Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Giving Thanks in a Mad World

cornucopia

This is the week of Thanks-giving, when we express our gratitude for the good things we have in our lives. It’s my favorite holiday, not only because it’s the one I spend with my extended family (who are wonderful, kind, loving, funny people), but also because it gets me to be specific about recognizing the amazing blessings I have in my life (that are generally right in front of me). Of course I am always thankful (in a subconscious way) for the roof over my head, food in my fridge, supportive family and terrific friends, but this week I take time out to meditate on them. When I do that, when I count my blessings, I begin to feel like the richest person in the world. It helps keep things in perspective, which, unless you live in a cave, is hard to do in this increasingly mad world. Which brings me to the internal conflict I now find myself experiencing.

It feels almost obscene to be thankful for my good fortune when there are so many who don’t have plentiful good food and easy access to clean water. It seems like a betrayal to be happy in my oppression-free life when there is so much injustice in the world. How can I blithely sit down at a table covered by an abundant holiday meal when I see the suffering of refugees, the horror of genocide, and the indiscriminate bombing of innocents in the world? How can I laugh and be joyful with my loved ones when children are abused, when the mentally ill are ignored, when unarmed teenagers are gunned down – in this country? How does that not make me a hypocrite? How does that not make me part of the problem, turning my back on a mountain of troubles?

I struggle with how to respond to everything I see on the news and in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I start to feel guilty when I get excited about the upcoming turkey and dressing when other people are protesting in the streets. Am I who I say I am, someone who cares about the weak, the silent, the powerless? Or do I just pay lip service to these things? These questions leave me feeling anxious, like I should be doing something about all if it if I only knew what.

I know what I won’t do, and that’s fan the flames of a fire that is already burning out of control. I decided a long time ago that I would refrain from foisting my indignation on my unsuspecting friends via the internet. There’s too much of that already. For those of you who do express your outrage in this public way, I understand why you want to do it, but I would ask what you’re trying to accomplish. If you are achieving your desired aims (either to solicit agreement from like-minded people, or to pursue arguments with those who disagree) then I suppose your efforts are fruitful. If you post things of a particular slant in the hopes of changing someone’s mind, then you’re probably wasting your time – the internet is not a safe haven for reasonable people willing to engage in dispassionate discourse. You should probably look for them elsewhere.

And I think that the constant flow of horribleness is dangerous to our well-being. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Getting back the point of all this, then, is how do I reconcile my own good fortune with the scarcity I see everywhere?

At least part of the answer, for me, is rooted in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I am genuinely thankful that I was born where and when I was. I am genuinely thankful that both of my parents are still living, and that they love me. I am genuinely thankful for my wonderful husband, who is a gift to me every day. I am genuinely thankful for my family, who are strong, kind, faithful people. I am genuinely thankful for my friends, who bring such love and laughter into my life. I am genuinely thankful for all the material things I have – a home that is warm and dry, clothes to wear, a car to drive. I am thankful because I know that so very many people in this world don’t have some, or any, of these things. It makes me humble that I do.

The other part of the answer is that even as I am thankful for what I have, I try to do something for those who have not. I give money to various charities. I volunteer my time at the soup kitchen. I donate unwanted goods to organizations who will pass them on to needy people for free.

And finally, I try to live my convictions. I gave money to the pregnant woman in the Target parking lot without making her finish her carefully rehearsed speech about why she deserved my help (“I’m not homeless”, she said, as if not having a home would have made her unworthy of the money I gave her). I try to treat my fellow man with understanding and compassion, even when I’m frustrated by them. I do my best to be kind and patient, as I want people to be kind and patient with me. I’m not always successful, but I try.

Sometimes we get an opportunity to stand up in a real way for what we believe. When those times come, it’s important to take advantage of them. When those times come, it is important to stand up in love, not hate. Screaming “You’re Wrong!” at each other only widens the gulf between us.

My friends, take some time this week and turn off the television and the computer, and think on what you have to be thankful for. Dwell on your blessings. Let your gratitude fill you up so that when you look out at the world, you will see it through love-filled eyes. I promise you, it will look very different indeed.

photo credit: Carmyarmyofme via photopin cc

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A Place of – No?

Yes

We are told that we should live our lives from a place of “Yes”, but I’ve begun to wonder – is it possible to say “Yes” too much?

I was telling someone the other day about all the different projects I have going on now, and that I don’t care which one comes through, as long as it makes me a good living. I listed off all of the various people I’m working with on different things (including her), and it sounded ridiculous. How is anybody supposed to get all of that done, and done well?

So far that hasn’t been an issue because, unfortunately, not one of these ventures (or all of them combined, for that matter) has generated enough consistent work to keep me busy from morning to night 5 days a week. Which means, of course, that even though it sounds like I should be insanely busy, I’m just not. This blog entry isn’t a day late because I was working so hard. It’s late because my husband and I went to see a movie yesterday afternoon since both of us had completed our work for the day. That’s how most of my days go; I get up, I get my coffee, I fire up the laptop, I deal with my email, I may or may not speak to any one of the people I have ongoing projects with, I do whatever I need to do for my clients, I have lunch, and, unless I have conference calls in the afternoon, I’m pretty much done by 2:00pm. On the one hand, no, it doesn’t suck, but the flip side is that I am keenly aware that all this downtime isn’t producing any income.

So, in my quest for coin, I’ve said “Yes” to pretty much anything anyone had proposed to me that could possibly result in financial gain. As you can imagine for the past few years I’ve said “Yes” a lot.

Them: “Do you want to start a new group to discuss the future of work and make money putting on conferences?” Me: “Yes!”

Them: “Will you design brochures for my business and help me create strategy and run my employee meetings?”  Me: “Yes!”

Them: “Will you help me re-write my website and create a marketing package and represent me to groups as a professional speaker?”  Me: “Yes!” (twice)

Them: “Will you join me and some other people to build a new business from the ground up, a process that will require you to give up your own attempt at self-employment in the same field?” Me: “Yes!”

That’s just the stuff that could make me some money. I’ve also said “Yes” to lots of things that won’t. And, in addition to all this, I’ve embarked on my journey as a writer, which should absorb my non-working hours, but I find that I get so obsessed with the idea that I have to use that time to generate income that writing seems like a betrayal to myself and those who depend on me to earn some sort of a living. So, instead of using those hours to do something that I know feeds my soul, I sit here in front of my laptop flailing around, jumping from one thing to another but not focused on much of anything except some vague idea that this is what I’m “supposed” to be doing.

It’s making me crazy.

Please understand that I am flattered that some people think so much of me and my skills and talents that they want me involved in their projects. It has been a balm to my battered self-esteem to be so desired. That’s probably the biggest reason why I’ve said “Yes” to things that I’m not well suited for. Just so you know, I’ve been honest with those people who’ve asked me to help with with stuff I don’t really know how to do, but they don’t seem to care. So I’ve been muddling through, hoping not to screw things up too badly, and feeling like a total fraud, even as I’m told I’m doing a great job.

I’ve never been afraid to tackle things that I’m not 100% sure what I’m doing, but I seem to have taken on an extraordinary amount of it in my eagerness to keep myself open to possibility. This is where the idea of “Yes” falls down – when you say it indiscriminately. I’ve turned into a project slut, someone who’ll agree to do anything for even the most vague possibility of making a buck, and it’s made me feel kinda dirty.

But I don’t know what to do about it. I genuinely care about every one of the people with whom I’ve agreed to work, and I want to help them. I want the business venture I’m involved in to flourish, even as I have no idea how to make that happen. I want to find that magical formula of doing what I love and loving what I do. So far, it has eluded me.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, something magical did happen. I was invited to join the board of directors of a new theatre company. Almost all of the existing board members are longtime friends of mine, and the mission of the theatre is one that I am extremely excited about. AND I have the experience, skill, and talent to make a genuine contribution to the group. And even though it is a non-paying gig, my feelings about it and my willingness to jump in without reservation has cast all my other ventures into stark relief.

So I’m in a quandary. Do I gently, lovingly, let go of those projects that are getting me down? Do I, for the first time in years, say “No”?

It’s not in my nature to abandon someone who needs me, but I’m beginning to see how I’ve stressed myself out trying to do things I don’t know how to do. Or the people I’m doing them with seemingly aren’t as committed as they said they were so I’ve wound up dragging them along, even though the project was their idea to begin with. It’s emotionally exhausting, all this caring about stuff that’s going nowhere.

I’ve had to admit that I’ve been so busy trying to do right by everyone else that I’ve forgotten to do right by me. I’ve said “Yes” over and over, thinking that opening myself up to all possibilities was the best thing to do. I know now that, for me at least, this has been a losing strategy.

I’ve decided that going forward, I’m going to start saying “No” to those projects for which I feel no personal passion. I’ve tried substituting other people’s enthusiasm for my own, and it hasn’t helped them or me. I’ve lied to myself that I feel passionate about things that I just don’t. It’s the only way I’ve been able to rationalize the lengths to which I’ve gone to make some of these projects happen.

One caveat: there are a couple of projects that I will continue to work on, even though I’ve lost that loving feeling for them. It’s better this way; I can do the work that’s required of me without putting so much importance on it. I can still care about my work without NEEDING it to be successful to justify my fake passion for it.

That realization has set me free to give my heart to what I am honestly passionate about. I know what some of those things are – the theatre, my writing, my family and friends. I wonder what new passion may be out there, waiting for me to make room?

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin

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What Other People Think

Secrets

Yesterday I was riding in the car with my husband, and we were talking about me. Specifically, we were talking about what I’m like as a stage manager (that’s how I met him – he was cast in a show at the theatre where I was the staff stage manager). He said something along the lines of “Well, you’re totally dedicated to the good of the show, and if some people think you’re overbearing, that’s just because they don’t understand.”

What! Me? Overbearing??

Yeah, ok, yes, I can be. I try not to, but I’m wired that way. I’ve mellowed out some in my old age, but I can still be quite frightening if you push me too hard. I’m not mean and I would never belittle or bully someone (having been bullied myself in my life), but if I’m in a position where I’m accountable for your actions (completing tasks, being on time, etc.) and you let me down, you will hear about it. Hopefully in a constructive way, as in “I know you didn’t mean to screw this up so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, but make no mistake, if you do it again I will be VERY PUT OUT.” Something like that. I’m not the sort to hold a grudge. I’m not one to smile in your face while complaining about you behind your back. I’d much rather have it out in the open, deal with it, and move on. I think that’s more respectful of you – it means I think enough of you to tell you if you’ve done something to disappoint me, or to make me angry, or to hurt my feelings, and I want to give you the chance to tell me your side of things and to make it right between us. It’s the grown up thing to do.

Not everybody handles conflict this way.

I’ve been struggling with deciding if and/or how I should respond to a person I inadvertently offended last year (for clarity we’ll call her “B”). Until recently I didn’t know what I’d done to upset B; all I knew is that one day things were fine between us, then the next day they weren’t. A mutual friend finally told me what I had done to cause this rift, and I was stunned. Apparently, I said something to B’s colleague that the colleague took offence to and then immediately reported to B. The comment took place at a bar at an evening social function. I have no idea what I said. I can’t imagine it could have been that awful – I wasn’t intoxicated, and I know where the line is when you’re conversing with people you don’t know well. Anyway, instead of coming to me about it, B immediately began to distance herself from me. Not knowing why, I imagined I was getting the cold shoulder because of something I’d done to her, but no amount of gentle questioning revealed what was going on, and for a year and a half I was totally in the dark.

Situations like this really upset me. I can’t stand the thought that somebody out there is holding a grudge against me for something I’ve done, because I would never intentionally inflict pain on anyone. If I have done something to piss you off or hurt you, I’m pretty sure I didn’t mean to do it, and I would really like it if you told me about it and gave me a chance to fix it. B never gave me that chance, which has made me question myself. Does she have so little respect for me that she didn’t feel she could confront me with my misbehavior? What is it about me that made her feel this way?

And then I realize that the whole thing isn’t about me at all. Yes, I obviously said something to upset someone, and for that I am genuinely sorry. But good grief, don’t we all sometimes make mistakes? How bad could some random comment in a loud bar have been, anyway?  And it’s entirely possible the person I offended may have misheard what I said. So, in this situation, where the reaction was completely disproportionate to to the crime, I realized there’s more going on here, and what’s really going on probably has nothing to do with what I did and everything to do with B’s own hang ups.

But being me, I keep gnawing this old bone.

I’ve thought about sending B a note to tell her I know now what happened and to offer an apology. In this message I would also like to point out that because she didn’t tell me herself what had happened, she has denied me the opportunity to apologize to the person I actually offended and to try to make it right with them. Then I think I won’t do that, because the only reason I’d point out her behavior is to make her feel bad (and part of me really does want her to acknowldege the crappy way she treated me).

Sometimes I think I’ll just let it go. It’s been a year and half. I don’t care if B and I ever repair our relationship – obviously it wasn’t a very strong one, based on the speed with which she ditched me. My only concern about that is that I don’t know if she’s running around badmouthing me to other people. I don’t think she would, but you never know.

And then, finally, I realize that I don’t have the slightest control over what people think of me. Never did. I can’t do a thing about people who think I’m overbearing, or unprofessional, or anything else. Trying to force someone to have a good opinion of me is a complete waste of time and energy. It’s hard not to try, though.

I make mistakes all the time. I say and do the wrong things. I accidentally offend my friends and relatives. We all do. It’s part of being human. All I can do is to apologize when I become aware that it happened and do my best to make amends. I wish B had given me that chance. I may not have assuaged the hurt feelings of the injured party, but at least I would have known I tried. After that, it’s on them. But now, it’s been so long I’m not sure that digging it all back up is the right thing to do.

What do you think, gang? Apologize, or let it go? I’m taking a poll, and I’m very interested to know how others have handled similar situations. Thanks for your participation.

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

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Politics

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As my friends know, I don’t have a whole lot to say about politics.  Not because I don’t have opinions – I do.  I vote every time I get a chance, and I’m proud to participate in the democratic process.  I believe strongly that the government of the United States of America affords the greatest protections to all of its citizens under our system of federal, state and local laws.  It is far from perfect, but for the most part, we as Americans still can count on our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, without undue interference from our neighbors or our government.  If you don’t believe that’s the case, go travel around.  Get accused of a crime in India or Singapore or Russia and then see what you think about our laws.  And don’t talk to me about the NSA.  They aren’t reading your email.  They aren’t interested in you.

I don’t talk about politics or religion on Facebook or on this blog because I don’t see that there’s any point to it.  I think it’s almost impossible in this medium to a) persuade someone that your opinion is the correct one, or b) have a truly meaningful conversation.  If I’m going to have a discussion with you about politics or religion (and believe me, I really don’t want to), then I’ll do it when we’re sitting down, face to face, with either a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in our hands.

So, I’m not actually going to talk about politics.  I am certainly not going to join the finger-pointing parade.   I don’t have anything to say about it that hasn’t been said, is being said, or will be said.

This is what I think about politics:

It’s not important.

Before you go getting all upset, hear me out.  I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t care about who gets elected or what we believe about life – we should.  What I am saying is that we’ve become addicted to arguing about it, and blinded by our anger.

I want you to ask yourself, to ask your heart, why you are so angry with people whose outlook on the issues of the day are different from yours?  Why do you get so mad it makes you want to scream at them?  What makes you feel such hatred towards them?  Why do you go looking for “evidence” of their “lies” on the internet (which is hardly a bastion of unbiased truth)?  I ask you these questions because they are the questions I ask myself.  I’m no saint – I struggle daily with my anger towards those who support programs that I believe are actively harmful to our society and to people I know and love.  It bewilders me, and my emotions respond with impotent rage.

But raging against the forces at work doesn’t change anything.  It also has the negative effect of changing my focus from what’s truly important in life to the argument itself, allowing my emotions to dictate my actions.  One way I use to avoid this cycle of overreaction is to judge the relative importance of any divisive issue by this simple yardstick:  will this thing, whatever it is (gay marriage, special local option sales tax, Obamacare) separate me from my loved ones?  Will it keep me from showing compassion to my fellow man?  If the answer is “No”, then it isn’t important.  You may be thinking “Well, by that measure, you’re saying that none of these issues is important!”

You would be right.  That’s exactly what I’m saying.

I believe that the only thing that we should be concerned about is how we treat each other.  If we aren’t treating our fellow man with kindness and compassion, we are doing wrong.  I’m so tired of the hatefulness that we have come to accept as “the way things are”, the greed and lust for power that leads our elected officials to behave like spoiled children, and the intractableness of opinions that divide friends and families. I’m tired of it, but none that stuff actually prevents me from loving my fellow man.  It’s just noise.

So until the next time I get to vote for people who support my values, I’ve decided to try something else.  I’ve decided that I will focus on what I can do, today and every day, to make the world a better place.  I can’t yell and jump up and down and change peoples’ hearts and minds, but what I can do is choose not to engage in the hate fest.  I can decide to continue to love my friends with whom I emphatically disagree.  I can choose to be kind.  Getting angry only perpetuates the problem, and keeps us on this downward path.

And one of the results of taking this path is now right in front of us.  The fact that the federal government has mostly ceased to function is terrible.  However, it isn’t the fault of the President or of Congress.

It’s our fault.  We put those politicians there.  Right now you may be thinking that YOU didn’t vote for the people who are causing all the trouble, so you’re not responsible, but I’m telling you that it doesn’t matter if you did or not.  Something about how we’ve gone about doing things in the past forty years or so has created the climate we now find ourselves in, so yes, all of us, me included, is responsible for the gigantic pile of crap currently located in our nation’s capital.

So it’s up to us to fix it.  What we want for ourselves and for our country will be manifested by how we treat each other.  You must be willing to forgive someone who you think doesn’t deserve it, to try to understand someone who you believe with your whole heart to be wrong, and to love the people you believe are destroying the country.  These are the choices we all must make; not between Republican and Democrat, but between Judgment and Grace.

It is only when we change our focus from our need to be right to our desire to understand can we move beyond this place in our history.  We all need to stop worrying about politics and start looking for things we can do, right now, to break the cycle.  If we stopped fueling the engine of hatred and divisiveness, it will slow down, and eventually, it will come to a halt.  Ignore the idiots in Washington.  They’re like children throwing a temper tantrum – if you stop engaging, they’ll shut up and get on with it.

The hardest part?  You have to do it whether the “other side” does it or not.  This is how it works.  Jesus knew it.  Gandhi knew it.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew it.  The road will be hard, there will be setbacks, and people will take advantage of your seeming “passivity”.  But it is the only way to heal the divisions in our relationships and in our country.  We must choose love over hate and compassion over power.

What will you choose?

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Micky** via photopin cc

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