Friday, November 22, 2013

Connect with a Good Book

Last night I went to a play about Connecting. Okay, so it was actually a play centered around books. About reading. About hardcover, old, second hand books and a woman who spent over 20 years corresponding with a bookshop owner and staff in England. The play was "84 Charring Cross" and it was directed by a dear friend of mine at a local community theatre about 25 minutes from my home. But the underlying theme of this play is about Connecting.

It's a true story about a woman named Helene Hanff from NYC and a Brit named Frank Doel. She wrote to him requesting books. He sent them to her. And though they never met, they became friends, bound together by a passion for books.

Before the play began, I read the bios of the cast and crew. Each of them identified their favorite books. Some of them read them over and over again -- like comfort food. I found myself intrigued by their choices ... by what appeals to them and their imaginations. And I found myself pondering my favorite books and why they stand out in my mind.

All this from a play. As the actress spoke her lines, requesting different books and describing their textures and pages when they arrived, I found myself aching to hold such a treasure in my hand. Escape into those pages and find myself transported into other lives. Go on adventures and travel to places I've not yet explored.

You see, I love books. I have favorites. For me, books reflect my mood and my selection is entirely emotional. I like recommendations. I am fascinated by learning and making discoveries I might not have found had it not been for the advice of another. In fact, one of my favorite reads was found completely by accident ... I saw it sitting in a friend's knitting bag and was intrigued. I went to the library immediately and pulled it from the shelf in a kind of awe. And I have since recommended it to many other friends who have been transported in those pages.

Unlike Helene, I prefer fiction, though I am trying to expand my scope by reading outside my normal comfort zone with two non-fiction books currently in process. But I cannot wait to cozy up with Elizabeth Bennett and watch her discover the truth of her own Pride & Prejudice. I rage at Catherine and Heathcliff on Wuthering Heights. I cry with Mrs. de Winter as she tries to find her way in the shadow of Rebecca. Oh ... I recently traveled on an unforgettable adventure in Africa with the help of Deanna Raybourn's Splendor in the Grass ... discovering a passion for Whitman along the way. I met Angels with Lauren Kate's Fallen series and reveled in magic with Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches ... something I have enjoyed with Harry Potter and am continuing to explore with Emily Croy Barker's new fascinating read (in which I'm currently immersed) A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic.

I have to admit a passion for Egypt that began with Allen Drury's God Against Gods and Return to Thebes and was further expounded in my travels there with Amelia Peabody, thanks to Elizabeth Peters. And my mind races as I remember nearly twenty books of adventures in Shannara guided by Terry Brooks and the drama of possible futures with The Hunger Games, The Selection and the Delirium books. Kate Morton's Forgotten Garden, the discovery in that knitting bag, has led me on numerous trips ... including a read I could hardly put down called The Distant Hours. And I thank Diana Gabaldon and Susanna Keasley for fueling my quest to find a way to create a Time Travel portal myself.

But that all began with Alice and her trip down a Rabbit Hole and then into the Looking Glass. That book remains my favorite ... for all its nonsense it launched a quest into the unlimited nature of my imagination. It continued with Dorothy and her many travels to Oz. With Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars (I'm reading book 3 now!) With Julie Andrews and Wangdoodleland and Jane Langston's Diamond in the Window, both of which I introduced to my kids and re-read regularly myself. I have been dreaming of discovering such doorways into my books and dreams for decades.

But I digress. I began by saying how the play I saw was truly about connecting. Books connect us. Stories draw us together. We all seek a good story. If you are like me, you long for adventure and surprises. Perhaps you too are curious about what you might find around the corner ... through the Looking Glass. A book will take you on an adventure and connect you to things that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google+ can never facilitate.

A book can become a conversation piece ... a discussion over coffee, or in Helene and Frank's case, a series of letters that connected them across an ocean and created a deeper friendship than either of them may have realized at the time.  My friend who directed it helped connect these actors to each other ... and bring the story to life to connect with an audience. An audience who sighed and laughed and was saddened when it realized Frank died before Helene could get to London and meet him face to face.

The story connected us all. Engaged us in a way stories have a tendency to do. In a way television cannot and all the gadgets and apps in the world will never be savvy or smart enough to do.

My children read. I raised them to love books. My son prefers to read on his iPad. My daughter has several books "in process." Just like me. My books are stacked on my nightstand and beside my chair in the sunroom -- my place of escape -- near a cozy blanket. I have a Nook as well that I love to use especially at night and take places when I travel, since I never know what might appeal to me at the time. I have old books and new books. Paperbacks and hardcovers. I continually seek recommendations because the books you read fuel the conversations we can have later. They teach me things. Give me new information and ways to relate to the people around me. The connection between the book and me evolves into the connection with you and me. And I revel in it.

So when I escape into a good book, I'm connecting with people I don't know yet and old friends too. And I'm going to connect with you too. Never discount the power of a book. It brought Helene and Frank together across an ocean. It can bring us together across a table.
                                                                                                                     -- Jenni

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kindness in a Coffee Shop

I love Starbucks.

Oh, I realize some of you out there are mourning the loss of The Coffee Beanery and Caribou. Royal Oak is definitely short a coffee shop these days. I am sorry about that since they have been hubs of activity. I too miss Caribou’s amazing Hot Chocolate options and the Coffee Beanery’s Cinnamon Holiday Blend -- a traditional purchase by my mom every December. But there is a magic inside Starbucks. 

I suppose part of the appeal is the aroma of the beans grinding and the specialty coffees. The sounds and energy bustling around that place. The varied personalities working, meeting, reading a newspaper, talking, laughing and making business decisions as they sit together at tables or in the cozy chairs by the fire. So much seems to happen in coffee shops. Today, though, I found something that I wasn't expecting.

My absolute favorite drink in the world is Starbucks' Peppermint Mocha. I try to hold off until December 1st to treat myself to this high-caloric delicacy. But today’s crisp air and wintery sky served as a catalyst and I found myself donning hat, gloves and my new winter white Olivia Pope wool coat and walking to Starbucks.

Walking in the door, I felt myself heave a great sigh as I took in the energy of Starbucks' highly energized world. Wonder of wonders, there was no line. Must have been a sign from the Coffee Gods that this was where I was meant to be at that exact moment in time.

I glanced up at the vast menu, knowing what I truly wanted, and allowed myself to make the request.

“A Venti Peppermint Mocha, please.” (No wimpy Tall or Grande for me today. Nope. I needed the full rapture only available from a Venti.)

The Barista taking my order smiled. It surprised me. I needed that smile. It was a friendly smile and I did a meditative action at that moment. I breathed it in. I absorbed the positive energy like it was a living spirit. And founding myself smiling back. It was as though his smile bestowed upon me a gentle touch. Welcoming. Encouraging.

Then he asked my name. They ask that these days and write it on your cup. I told him. Whenever I tell someone my name, they assume it ends in a Y. It’s not a big thing. It’s just going on a paper cup that I’ll throw away eventually anyway. People misspell my name all the time and I don't stress it. But … he didn’t stop there. He asked … “with a Y or IE?”

I was surprised. And I smiled again. “With an I,” I told him. "Thank you for asking."

He grinned and laughed, explaining that he wanted to get it right. By his action, he honored my uniqueness -- by simply noting my name, correctly spelled, with black sharpie on the red Starbucks holiday cup. Then he took my pre-paid Starbucks Card (something I am never without), rang up the astronomical cost for a Venti specialty coffee which by now was even more worth it, and smiled again.

I moved to the waiting area. Others came in from the cold. Some smiling ... some struggling with things I know nothing about. I found myself smiling at them. Sometimes people seem surprised when I smile at them -- like I did -- and then they brighten. We made casual chat as I waited for my coffee. A gentleman in a suit walked by me on his way out and complimented me on my coat. I smiled and thanked him, feeling stylish and happy that someone took the time not only to notice but to speak kind words. He smiled back and exited into the cold. Our encounter had ended.

The Barista called my name and with great awe I collected my very first Peppermint Mocha of the season.  I stepped back into the cold with lightness in my step. A little more ease between my shoulders. A gratitude that I found kindness today from strangers in a coffee shop. And that their simple generosity gave me something of great value. Something I guess I needed as much as I needed that Venti cup of coffee.

People need gentleness and kindness. Validation and appreciation. Genuine Friendship. The human touch. A smile. It grounds us and steadies us and keeps us strong. Moving forward. No matter what else happens today, the smile from the Barista and the words from a stranger will remind me that you can find and give Kindness anywhere.

When I smile at you, perhaps you will see the bright pink energy … my aura.  There are days its dimmer than others but I seek to keep it pulsing with light. Perhaps you will breathe it in. Receive the energy I offer willingly. Sometimes I run out, ya know. So, when you share your kindness with me, it sustains and strengthens. It brightens my light.

What is it Blanche DuBois said in Streetcar Named Desire? ….  “I’ve always depended on the Kindness of strangers.”

I am grateful that I can find Kindness in simple places like a Coffee Shop. From strangers. Sometimes it’s easier to get it from someone you don’t know. And to accept it. We like to project confidence. But there are moments... This morning at Starbucks as I glanced at rushed, harried faces, I realized the toll day-to-day living takes.  I observed and recognized that our spirits are fragile -- especially as the holidays loom ahead with their pressure, lists, demands and emotional implications. Our pace and the shifts and changes in our daily existence challenge us, leaving us ragged at times. So much benefit can come from the simplicity of a smile.

When I went to Starbucks this morning, I didn’t know I would gain so much.

Dear Starbucks ... Thank you for the Coffee. And thank you for the Kindness. I'll see you soon.

                                                                                                                                -- Jenni

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Episode That Changes Everything ...

Watching TV last week, I was captivated to discover that both The Good Wife and Hawaii Five-0 would be showing The Episode That Changes Everything. Just TV shows, sure. But life can be like that too.

Do you have days like that? The announcer would call it .... "The Day that Changes Everything" and there would be dramatic music following said announcement. Perhaps you lose something or fight with someone or watch a dream shatter. Perhaps you receive a disconcerting report from the doctor. It could be related to a job ...  a friend ... a promotion ... a spouse or a lover ... a part in play that you hoped to achieve ... a touchdown that would have won the game ... a basket that no one had made in ages  ... an award .... a low score on the golf course .... a bad grade ... It could be amazingly good, life-changing horrible or simply emotionally jarring.

Whatever the case, it is a day which shakes you up, throws you off balance and toggles your future. Your next steps are unknown as you gaze out onto a new path on the playing board.

On days like this, whatever shakes your world can just be too much. The project is overwhelming and you aren't up for the challenge so you sit and sob at your desk. The bill is larger than you can pay.  The health forecast is bleak. The ache in your heart is too intense to refocus on anything but the pain. The number of items on your to do list is too vast to embark upon. The sum total of the demands from your kids would make a math teacher cringe. The housework that needs to be done is endless. You don't know what to cook for dinner and your cabinet seems bare of anything appealing. And -- on top of it all -- it's grey, cold, and rainy ... The planet seems to shift. And suddenly you are shaking .... lost.

Now what?

I've heard it all ... Buck Up, Get Back on the Horse, Rise to the Challenge, Just Do It. But what if none of those seem to fit? What if today, you stall ...

Ok. Stall. Break down. Cry. Disconnect. Take time. Create Space. Assume Child's Pose or the Fetal Position in the corner and lock the world out.  Venture off on your own as long as you need to ... just remember to breathe.

Believe it or not, it is OK to fall apart.  No, the pieces may not go back together the way they once were. Sometimes superglue isn't the answer. Some things can't get fixed. Sometimes, you have to remodel. Adapt. Cope with what comes or doesn't come next. Restructure a new you ... a new something. But, first you have to allow the old one to collapse. Accept the things you may not change. And, ya can't build on a damaged foundation. The Episode That Changes Everything may be the lead in for a whole new story line. You may not be ready for it at the moment. But as everyone knows, The Show Must Go On.

Ready or not, here it comes.

Mr. Rogers used to say "It's okay to cry. Crying gets the sad out of you." He knew what he was talking about.

As Alexander noted in the brilliant children's storybook Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day  "Some days are like that, even in Australia." That's no work of fiction. That's truth. Oh, somewhere deep in side, your recognize that things will shake out. It's not cliche -- it just takes time. The only thing constant is change. You know you have to lose sometimes They tell me when I lose then I eventually appreciate the stuff I win more. (Yeah, okay. But I'd rather not lose.)

A friend of mine posted this thought on FB: "As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better." Brilliant message. I can embrace that. Sometimes I just need a little time to mourn first.

No, sometimes things just don't flow the way you'd like. Sometimes you have to fight the waves and work harder against the current. Not every day is a Margarita and floaty in Key West. Some days, you swallow too much salt water. Some days, you get discouraged. Some days, you just can't grin and bear it. Some days it just hurts too much. Some days, the Episode That Changes Everything plays despite your best efforts.

What works then? A book without any emotional intensity. A simpler TV show that doesn't remind you of anything you are going thru. A craft project to focus your energy. A workout. Cooking. Baking. Cleaning. A round of golf. A run or a brisk walk. A sand volleyball game. A swim. Playing the piano or guitar. Yoga. Just something ... anything to distract.

On days like this, it would be nice if someone would reach out. Wouldn't it? Watch the Episode play out by your side. You know, just a random call. They were suddenly thinking about you. You suddenly popped into their mind. Oh, a little alone time is good. Time to find your ground. But watching it play out with someone close to you helps you get thru the whole show. On those days, give yourself permission to show your weakness and cry on a shoulder.

Unfortunately, people don't have ESP so you might have to venture beyond yourself to find that shoulder. And most of us don't show weakness well so we end up trying to manage the "episode" alone. Then we dry our eyes and add more concealer, going back out in the world when we feel smashed and shattered into millions of tiny broken shards.

buck up. 
get back on the horse. 
rise to the challenge. 
just do it. 

And no one knows. But you. That it was the Episode That Changed Everything. Up to you. Go in. Reach out. But you will get thru. And next week, there will be a new episode that makes you laugh, cry, celebrate, or grow. Your choice to watch or change the channel.

                                                                                                                                                 -- Jenni

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Would Our Founding Fathers Say?

I voted today.

Yep. Took my daughter to the polls, reminding her about the importance of making your voice heard and about the fact the once women didn't have this right. I would like to say that I vote in every election but there might have been one or two I missed. But, it is my intent to exercise my right.

Yes, I was familiar with the candidates and the issues ... the proposal and charter amendments. And I cast my vote. I got a sticker and I wear it proudly. My daughter got one too. Wearing it today may remind her about the importance of casting her vote in the future. I'd like to hope that my leading by example means something to her.

Did my vote today matter? I don't know. I'm a bit disillusioned, I'm sorry to say. Not trying to criticize the process since I believe every voice should be counted. However, I have to wonder if this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 

We the People ... in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. I learned that on "Schoolhouse Rock" as a kid. Remember those Saturday morning cartoon segments? I can sing it. Not sure if I could recite it without singing it. It fills me with pride. And then I think about our society. Our debt. The debates about who deserves healthcare and who doesn't -- and who should pay for it. The clause that enabled our Congress to take home paychecks when the rest of the federal government was without income during the recent "shutdown."

I think about a Proposal that was written and voted upon today in my home-town. A Human Rights Ordinance that is supposed to ensure that all human beings have equal rights. A proposal that will "prohibit discrimination based upon actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, marital status, physical or mental limitation, source of income, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status."

Huh ... I'm sorry. I thought that was already clear. I thought the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, along with the many Bills of Rights, accounted for that freedom. That discrimination was looked down upon in our civilized society. Obviously I am wrong. But I find myself wondering why we need a Human Rights Ordinance when we've already been there and written that many times before.  Didn't work the first time, apparently. So what ... people will respect this law more since it's new? The old "unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" applied only to 1 in 3? 

And, by the way, how do you enforce "perceived discrimination?" 

The Bible tells us to Treat others as we'd like to be treated. Guess no one pays attention to that either -- it's not legally binding and comes with no timely punishments. So we need an ordinance to legally enforce us to stop discriminating. I don't get it. People are people. Can't we remember to play nice? Do we truly need an ordinance to tell us to play nice? If the other laws, bills and amendments before didn't work, why will this one.

And ... What does this need for a Human Rights Ordinance say about us as Human Beings? I may be naive and idealistic. I believe that people make choices but we are fundamentally good and want to do the right thing. And while not everyone out there is my best friend, I do honor their individuality ... their right, guaranteed by the work of our Founding Fathers ... to express their individuality as they choose.

I don't know about you, but it makes me sad. I have lots of different friends. Some of them are just like me (poor things.) Not many thank God. I like them as, well ... them. I like their quirkiness or thoughts that vary from mine. As an American in a country founded on the ideas of Freedom of Religion and Speech, I admire and celebrate their uniqueness, their talents, their ideas, their activities, their preferences and choices ... these all provide me with the possibility to learn and grow as a human being. They are themselves. We are not a society of clones and Big Brother. People can decided who they are meant to be. No, I don't want all causes shoved down my throat. No, I won't agree with everything. BUT, I do honor the fundamental right to choose a cause and an opinion and do with it what you will.

Don't you? Don't you believe in individuality? Don't you celebrate the right of a person to be who they are? Don't you think it's tragic that we need an ordinance to force people to accept that people are people and deserve to exist discrimination-free?

So, I voted today. And I felt a bit sad afterward that I had to vote on Human Rights. That there are people who don't feel they have Human Rights. And that 237 years after the Founding Fathers struggled to establish a nation of Individuals with Human Rights and Choice, we still haven't accomplished what they fought and bled for. 

I voted today. Did you?

                                                                                                                                  -- Jenni