improve your reaction and reflexes.

5). Learn a new skill such as dance, music, writing, knitting, learn a new language, join a book club, etc.

And at least trying something (anything) new or different is certainly better than listening to loops of Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You, Babe.” Because, in my humble opinion, nothing could be sillier than that.

 

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. Two words that can strike fear in the heart of every writer. And, like every writer, I have experienced it before, but nothing like I did over the past few months. It was so bad that I couldn’t write anything, not even my grocery list.

I would sit at my kitchen table, pen and paper in hand (yes, I am that old-fashioned), and stare off into space. I even tried to get some inspiration by flipping through a few of my favorite cookbooks. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

The blank paper seemed to mock me as I tapped the pen to my head trying to get some creative synapses firing. And still, I had nothing. Great. My Red Booth Writer’s Group was getting ready to rally and come up with another four new articles to submit to The Pueblo Chieftain, and I couldn’t even come up with a grocery list.

It was depressing. And I understood why writers sometimes go bonkers. Actually, I already knew why. There were many times I had to be talked off the ledge when I was in the process of writing and publishing my first book.

Maybe I was going to be one of those authors who were “one hit wonders.” And then, a few weeks ago, I was having a random conversation with another author at The Big Horn Book Nook at The Georgetown Christmas Festival. I told her the sweet story about my Sugar Plum Tree, and she listened with rapt attention. When I was finished, she said those magic words. “You should write that in a book!”

At first I didn’t give it another thought. But later that day, the flood gates opened. The next day I sat down at my computer and began to write. And I have been writing everyday since, except for one. I gave myself Christmas Day off.

But that wonderful author gave me the best Christmas gift I could receive. I’m starting the New Year with a return to a project that I started and abandoned 9 years ago. I’m not quite ready for the BIG REVEAL right now, but I am hoping to have my next book published this summer. I’ll keep you posted. Sometimes all we need are the right words, from the write person. Write on!

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, or Not?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? What exactly does that mean, anyway? When Harry met Sally they pondered that very question one New Year’s Eve. Sally said it was about old friends. After extensively researching the topic, I discovered that she was right, but to me it represents something more than old friends. It’s about saying goodbye to the old and ringing in the new.

And a lot of us are ringing in the new year with New Year’s Resolutions firmly in place, which I think is a bad idea, for many reasons. But the main reason is that we all have a tendency to set goals that are way to ambitious which sets us up for failure. That’s an awful way to start a new year, a new decade, or even a new day.

I have another idea. Instead of looking ahead at what you are hoping to achieve in the new year, why not treat the old one like an old friend, and do a little reminiscing? Looking back on the past year is a great experiment in self-reflection, and it is also full of surprises.

Over the past few years, I have made a practice if flipping backwards through my calendar, just to remember what I was able to accomplish (or not) in the previous year, and celebrate the journey of those 365 days that got me to the place of another New Year. I usually end up feeling pretty good about myself, and I’ll bet you will too.

So, take the time to look back, reflect, and celebrate your many accomplishments, no matter how great or small. Give yourself a pat on the back before you plunge ahead into the New Year and a new decade. Even if you think that 2019 wasn’t the best for you, I can guarantee you can find several things to be proud of.

When you do, write them down, make a list, and keep it where you can see it every day as a reminder that you rock. Because, hindsight is 2020. And that’s a wonderful way to start the New Year. Wouldn’t you agree?

Freedom Isn’t Free

When I was a little girl, we always recognized and celebrated Memorial Day. As a child, I thought I knew what we were celebrating, even though my focus was on one event that was the most important to me. Which was the end of the school year. I hated school. I always did, which is ironic that I ended up being a life-long learner as well as earning a Master’s Degree in physical therapy just 3 months shy of my 40th birthday.

But as an adult I fully understand the incredible sacrifices that have been made by ordinary people who did extraordinary things to allow me the freedom and the ability to make some of the choices that I have made in my life. The freedom that we so often take for granted. The kind of freedom that people have fought and died for over the course of over 243 years. 

It boggles my mind to think about the tremendous amount of courage and determination that drove the founders of this great nation, the men and women, who were willing to put everything on the line for freedom. Their lives, their homes, their families. And the courage that makes the few that answer the call–the call to serve.

For me. For you. For all of us. Every Memorial Day, as we enjoy a 3-day weekend with picnics, cook-outs, beach trips and volleyball, I take a few minutes to  get down on my knees and thank God for my freedom. Then I look at the sky and say to all of those fallen heroes, “Well done. And thank you for my freedom.”

Because as we all know, freedom comes at a high price. Freedom isn’t free. And it never will be.

Hairless At Twenty-Five

Imagine a young woman waking up one morning, getting her coffee, having her breakfast, and then taking her shower. It’s just an average day in the life of a twenty-five year old. Until she gets out of the shower and begins drying her hair. She notices a small bald spot at the top of her head, and her boyfriend confirms what she sees.

Instead of going to work she heads straight to the dermatologist. She is diagnosed with alopecia and told not to worry about it–it was probably a temporary situation, and isolated incident, and the hair would grow back. Five months later she was completely bald. Now imagine that young woman is you.

You have just begun living a nightmare that just won’t end. You try every treatment that is recommended, no matter how painful and/or expensive. They all fail. You do all the research, consult with the experts, do everything you’re told to do, and the only result you get are a few soft hairs beginning to sprout. However, within a few days they fall out.

The only consistent answer you get to all of your questions is, “We don’t know.” It’s a wait-and-see situation. However, there is a trial medication that you can try. But it costs about $800/month, insurance doesn’t cover it, and there is no guarantee that it will work. Or, if it does, that it will be permanent.

You feel completely normal except for your bald head. You aren’t sick, but you look really weird, even with your wig. Which, by the way, is hotter than hell and itches as well. Strangers come up to you and ask you what kind of cancer you have. Children stare and point, much to their parent’s embarrassment.

You tell the parents it’s okay–you’re used to it. You try and make jokes about it. You keep thinking that someday your hair might grow back. But the reality is, it’s a crap shoot. What would you do?

I honestly don’t know what I would do. But I don’t think I would handle it with the dignity, grace, and spirit that my niece does. She is that woman. And she is truly amazing.

Don’t Tell Me What To Do

Are you ever amazed that some people believe that they have the right to tell you what to do? To control what you say, do, think, or eat? Yes, I said eat.

I’m part of a group that meets twice a week for some pretty intensive physical and mental conditioning. It’s exhausting, especially since I have to drive an hour to get there and an hour home. But, it’s well worth the effort. After all, I don’t ever want to become complacent, or choose not to do something because it’s “too hard.” Besides, I love a challenge.

Those 2 days are long, exhausting, and depleting. If you don’t bring food to sustain you, you will die. Or at least pass out. Since there is no scheduled break, we step off of the mat anytime our blood sugar threatens to plummet. I always bring chicken, because it’s the only thing that keeps me going without making me feel sick.

After doing this for two years, last week I was informed that my chicken was no longer welcome in the building. I couldn’t eat it anymore because the smell of my chicken was offending the delicate senses of the vegans in the room. Huh.

They never even thought to consider that I might be offended by their 6-clove-garlic-seaweed-ginger-tofu curry. Or that they might want to think about using deodorant and occasionally washing their feet.

But I would never say that. Because I believe that we should live and let live, unless it is causing someone harm. I believe in free will choice. I believe in mutual respect and appreciation. Most of all, I believe this courtesy should be extended to one and all.

So, I will continue to bring my chicken. Because I can. Because I will. And because no one can tell me what to do. But the ninja in me sure would like to see them try.

A Day In the Life Of a Penguin

My love affair with penguins started in the 5th grade when I had to do my first research paper (ack!). We were able to chose any topic that we wanted to write about. I was completely at a loss, so my mom suggested I look in something called The Encyclopedia Britannica for ideas.

Yes, that’s the way we did it back then. No quick internet search right at your fingertips or in the palm of your hand. No, Sir-ee, not for my generation. We had to do things the hard way. Like walk a mile back and forth to school in 2 feet of snow, uphill in both directions.

Anyway, as I was flipping through the entire collection of books I saw a picture of a penguin. Eureka! I had my topic! My mom looked a bit skeptical when I told her I wanted to write a paper on penguins, but she agreed to help me. Over the next few days, we both fell in love with these adorable mammals as we learned about their habits and patterns. I even remember a few fun facts to this day.

For example, penguins are incredible social. And, even though they can’t fly, they can jump as high as 9 feet. That sure would come in handy in a ballet class or during my ninja training days. Also, penguins display very intricate courting behavior. I guess that means the females preen their feathers and the males flex their muscles.

I even remember how they know if it’s safe to go in the water. They all gather at the waters edge and begin pushing and shoving each other until one of them falls in. If the penguin swims around, they’re good to go. If the hapless penguin gets eaten by a predator….well, you get the idea.

I learned a lot of life’s lessons doing that report. First of all, it’s good to belong to a community. After all, there is safety in numbers. Next, sometimes you need to be able to jump and rise above the fray to get to where you’re going. Finally, don’t make it a habit to push to the front of the line in a crowd, because you might not make it out alive, literally and figuratively.

This sweet memory was triggered when my sister showed me a video of the penguin parade at the Pittsburgh Zoo last month. And, the fact that National Penguin Day was last month. Who knew?

I still love penguins. And I love the fact that for the next 40 years, any time my mom and I saw a penguin, we would look at each other and smile. My mom would always ask if I remembered “our” report on penguins. Which , by the way, I got an “A” on. I always assured her that I did. Because I remember everything, especially a day in the life of a penguin.