Monthly Archives: October 2012

After the Storm

I’m safe. I have electricity and water and phone service. I’m very grateful for this. And I sit here shocked at this storm that has hit the New York area.

I watch in the same disbelief that held me transfixed during Katrina. This time, though, it is my neighbors who are fleeing to shelters. Areas that are part of my childhood are gone. The restaurants where I lunch when I’m working in lower Manhattan may never reopen. Subway stations won’t be open for a while.

I think of friends still recovering from the storm that hit upstate New York and Vermont last year who have barely recovered. And the ones who may never recover.

And I think again about Katrina.

And the New Orleans that was.

Reports are mixed. I am heartened to hear of people helping each other – handing out food, helping people to safety, posting and tweeting their support. I am saddened to hear of people just walking on by. What I really wonder, though, is what people will be doing next week. Will we still be reaching out to our neighbors? Will we help with the clean-up? Or will we turn away?

The storm is over. The hard work has barely begun. I hope that we’re up to it.

Are You Dancing at the Shame Prom?

Twenty seven courageous women write about their dance in the moving compilation of personal stories that is Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small. Some of the stories made me laugh; some made me cry. All of them moved me.

How, I wondered, could some of these women have survived such abuse? Could I move on from seal abuse passed off as “God’s will?” What would me life have become if my alcoholic grandfather had escheated from verbal abuse to physical? If he had poured a jar of sauerkraut over my head? These were powerful tales of survival. Some shocked me; some made me cringe.

Other stories were much lighter. I laughed at one woman’s revelation of what happened in the sandbox. I smiled in understanding as I read about the beautiful but dumb boyfriend. Some seemed beyond my understanding. I will never truly understand what it is to be biracial, but the story reminded me of what it was like to be excluded for not being Jewish enough or Italian enough or Waspy enough. There are so many ways to not quite fit and you too are likely to find emotional connections to stories that are outside your life experience.

Sometimes, it was hard to not be a little judgmental – is that really a shameful experience, I asked myself a few times. It is in these stories, though, that I found the greatest learning. I had no problem relating to the body dysmorphia shame stories, but I had a hard time seeing frizzy/curly hair as a cause for shame. Of course, I must admit I have plenty of body issues of my own but happen to really love my hair, so that has something to do with it.

So, it was a surprise to find that the hair story was one that had a strong impact on me. Every time I have recommended this wonderful book to friends, I’ve mentioned that story. I love the author’s act of courage – jumping into a pool because she promised her daughters she would and emerging with no further though about how her hair looked. Don’t go with my oversimplification – read the whole story. Read the whole book. Share it. Buy it for your friends.

Finally, think about your own participation at the shame prom. Are you a wallflower? Are you pretending you weren’t there at all? Or are you ready to speak up, own your shame and move on? I want to be as brave as these women. What about you?

No, 60 Isn’t the New 40 (Revisited)

This is a story about my new shower curtain liner. And age and agility.

I’m sixty seven and I’m proud of my age. I don’t mind a few crinkles around my eyes or even that things are not necessarily in their original locations (ah, gravity). I don’t think that 60 is the new 40. On the other hand, I don’t believe that 60 is old. I don’t think age defines what we can or can’t do, but maybe sometimes it’s good to be a tad more careful.

So why is this about a shower curtain liner? My old liner had gotten dingy and seemed to plan to stay that way, so I went out and got a new one. No problem – I didn’t mind having no shower curtain overnight because the drying rack was in the tub (yes, some of us still do hand laundry).

Fast-forward to the next day. I decided that I wanted a quick shower. No problem – I moved the drying rack and then realized that I hadn’t put up the shower curtain.

OK – this is easy, right. Not so much, it turns out. At 40, I easily balanced on the rim of the tub. Today, it made me shaky. And dizzy. OK – stepladder. Not as much of an improvement as I’d hoped, but it works.

Now, somehow, I’m not lining up the hooks correctly. It takes three tries to have them in the right spaces. Not necessarily a standing on a stepladder task, perhaps. This is taking a lot longer than I’d expected. Should have considered the ladder.

Task completed. But it reminds me that 60 is not the new 40. While long walks and dancing stay on the agenda, maybe there will be fewer substitutions for actual ladders. Or – I have more money than I did at 40 – I can pay someone to climb and lift and carry.

I know that some 90 year-olds run marathons. I wouldn’t have been able to do that at 20 and I don’t want to. A friend can still do a cartwheel at 70. Now that’s something I aspire to. And maybe even go nyah-nyah – bet you thought I couldn’t do it AT MY AGE afterwards.

There are all kinds of distinctions. And just because at 25 I didn’t have the sense to realize that I couldn’t lug a 30 pound turkey a mile doesn’t mean I haven’t developed a little judgement over the decades. I believe in shopping carts and the occasional car service when I can’t just get something delivered. And I believe in shopping online.

I’m saving my energy for the good stuff – vacations, parties, nights out with friends, long walks. And I’m admitting that there are both things I don’t want to do and things I can’t easily do. And, more and more often, I think I’ll choose not to do those things.

Hey – I earned it – don’t bother me!

WoW Audrey Pellicano Understands Your Grief

When Audrey Pellicano lost her husband of seven years, there was really no place for a young widow to turn.

When I was widowed, there was very little for a 38 year old woman with 4 children. I did go to a hospice group for grief and of course all the widowed women there were at least twice my age. So it wasn’t relevant to where I was. So – and the tendency of most people is – which is why I do the work I do presently – is try to heal the wounds. All the clichés. And the tendency is to stuff grief. Which is what I did. I threw myself into my children – busy, busy – worked part time as a nurse and two years later it really came back to bite me. And I found myself very, very depressed and not knowing what was wrong with me.

When people began sending recently widowed women to Audrey, her understanding of grief deepened. Then, she began to have panic attacks.

I actually started a support group for people with panic and anxiety disorder. Because it was one of the worst experiences during – you know, having lost Joe. I really couldn’t get a hold on it. I started incorporating meditation, emphasized guided imagery, came to my own regimen of things I went and studied to get me through my grief.

And her life continued to change.

I got my graduate degree in Health Education and I really armed myself with tons of information on how to be healthy, how to get healthy and then began looking into the whole idea of grief, because grief just beats the immune system down. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago, and I needed to say, what’s the next step in my life. I lived up in the Catskill mountains by myself for a year. So I took my sabbatical to figure out what it was – what steps I needed to take – in order to be doing the work I wanted to do. And I kind of just jumped in with both feet.

I studied at the Grief Recovery Institute in California. I went through the program years after losing Joe and it was still so powerful in moving me just a little more forward, since grief lasts a long time. It just changes. So, that’s where I am today.

Audrey’s work keeps expanding. She’s now working with more people grieving the loss of pets. She also has created corporate programs to provide something beyond the traditional 3 – 5 days of bereavement leave. Companies are losing millions of dollars due to sick leave, lowered productivity and other grief-related issues that do not even begin to show up until long after a loss. Audrey can put programs in place to provide support when it is needed.

Audrey’s life is pretty remarkable right now. She’s doing the work she is called to and has strong personal and family relationships. Here’s someone who uses everything that comes to her, who knows how to learn and grow and who serves women in need – that’s why she’s my Woman of the Week. – Oh – and she’s a lot of fun, too!

Living the Good Life Debt Free

There’s a lot of excellent advise available about how to live debt free. And most of it just sounds painful. Now, I’m all for having no debts and am working on it as hard as I can – not there yet, but will be. The problem is, most of what you read makes it sound like you’ll need to give up anything that is remotely fun and live on bread and water. Maybe just water.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reminded that it just isn’t so. As I continue to whip out my debit card instead of my credit card, I smile gleefully at the thought of the inters I’m saving. I’ve cut back a little – but not a lot – on taking myself out, buying myself toys, traveling, and, in general, enjoying life. I’ve upped the payments on my credit cards for more than a year now and love seeing the balances slide ever closer to zero. As I said, I’m getting there.

This week, though, I had the opportunity to see what it looks like to be there. I’m visiting family in Georgia, and my niece and her husband completed this journey a while ago. Except for having a mortgage, they are debt free. And they are living a life that anyone could be proud of. The two of them and three dogs share a fairly small yet very nicely appointed and spacious enough home. They both are great cooks – he smokes meat a mean piece of beef and she is great at everything else – and no strangers to gourmet stores and local farmers. (A little Valharon molten chocolate cake to top off that dinner?)

We spent an afternoon being chauffeured around by her in a spacious rental car as we visited a couple of local vineyards and discussing her plans for the future, which include a week in Italy and in the next few years buying a new house with enough property to raise animals. A very nice life.

So, as I sit here typing on my new MacBook Air, purchased with a credit card, yes, and then paid off two hours later, I contemplate my own debt free future. It’s nice to know that I’ll get there. And nicer to know that the path I’ve chosen is a sound one – room for fun, good food, adventures and still dwindling balances.

When You Speak, Does Everyone Listen? WoW Robyn Hatcher Has the Secret

When I met Robyn, I was immediately taken with how confident and self-assured she is, so I was surprised to discover that her childhood nickname was “Shy.” You’d never know this. And, to me, that’s the mark of someone who really understands not only the difficulties all of us shy folk face, but really knows how to turn a wallflower into the belle of the ball. As Robyn says,

Because of my intimate knowledge with being shy and knowing what it’s like to feel unable to grab the spotlight, I have become extremely passionate about empowering others to uncover and unleash their inner “Star power.”

Robyn broke through years of silence in a big way when she auditioned for a play her freshman year in high school. She channeled years of pent up frustration into a two-minute monologue about a fictitious break up, unconsciously using a well-known acting technique. She got the role and it changed her life.

Robyn has been a professional actor for more than twenty years now, but she hasn’t limited herself to one profession. She has a thriving communications consulting practice, she’s teaching at Baruch and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She’s a trainer and curriculum developer, a speaker (there may still be time to join her at Women at Woodstock) and an author. You can read her chapter in the very powerful and moving Dancing at the Shame Prom, a book I just couldn’t put down.

Many actors report being shy people off stage and live reclusive private lives. Many of them are in pain and choose to remain that way. Robyn has used that pain to forge a very different life of service to people who just can’t seem to express themselves. She doesn’t expect her clients to follow her path; she does expect them to learn how to be comfortable in their own skins.

You don’t have to become an actor, or even a professional public speaker, but learning to be a more powerful communicator will make you a better boss, colleague, partner, parent, friend and individual.

It’s easy to get to know Robyn a bit better. Read her blog, Communication Inspirations, and check out her website, Speaketc. Oh – and check out the stands at the Cincinnati Reds games next year to catch Robyn cheering on her Yale student/pro ball playing son.

The Shining Hope Community is Changing the World – One Community at a Time

When I first met Jessica Posner, two years ago, and heard about Shining Hope for Communities, I was amazed by what the organization was accomplishing in Kibera, the biggest and worst slum in Nairobi, Kenya. I was even more amazed that this work was being done by 20-something Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede. Working together, they fulfilled Kennedy’s dream of creating a school for girls.

Fast forward two short years. Kennedy has graduated from Wesleyan University. He and Jessica have married. The first tuition-free school for girls is just one project provided by this organization that provides a wide range of services to the Kibera community, including the Johanna Justin-Jinich Community Clinic, the Shining Hope Community Center that provides women’s empowerment programs, youth programs, adult education and job training, and library – and more. They have also created a toilet access program, a clean water program and gardens.

Shining Hope is saving lives. Jessica and Kennedy have created a sustainable model for helping people at a local level in ways that work for their community. In 2010, Jessica was named America’s Top World-Changer 25 and Under.

Jessica and Kennedy Odede are amazing people – modest and driven to change the world one community at a time. Can you imagine where they will be ten years from now? How this model will grow and spread to other slums? How many lives are not only saved but expanded through their work?

I told Jessica that I want to be her when I grow up. I can’t go back to change the course of my 20-something self, but I can spread the word about Shining Hope. And I can contribute to their work. Here’s a link if you would like to contribute too.