|DR. REBECCA HOUSEL||
It's easy to be a hero when you have super-powers. But to stand up against the evil of humanity without them? That's a true #Superman. Or, #Wonderwoman.... ;)
Microsoft's newish CEO, Satya Nadella, recently said that women who do not ask for raises, like their male-counterparts, have a "superpower." He somehow managed to connect this incredulous lack of equality to #karma, going on to say that women need to "trust the system."
Nadella is a moron.
After Twittercism reached his insanely misogynistic ears, he came up with how he was "inarticulate" in his response.
I wonder what Nadella would say if he was told not to ask for his annual raise while other colleagues enjoyed theirs...to leave his to #karma. I very much doubt he'd feel powerful or heroic. He'd feel like he was being treated unfairly, taken for granted. And he'd be right. Because that is exactly how Microsoft's CEO has been treating his female employees since he took on the role earlier this year. Yikes. If Bill Gates doesn't ask for this guy's immediate resignation, he's just as bad as Nadella. And, to (briefly) address the recent Forbes piece on vilifying Nadella, let me just say this: Nadella IS Microsoft's CEO. Corporations are run from the top down. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous. He's not the only asshole on the planet, that's true--but it does not lessen his highly visible role. Nor does it negate the fact that he made his ridiculously sexist utterances at a conference on women who work in computer technologies. For that reason alone, he deserves to be fired. Obviously, the guy isn't cut out to be an executive. He can't control his own mouth, let alone a company like Microsoft.
To all the female engineers working for Microsoft, you have my condolences. Look for another job. You're all brilliant and talented and creative people. I hear Apple appreciates those traits in spades....
The word "satya" is from Sanskrit. It loosely means "unchangeable," but is generally thought of as absolute truth, that pervasive thing in the Universe that supersedes all via its constancy...also known as reality. How ironic. Because the one constant reality, the single most pervasive, and therefore absolute, truth in the Universe for women is, that when we get a good job, it is not because we are well-qualified, highly-competent, talented, and educated individuals. It is because we are women...and whoever hired us was required to do so. By law.
I can practically hear a little boy whining from his treehouse perch, "Awww Dad...do I have to let her in???"
That's why men like Nadella feel the way they do. Women get raises when they "trust the system." Uh huh. There are now a myriad of studies that consistently show women earning at least $10,000 less than their male counterparts. At least! The average woman makes 75-cents for every dollar a man makes in the same job. That's a 25% pay cut! And a company like Microsoft, who frankly, makes inordinate amounts of money, should be valuing their female employees equally. You can certainly afford it...can't you, Microsoft?
Do women not have to pay rent, electric bills, water bills, grocery bills? Do we not have to make car payments, pay for gas, car insurance? Did we not attend college, like the men being paid more than us? Do we not have student loans to repay? Families? The need to build a solid retirement plan? What a strange pathology--to believe that women and men do not bear the same financial burdens in the 21st century. Because we do. And then some. No wonder women are so much poorer than our male equivalents. Perhaps the men of this world have watched too many Disney films, and believe women to all have *magical* powers--either by a fairy wand, a witch's hat, or wizard's robes.
When social media posts suggest things like, "Bitches be crazy...," it's often perceived as funny. Because, it's totally true. Wouldn't you be "crazy" if you worked harder for everything you had to do, and, still somehow made less? And the reason? Because you have tits?! No, it's not the tits. It's the lack of penis. The weird part? Many a man holding us gals down because we don't have a penis, still expect a woman to put her mouth on his! Now THAT is "crazy"....
Mr. Nadella: Do you know what good #karma truly is? It's treating people fairly. You're in a position to be a corporate role model. To be a #Superman. You actually have the equivalent of superpowers as the CEO of one of the wealthiest corporations in the world. It should be easy for you. And yet, instead, you choose some pseudo-new age #karma concept to justify holding women down. Well, since you seem to believe in #karma, you may want to worry less about your female employees' karmic luck, and more about your own. Either step up...or step down.
Gawd, you can practically hear a cosmic pin drop....
The talented photog, named in the title, first started using a camera as a young girl when her father was stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War, She is not just famous, she is infamous. Leibovitz has photographed some of the most interesting people on the planet including John Lennon, Demi Moore, Michael Jackson, Queen Elizabeth, and the Obamas. And yes, she is also responsible for the recent "Kimye" cover of Vogue.
Leibovitz runs in high-society circles, has wealthy friends, and owns multiple properties totaling in the millions. Everyone is clamoring for Leibovitz, for her talents, for the bragging rights of working with her. And yet, in 2009, Annie Leibovitz was struck by something that affects more than 160-million Americans: Debt.
I distinctly remember reading a piece on Leibovitz in 2010 where she was quoted as saying that having debt is one of the most highly-distracting social issues she'd dealt with. I would have to agree.
Annie Leibovitz and I have more in common than our mutual opinion and experience regarding debt. We come from very similar ancestral backgrounds as third-generation Americans with cultural ties to Eastern Europe. We're both fans of Susan Sontag. We both paint, write, have lived in San Francisco and New York. We're both mothers. We're both artists. And we both live our lives fully.
Though my photography of iconic city architecture has never graced the cover a magazine, and I've never met the Obamas, we do run in similar circles. Leibovitz and I even resemble each other to a certain degree. The biggest difference between us is the 21-year head start Leibovitz had here on Earth. Despite the time discrepancy, if Leibovitz and I sat down for coffee, we would have a lot to talk about, to relate to.
In a way, I wish I could sit across from Annie Leibovitz. Not to talk about our mutual life-experiences. But to get her take on #Love. And, #Peace.
What would you say about those two seemingly elusive subjects, Ms. Leibovitz? Because I believe, whatever you have to say, it will be the truth. Like how your portraits convey the truth of their subjects.
Yesterday, I sat down to write about how #Love influences #Peace. But #Love also causes war. We make life-decisions based on #Love, take what we think will be safe-risks. #Love seduces us into thinking there is such a thing as safe-risks. There isn't. True #Love is entirely dangerous. It's rare, but when found, is quite wonderful. But in the 21st century, or any century where humans have been involved, is #Love enough?
#Love does not pay the rent. Chemistry may build bridges, but to where? Without a home, #Love cannot exist. And money is needed for that. It's important to have the "money talk" when it comes to #Love. But be prepared: A person in #Love will likely say anything a la John Cusack to keep the relationship going.
Approaching money emotionally leads to debt. But being too strict with your cash by keeping emotion out can make you a miser the likes of which even Dickens would consider Scrooge-like. Compromised people are vulnerable people. When you are not forthcoming about your finances, no matter how crazy you may be about his eyes, or her ____ (fill in the blank with your favorite attribute), you're putting not just that person at risk--but your very #Love, too.
Think about how #Love evolves...it's not exactly something that cements over bread and water. Usually, there are dinners, movies, weekends away, vacations, flowers, gifts--all the things that help grow #Love. And, ALL things that require money.
Money is not known as a #Peace maker, or, a #Love maker. It's a loaded gun, pointed directly at the heart. Rich or poor is not the issue. Honesty is. The truth. Annie Leibovitz knows about the truth, honesty. She knows about what money can and cannot do. She knows #Love. And I'll bet she's even known #Peace at least once in her lifetime.
It's too bad Annie Leibovitz isn't vying for a Presidential candidacy. Because anyone who knows as much as Annie Leibovitz about life, has my vote. And yours, too, I'd wager.
I'm not sleeping. Are you? Generally, when we don't sleep, it's because there is something nagging at us. Money, or lack there of, is one of the most common reasons for insomnia. But there are others....
In a recent post, I shared some personal experience regarding social expectations and how those expectations favor men. Particularly if you're a woman trying to break away from one. But that's not the only thing keeping me up at night. Although, admittedly, it is part of it.
Depression, a sense that life is spinning out of control, fatigue, a lack of social connections/purpose, growing concerns surrounding family 1,000 miles away, oh, and the fact that my dog is also 1,000 miles...and has been. For over six weeks. And will remain separate from me for at least eight more. The dog that spent every minute of every day with me for the last 12 years. Through cancer. Through depression. Through upheavals in my relationship. She slept with me, too. It's unbearable, being apart. But there is a general disagreement on custody of my baby dog. And like a child, the argument is that, because I travel, she is "better off" elsewhere. Except, I'm her person. And she's mine.
I look for her. In the yard. In my bed. Hear phantom barks. I sometimes wake up in a panic, thinking she's lost somewhere and I can't find her. It's brutal. And it's made me go to some pretty bad places. Inevitably, when I go to those places, my friend of 20 years, who I lost to suicide just over a year ago, comes to mind.
He had a family, children, friends, a good job, nice home. He was tall, very good looking, smart, talented, artistic, successful. In many ways, he had a life that 95% of America wishes they had. But it's not as simple as all that. From the outside looking in, it made no sense. But as his friend, I did my best to look inside-out.
People always judge those who consider suicide, or perhaps have even attempted it...some, sadly, succeeding. I find it odd that anyone feels as though they have right to do that. Judge another human being. For any reason. Where has compassion gone? Do Buddhists have an exclusive on it??? Because if we were to look at the world's problems today--truly look at them--we would see that most, if not all, stem from a lack of compassion. A sense of superior judgment. A deliberate decision not to think. Or feel. To just do what is easy. And not necessarily right.
I think I get it: Suicide. The world sucks. It's a hard place. Even when you're in a good one, you're not on an island. If you live in Baudrillard's "desert of the real," you know what I'm talking about. Cruelty abounds. Compulsion, not compassion, rules the day. Heck, it's ruled humanity for longer than that. And the intelligent person may understand that none of it ends until you die. Like taxes. Or laundry. Or cleaning your toilet.
Of course, there is more about our existence that we don't know than what we do. To die may just be another beginning. Many cultures still hold to the belief of reincarnation. Heaven? Oh...and Hell. Perhaps one of the stackable dimensions from quantum physics??? Valhalla might be nice, that is, if you're a Viking warrior. Okay, so what we know to be real, definitive, is our world. The world in which we physically exist. We also know that if we physically die, we can no longer exist in the same world. At least, not in the same way. Ghost Hunters anyone???
No more sweet kisses from a lover. No more hugs. Smiles. No more soft breezes on your cheek. No more Georgia sunsets. Or California sunsets. Or Cape Cod sunsets. Or New York sunrises. No more swimming in the ocean. No more sand between your toes. No more sex (!). No more sweet tea. Or espresso. Or pistachio gelato. Or foodgasms of any kind. No more sense of "Woohoo!" after biking for 30 miles straight. No more looking into impossibly blue eyes. No more babies. Or hand-holding. Or hearing the person you love breathe as he sleeps next to you.
The thought of leaving it all makes my eyes well with sorrowful, salty tears. Personally, I've worked too hard to stay on the planet, for however long, or short, my life may be to do anything else. Survival is paramount. And it's probably also why I choose to be a positive force, to help people when I can, to be a good neighbor, a good friend, a good partner, a good moderator, a good teacher, a good mother, to encourage people--even when those same individuals have been nasty towards me. I never feel joy at someone's pain, or when another dies. Even a man like Osama Bin Laden, who was responsible for one of the most terrible acts of terrorism on the planet. Death, after all, is very possibly not the end people believe it to be.
When I sit alone, day after day, my lap missing the weight of my baby dog, living in not just a new city, but a whole new State 1,000 miles from the majority of my friends and family, inundated by the same bills as everyone else, worried about the people I love but can only see via a screen or a plane ticket, or very long car ride...wondering about my next job, where I'll find the $$$ for ____ (fill in the blank), or how I'll get through the next four months without going completely insane because I have more questions than answers...I get it. Despite the giant television on my wall. Or the Sun shining brightly just feet away from my back door, which is mere feet away from a forest. I mean, there's an actual forest in my backyard. With trees. Lots of them. Or the fact that in just a few hours, I'll be able to go outside and gaze at the most beautiful night sky I've ever seen.
Loneliness is the real killer. Feeling lonely when you're in a crowded room is even worse than feeling lonely because, well, you're alone. What happens to people who have no one? To those of us who have no parents, or worse, parents who just don't care if you're alive or dead? What happens when you're not married, have no children, or people who care about you on a daily basis? Even if you have over 2,000 Twitter Followers and 1,000 Facebook friends, if you don't have a daily connection with people who love you, care about you, it's easy to disappear. Because you're already invisible. That's why having a pet, or fur-baby, or companion who walks on four legs, is so important. It's recommended for people over 65 because it takes away this tremendously horrible feeling I happen to have right now: As if I'm adrift, lost. And overwhelmingly so.
The first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club...except when you write a whole novel about it. And then, that book gets adapted to film starring Ed Norton and *swoon* Brad Pitt. May the odds ever be in my favor that, in fact, my latest book project, a memoir, gets the same breathe-of-life as Chuck Palahniuk's story about a lonely man fighting a lonely battle, and what that man had to do to survive. Of course, the film adaptation of my book would have to star Sofia Vergara and Chris Hemsworth.
Yeah, I guess there's hope.... ;)
Jason David Frank and I embrace after not seeing each other for a month or so. We've been working together for two years now. And I'm proud to call JDF my friend. He's probably one of the most determined, brilliant men I've ever met, but he's also extremely grounded. His energy is off the charts, too. A natural performer, he can easily improv, rapping one minute and the next, telling a young girl or boy to go for their dreams and never give up.
My career as an Entertainer, Host, and Moderator has spanned 16 years. Yes, I know. L-o-n-g time. There have been lots of amazing moments, too. One such moment includes New Orleans Comic Con 2014, where JDF surprised me, and the audience, with a visit from Stan Lee! When the door opened, I started to get up to manage whatever the "problem" was, but when I saw Stan's smiling face, I started shaking. With mic in hand, I announced, "It's Stan Lee, everyone!" And a BIG smile crossed my face as Stan literally jumped on stage, put his hand on Jason's shoulder, and began telling the audience that the power of Marvel was behind Jason David Frank.
My most recent adventure was at Chicago Comic Con. Ah, Chicago! One of my favorite cities. The deep dish pizza, Wrigley Field, Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, the shopping, and wonderful friends...so much good in one place! I was even in Chicago for St. Patrick's Day earlier this year. Like I said, it's one of my favorite cities. When I go, I always get a good feeling...and at Chicago Comic Con, the fans were A-MAZING!
People were so generous and kind to me; I felt the Comic Con-love ALL weekend and will definitely be back in 2015!
Today, I'm performing at #DragonCon2014. My show on #VampireMyth is at 4pm, Hyatt North. Next week, New York! And a week after that, #NashvilleComicCon!!! So stay tuned! There is A LOT happening in 2015.
My updates have been sporadic in the last six months, mainly because I recently established a new home-base in #HOTlanta. So now, I'm in three cities: LA, NY, & ATL!!!
Wizard World is located in LA, and my NY-house was home for 21 years; I started teaching there in 1994. Today, my family, and many wonderful friends, still live there. It is also the perfect retreat with mountain views, woods, and an award-winning winery within a mile. The house-search and move to Atlanta went smoothly as well. I feel very blessed to be in another peaceful location surrounded by mountains and lush forest, literally in my backyard. The two-person soaking tub is pretty kick-ass, too. I have posted pics and video from my new pad on YouTube. Become a subscriber when you get a chance. Like I said, so much is coming in 2015; I'll update you with videos, blog posts and other news on social media as often as possible. And to that end, let me say:
Thank you to EVERYONE for your incredible support in the last two years. If you're a regular reader, you know that my life has had plenty of pitfalls, including health struggles like depression. How can someone be depressed with all these interesting things going on??? Well, depression is not a mood swing. It's bio-chemical and can be a side-effect of other serious health issues. I have to claim victory over the disease every day. And it's not easy. There are medications that can help, but I am unable to take them. Meditation, exercise, acupuncture, staying connected to nature, and a healthy diet all help me cope. But you, my lovely readers, the audiences at Comic Con who are so kind, my Twitter Followers, Facebook fans, beloved student-family, and people like Perry Chen, Chairman of KickStarter, who took the time to fly in to Chicago to hear me give a talk...you are the real medicine. My healers. And not a single moment passes where I'm not entirely #Grateful to each of you.
So when I do my show on #VampireMyth today @DragonCon, and connect audiences with over 12,000 years of human history, not a single syllable will be spoken without full knowledge of how your love and support make it possible. And continue to do so.
Have a WONDERFUL Labor Day weekend! I hope you spend it with friends and family, in joy. peace and love. And for my True Blood fans out there...my take on the Series Finale is coming! If you're @DragonCon this weekend, try to catch two of my favorites from the show: Kristin Bauer aka "Pam" and Nelsan Ellis aka "Lafayette"!
I now leave you in the capable hands of my talented friend, Flo Rida, who definitely gives me a "Good Feeling" every time I hear his voice:
Even writers can be silenced, and quite effectively, too. A writer observes the world and because we can, are made self-responsible to report those observations, to be witnesses. But as a writer, though I have made myself vulnerable many times over the last 20 years, I don't write about everything I witness.
It's an unfortunate side effect of the human condition: Vulnerability. What people think about us matters. No one likes that reality, but it's no less true. We try to fool ourselves into believing the only opinion that really matters is our own. Except when we need to earn. And there it is again. Vulnerability.
But aren't we all vulnerable? Yes...though some of us are more vulnerable than others.
It's not just about socio-economics, "race," ethnicity...the biggest, most obvious difference people latch on to, at the very basic level of existence, is gender. I have breasts and a vagina...oh, and less muscle mass than the average male. Though I can create whole people in my tiny, "weak" body, because I cannot physically defend myself against a larger, more muscular male, society has decided that if I take it upon myself to reject a male, any male, I'm a "bitch," a "whore," "untrustworthy," "questionable," "over-zealous," "greedy," "aggressive," and a number of other less-than-positive descriptives.
About ten years ago, a number of my female friends, mostly a decade or more older than I, were going through separations or divorce. Admittedly, I did not understand why. Of course, "why" is never the right question....
Today, I now sit 1,000 miles away from my partner, a man I loved for decades. A man I was loyal to. A man I helped to support, not just emotionally, but financially, too. A man I raised a son with. Shared everything I had with. A man I trusted completely, even though sometimes, that trust was unearned. And yet, today, this same man told me how "everyone" he knows--family and friends--are telling him how great he is, and how awful I am. It caused the two of us, who are still very good friends, to have a tremendously difficult and emotional discussion. One I will share a piece of now:
In response to my now former partner's claims of inequity, prompted by the people who claim to have once loved me and supposedly love him, I had to clarify a few facts:
Unfair is not being able to get out of bed without putting on an orthotic brace and tie shoes. Unfair is not being able to take a simple shower, without changing into a another orthotic brace and water shoes, or, dragging a dead leg into the bathroom and hoisting myself onto a bath bench. Like a person twice my age would have to do. Unfair is being 20, and then 30, and dealing with malignant cancer. Unfair is having to go through chemo at 30, severely minimizing my chances of building a family. Unfair is not being able to walk without multiple forms of assistance for the last 13 years...and, for the rest of my life. Unfair is knowing that my life will be infinitely shorter than the average woman. And no, it's not pessimism; it's the facts of my disease. I've even seen my death. Many times. Watched too many pass through the veil in the last decade. In one 12-month period, I lost 15 family members and friends. Unfair is having to move 1,000 miles away, leaving everyone you know and love behind, including your beloved baby-dog. Unfair is living with courage despite it all, smiling every day, moving my life forward and yet...and yet, being scrutinized instead of celebrated for it.
Is it fair to judge a person when you yourself have never been dealt the same hands of fate? Is it fair to assume that because I smile, I'm unaffected by all that has happened to me? That, I somehow don't deserve happiness? Is it? The irony is, the same "caring" folks chiming in today didn't lift a single finger to help me, my partner, or, our family during my illness. Not a finger. But somehow, today, all feel qualified to discuss the lives they so conveniently ignored when things got too messy for their delicate sensibilities. I believe it was C&C Music Factory that first said, "Things that make you go, "Hmmmm....""
Unfair. Uneven. Inequitable. These are all values assigned by score-keepers. Score-keepers never win because they never see the value in what they already have. People keeping accounts of what are essentially imaginary details are self-sabotaging, negative individuals. And we all know misery loves company.
Those imaginary details cost me five hours of my day today, not to mention more tears than any of it was worth. Particularly given how very inaccurate those imaginary details actually are. See above if you are still unclear on what is fair, equitable, and/or even. So, in the spirit of setting the record straight, and, as a piece of advice in return for the deep sorrow dished out on behalf of these "loving souls," let me offer some life-advice:
1) If you are healthy, no matter who makes more money than you, who lives in a bigger or better house, no matter who you feel has "more," you are the winner. Health is wealth. You can do anything if you are healthy. If you are not, every day is a struggle. Material wealth is only relevant if you can survive long enough to enjoy it.
2) Mind your own business. It's the polite thing to do. Good manners and all that. But seriously, mind it. And even if asked, keep your opinions to yourself. You have two choices in this world: Be a force of positive energy, or, negative energy. Why would you ever choose the latter???
3) The moment an individual begins to judge another is the moment that same individual denies their humanity: I am vulnerable. But I am not weak. I am a woman. But I am not a whore. I am a teacher. But I do not always know the answers. I am a parent. But I do not always know what is best. I am honest. But I cannot always tell the truth. I have survived a disease that most do not. For 23 years. But I am mortal.
So. Are. You.
Compassion is not just for the enlightened. Anybody can apply it anytime. Try it. You might like it. And, if you are human, YOU WILL NEED IT ONE DAY. Sooner rather than later.
The other tidbit that's terribly important: Don't piss off a writer. Especially one with an audience. I've had rather enough. Witch hunts are relics of ignorance. And this "witch" will not get burned. But I am on fire. You might want to keep a safe distance....
And now, this professor will introduce you to a TED colleague who is an expert on vulnerability, and how it is integral to living a full life. Those who spend their days fruitlessly trying to avoid it, are not really alive. Even if mine is shorter, the fullness with which I live--thanks to my vulnerability--infinitely exceeds in quality the quantity I may lack. Because I don't love half-way. And when I dance, I do it as if no one were watching:
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." -Dr. Brene Brown
Today, I weep. The world will forever be dimmer as one of its brightest lights went out earlier today: My poetic mentor and often, muse, Dr. Maya Angelou.
For over a decade, "Still, I Rise..." was at the top of my syllabi for writing courses, inspired, of course, by Dr. Angelou. Always printed on bright red paper, I was utilizing the poetics of color to illustrate the temporary nature of oppression. You cannot stop evolution. Kill the immortal. Dim the light of the Sun. Take the Moon out of the night sky. Or make dry the vast oceans. You cannot break an unbreakable soul. Cannot defeat those destined to triumph. Try, and try again as you may. Victory never goes to the spoiled.
Between bouts of tears, I imagined Dr. Angelou talking to me with that wonderfully familiar bemused expression, "Today is not a difficult day; it is just the day I died. But my spirit, you can clearly see (laughing, waving her arms gracefully), lives on. And ever still, I rise...."
She goes on to tell me more; some are secrets. Others are words I can share, but only on paper. No matter what she tells me, the tears well, swell and trail like impregnated rain drops down my tan cheeks. I feel like I lost a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a colleague, the sunlight, the dark, the heat of day, the cool of night. The air is oddly still. The movement of the world has slowed, stopped, and there is no oxygen left for my lungs.
But I have to somehow continue to breathe.
The irony of the half-eaten package of Oreos next to me is not lost. Neither is the memory of her infectious laugh; I can hear it echo off the gates of heaven as she looks down, smiling. She puts her hand to her mouth as she shouts, "Don't forget to eat one for me!" Yet I've eaten enough for three...
Dr. Angelou was living history. Her mind, a piece of the human genius-puzzle. She was not just a cultural voice, at once witnessing and demanding social change. She was real. Genuine. She never gave up on love, or, life. Her courage will continue to inspire mine: "If you love, you must truly love. There is no stop sign."
She was always very vague about the number of times she married; she did not want to seem "frivolous." But her willingness to take risks on love, risks that took her all over the world, is the ambrosia that fed the divinity of her poetic prose.
Now that you're gone, what will feed mine?
A selfish question, to be sure. She would approve, nonetheless. But only if I asked in order to seek out new inspiration, not to loiter on already limp laurels.
Two months ago, while in Atlanta for work, I dreamt of Angelou, of Coretta Scott King, James Earl Jones, and an interlude with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his death. Which is, of course, impossible. Dr. King was killed four years before I was even born.
King had given me sage advice. and after his passing, in the dream, I was asked to speak about it at a Memorial his wife had organized. Dr. Angelou and Mr. Jones were also speakers. I cannot now remember Dr. King's exact words, but they were meaningful to my life's course, encouraging. Being in Atlanta, where King was from, made the dream-experience that much more powerful. Because, for King, some of his most famous words began with, "I have a dream...."
And I do.
With diamonds between my thighs, and in my eyes, I shine, rise, dance, laugh. A caged bird no more, I fly. My song can be heard from the bluest of blue skies, seen by love's bluest of blue eyes. Leaping on the back of the wind as I wing my way through sighing trees. No more standing on the grave of dreams, dreaming of unknown yet longed for things. With wings dipped in the orange sun, I name the sky my own.
I name it for you, too.
Yup, I stood at the bottom of 500-year old steps in a medieval German castle, left, looking up, thinking, "How was this a good idea???" But I wasn't alone. And part of the fun was climbing back up all those tiny stone steps, carved from ancient rock atop the mountain where the castle sat like a crown amidst an ever-green landscape.
With only one working leg, to say that the ascent was frightening would be a grave understatement. But fear has never stopped me. Sure, it's slowed me down. More often than not. Luckily, a friend had my back. Literally.
When we feel alone, it's easy to become intimidated by what seems to be an impossible uphill climb. As I sit here writing this now, I'm looking up again. This time, it's at metaphorical stone steps of my own design. Just because I made them does not mean the task is any easier. And I'm not sure someone will be there if I start to stumble.
If my friend was not with me in Germany, how would I have gone up those terrifyingly narrow, yet steep, stone stairs??? I would have sat my butt down and used my arms to go up, backwards. One scary step at a time. Not terribly graceful, but grace is overrated. Being independent isn't....
Even if I stumble, I can catch myself. And if by some chance, I don't, taking a tumble, it's going to hurt. A lot. But I know I can get back up again. How do I know? Because I've fallen before. Yet, here I stand today. Looking much taller than my 5'4" frame might suggest.
Courage is not the absence of fear; it's doing what you must, despite it. Be brave. It's often sad, always scary, but you are worth the great effort. And once you achieve the impossible, you can achieve it again, and again, and again, ad infinitum.
You'll sometimes feel lonely during your uphill climb. When you do, stop. Steady yourself. And look around. Bet you'll see at least a few people within arm's reach. Even if you don't, look up. Do you see the Sun? The stars? You're made of the same stuff. You have the same ability to shine. Use it in that moment to push forward. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will reach the top. When you do, think of me. I'll be thinking of you, cheering you on to make the next uphill climb.
I took the photo, left, about a month ago. I meant to capture this really interesting bit of cloud in the expansive azure backdrop of Northern sky. What I got instead was so much better. Sometimes, we miss the shining #Light of this world, even when it's right in front of us. It reminded me of a Talmudic saying I'd long forgotten until last night:
"You don't see the world as it is, you see it as you are."
It's hard to believe, with events like the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls, that humans have infinite potential, infinite #Light...but we do. The catch? We have to see it in ourselves first.
The world can be a cruel and unforgiving place, mainly because the people in it refuse to see the #Light within their gaze. Darkness (difficulty) is created by spiritual blindness, and I'm not talking about religion.
In an attempt to claim agency over what seemed a savage world, early humans drew upon narratives imagining control over that savagery through a created permanence via something larger than the self. Today, we call it religion. A trend that's likely to continue until there are no humans left in the Universe. Why is that? Turns out, it's in our very DNA. Time magazine called it the "God Gene" in 2006. Psychologist Carl Jung called it the "Collective Unconscious." Scholar Joseph Campbell called it the "Hero's Journey." However you slice it, humanity is pre-programmed to believe in a larger purpose: Enter God.
God has been the convenient social excuse of hatred for millennia. Safe to say then that it's humanity, not God, running the show here on Earth. And texts like the Talmud, while certainly portraying a sense of God, focus more on self-responsibility. The Jewish philosopher, Hillel's, famous quote, "If I am not for myself, who will be?" speaks to an expectation that discounts implied social contracts. You can and should ask for help when you need it, as long as you're still doing most of the work. What do I mean? Let's follow the pop culture, shall we???
In 2014, a majority of teens expect their parents to buy them a car when they get their license, something first seen in movies like Say Anything before it became a social norm. Go to any suburban public high school in America and look in the student parking lot. You'll see some damn nice vehicles, most of which were given to a person who has less than 17 years on the planet. Yikes. Not exactly what Hillel was talking about. In reality, it is the individual who is responsible for purchasing their means of transportation; parents are only responsible for the health, safety, and emotional well-being of a child. Believe it or not, that doesn't include a Honda Civic....
Aristotle also had a few things to say about self-responsibility; his thoughts focused on the necessity of selfishness. Not in the sense of buying a Gucci bag while your kids starve kind of selfishness. But the kind of selfish where you first take care of yourself before caring for others. Because when you don't, human nature takes over. Even the most loyal of your friends will not respect you. If you want respect, you have to first respect yourself. And that's where things go awry for many of us:
"How can I respect myself? I'm a bad person."
You are? Think about why you believe that. Is it simply humility? Are you worried about what people will think if you acknowledge your greatness? Or, are you self-sabotaging? In other words, being unnecessarily negative to perpetuate the victimhood you've become comfortable with...ouch.
Very few are truly "bad." People with sociopathic tendencies don't really care about whether or not they are "bad" or "good." Most fall into the second category, self-sabotage. Given the choice of working toward our dreams by forging new, unfamiliar paths or staying in a comfortable environment, we choose comfort/familiarity. We then complain endlessly about how, because of ____ (fill in your own excuse), we'll NEVER achieve that life-goal or dream that would have changed the course of our lives.
And you know what? You're right. You won't. Not if you'd rather remain a despairing victim. Joan Baez said action was the antidote to despair and it is. But victimhood means in-action. And in-action always leads to despair. Because when you do not act on the #Light within yourself, you are not respecting yourself, or, any of the people connected to your world. But when you do decide to see yourself for who you are, see your #Light, others will flock to your side. That's when your ultimate success will happen. And in that moment, you become your own advocate.
The third philosophical question presented by Hillel is finally asked, and answered:
"If not now, when?"
The answer is never. Unless you move toward that goal each day. Even if it's baby steps, you will see a change in yourself, and, the world around you. Allow your #Light to shine, and suddenly, your world becomes brighter. You'll finally see the world as you are. And that's a beautiful thing.
Easier said than done? Nah, it's actually harder (and more painful) to deny your inner #Light than to recognize who you really are. Sure, it means working your ass off to create something from nothing, but you're worth it. And as you go on that long journey, you'll spread #Light to everyone you meet. One by one, you'll make the world a better place.
So, what are you doing for the next 20-40 years??? Seize the day, because for every day you don't, you actually dim your #Light as well as the #Light of this world. Be true to wonderful you. And all that equally wonderful potential you have to offer the world.
Remember your #Light...it's there. Trust me. ;)
...and again, and again. But travel is necessary in our globalized world. Even when it's not necessary, like on a vacation, the fun can quickly fizzle. So, when I found myself living out of a hotel room, this time around for no less than THREE WEEKS (ugh!), I decided to bite the proverbial bullet. Given that the kick-off to summer travel season is but days away, you may want to do the same.
Being on the road 14-26 days a month has given me a *wee* bit of insight on how to travel, and travel well. For instance, your #1 travel accessory is a Delsey hard case internationally-sized carry on with built in computer sleeve (I bought mine at Zappos.com). What's #2? A computer backpack to store your electronics, related cords, and of course, the essential quart-size bag of sprays, lotions and gels for easy airport removal. But when it comes to extended hotel stays, my priority is S. L. E. E. P. And, when the elderly couple in the room next to yours has two lap dogs yipping at 5am, or, their TV mercilessly blares as Joseph Prince rants about how to save your soul by dialing the number at the bottom of the screen, you'll want to have these ESSENTIALS handy. And if they're not handy, go find them...and fast!
-800 Thread Count Sheets: Don't laugh. The difference between hotel linens and a set of 800-thread count sheets from the local Target is HUGE. Everything from temperature regulation to breathability matters when it comes to sleep. Especially if you're living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time. Besides, you might get lucky.... ;)
-A Portable Keurig: Make everything from tea, to your favorite Starbucks blend, to cocoa (Swiss Miss or Dunkin' Donuts are my picks!) and you'll find that going to sleep after your nightly cup of Earl Grey, hot, a la Captain Picard or the childhood fav, Swiss Miss, will make heading to dreamland that much easier, even if your neighbors are going at it like rabbits. Sigh.
-Glade Plug Ins: Oh yeah, I'm going there. Let's be honest, hotel rooms can have *funky* smells. Even the ritzier joints. I always bring a Joe Malone votive ("Red Roses" makes the room smell like 7 of the rarest roses on the planet!), and a Glade Plug In Oil Warmer from the "Customizables" collection. It's actually pretty, and you can use dual scents. My favorite combo is Hawaiian Breeze and Vanilla Passion Fruit. Buy one for the bathroom, one for the main living space, and every time you walk back into your room, you're greeted by a light, pleasant scent instead of that stale hotel room odor (if you're lucky). The candle is great but can only be used when you're in the room; besides, a Joe Malone votive is *cough, cough* $60 (sorry...). The Glad Plug Ins work round-the-clock, whether you're there or not. And did I mention they're cheap??? Try less than $8 for the whole kit-and-caboodle...and that will last more than a month!
-Framed Pics of Loved Ones: Sure, we all have a *bajillion* photos on our smartphones, but nothing makes a stark hotel room feel more like home than a few well-placed pics of family and friends. It takes up almost no space and is well-worth the cubic inches in your Delsey.
-A Bose Bluetooth Speaker and Noise-Cancelling Earbuds: Expensive? Yes. But well worth every penny, especially if you're a frequent traveler. I have a "Sleep" playlist on my smartphone that I softly run at night to crowd out the hotel/white noise, including noisy guests and the inevitable hotel maid knocking on my door at 8am on a Sunday, despite the "Do Not Disturb" sign. Use the noise-cancelling headphones on the plane, to talk on the phone, at the hotel gym, to work on your laptop...the possibilities are endless. Given the practicality of both products, the high-cost averages out to mere pennies per use. Now that's what I call SAVVY, savvy??? Pirates of the Caribbean humor? No? Well, don't say I didn't try....
-Join a Local Gym & Hire a Trainer: For reals? Hells yes. Do it! It's easy to get into a bad routine while on the road, especially for weeks at a time. Most gyms have 1-2 week memberships. A personal trainer can help you maximize the equipment at their gym while encouraging you to stick to your regular wellness routine. Plus, trainers are usually very friendly folks; you can not only work out those triceps, but have fun while you do it. Win-win!
-Eat In, Not Out: Find the local whole foods or farmer's market and get things like bananas, apples, oranges, almonds, pumpkin seeds, the highly portable KIND bars, and your favorite bottled water. If you have a mini-fridge in your room, ask the bakery to pre-slice a whole-grain baguette and buy hummus, baby carrots, and maybe splurge on Camembert or Brie for a delicious and healthy mini-meal. You can use the bottled water in your Keurig, too, in case the stuff coming out of the hotel faucet is, well, questionable.
-Get Back to Nature: Even when staying in an urban hub like Chicago (see picture insert above; Hyatt Place at Hyde Park, UChicago), you can find plenty of green space. Wherever you may be, track down the local park and make it a point to get out in nature, even if you're just sitting on a park bench watching the birds. If you can find local hiking trails, all the better! Nothing brings down the stress of travel (or life!) better than reconnecting with nature. If there's nature near water where you are, go there. Soak up some sun (while wearing SPF, of course...) and you'll be shining, too!
-Smile! No, really. Your best travel essential is your beaming smile. People will be nicer to you, friendlier, more helpful, and unless you travel with an entourage, you may need those people to help you. Like the time I was working in New Orleans and was sick-as-a-dog. I had five hours of back-to-back shows to perform with a high fever, runny nose, sore throat...it was brutal. But the hotel staff was very kind to me. And so was a friendly local who assisted by bringing me fever meds. No matter what, the show must go on, and thanks to my smile, it did. Sure, money talks, too--but, believe it or not, people don't have to help you just because you have the cash to pay for said help. That smile is the one thing on this list of essentials that is totally *free* and very easy to use...so use it! And use it often.
Whether you're on the road again for work or play, I hope these hard-learned travel tips help you make the most of yours. After all, no one wants to get stuck in the Hotel California...or worse, Bates Motel! Yikes!!! Travel safe, not scary, and get lots of coveted sleep while you're at it.