Writing into the Light…

Finding my way with words…

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Watch What you say ABC… Children will Listen

Careful the things you say ~ Children will listen
Careful the things you do ~ Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen ~ Children will look to you for which way to turn
Careful before you say “Listen to me”  ~ Children will listen

Careful the wish you make ~ Wishes are children
Careful the path they take ~ Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast ~ Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last ~ Past what you can see
And turn against you ~ Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell ~ Children will listen     (©Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods)

I’m on a mission to get this post out before I see the first snowflake of the season which is coming within hours!  I finally got around to changing the spring/summer header for the blog to something more seasonally appropriate (fall leaves).  By tomorrow morning I will need to update again to a “winter scene” as the last of the fall leaves will be buried under a blanket of snow.  I need to get one blog out with the fall header!  Ok, enough about the weather.

I am a fan of DWTS ~ Dancing With The Stars for those of you in the know.  I enjoy seeing a process whereby people who, for the most part, are not dancers become dancers.  Each week they struggle to be something they were not just one week earlier.  It reminds me of a crash course in life.  As they weekly achieve new goals and physical transformation their definition of self blooms into new levels of self confidence and human potential.

I am amazed at their courage!!  I think back to junior high school days (as middle schools had not been invented) and the fear, even in a small group of friends, of looking like a clumsy ox as I attempted to maneuver around the dance floor.  As humans, our greatest need is to feel that we “belong.”  Here are adults with the courage to step forward and dance in front of a live audience, focused only on them, and millions of people sitting in front of their TV screens.

Every season of DWTS I become more and more angry and concerned at ABC because they not only allow, I believe they encourage in the name of ratings, the bullying and public humiliation of those who take to their stage to perform.  I am concerned from two perspectives.  I am concerned because they are using their status as an “expert” to give themselves permission to make a personal attack on the celebrity dancers.  I am even more concerned with the long term message this behavior carries.

The same TV network that will wear a certain color to celebrate acceptance and say no to bullying, will present this same behavior in another format and call it acceptable.  How can you do news/documentary programs in which you tell kids to “just say no” to bullying, and report on the long term effects to the recipient (including suicide) and say hateful things to a guest on your DWTS show?  I don’t get it!!  You may as well save the money you spend to produce anti-bullying programing because we don’t believe you any more.

Did you ever hear the expression: “Actions speak louder than words?”  ABC, as long as you allow  this appalling behavior, the REAL message of how you feel about creating compassionate, safe and respectful environments in which your celebrity dancers can truly grow and thrive is clear.  Some guests are nurtured and guided by the judges, the efforts of others are ignored or presented for ridicule.  This is not just about Chaz Bono.  This is not about this season only.

I was an educator/administrator for 30 years.  I battled bullying daily in public schools.  Before I ever put up one “Bully Free Zone” sign in the hallway, or adopted an anti-bullying curriculum, I looked in the mirror at my own words and behavior and that of my staff.  Adolescents may do a good job of convincing us that they are not looking or listening.  They may present the attitude that they will do the opposite of what we want, but the reality is, they are paying attention.  They are listening.  They are also looking to peers for alternative behaviors.  The best thing we can do as adults to stop bullying, to stop abusive behavior toward others is to model behavior in which we embrace our differences and welcome universal acceptance.  Our challenge is to be the model they choose.

I honestly cringe when I know one of the celebrities has their young children in the audience when it comes to the judge’s comments.  No child should have to hear many of the comments made to “get a laugh” about their parent.  Instead of becoming a part of the problem, I would like to challenge ABC to truly become a part of the solution by modelling respectful behavior in all situations to all living things.

Shame on you ABC for tossing aside those teachable moments of how to appropriately model methods of teaching what your “experts” know as well as how to support and encourage desired behaviors.

While I am angry with this particular show for the example it presents, each and every one of us has a choice to make daily.  As we rise in the morning, look into that bathroom mirror we need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to spend today as  part of the problem, or part of the solution?”

Check these resources for a place to see how you can help stop bullying:

National School Climate Center ~ http://www.schoolclimate.org

Stop Bullying. Gov ~ http://www.stopbullying.gov/

Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center ~ http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

Operation Respect ~ http://www.operationrespect.org/


Canine as Consumer… Marketing to… Fido??

I remember sitting in a very relaxed position in the recliner watching TV.  “The kids” were sprawled out around the living room asleep.  Gracie, the golden retriever was laying against the front of the couch, Willie, the Norweigan Forest Cat was sprawled on the cool tile floor in the kitchen area just off of the living room and Misty, the charcoal grey DSH cat was under the green barrel chair snoring.  The electric fireplace was blazing with virtual flames and heat.  My version of American Gothic.

A commercial came on for cheese.  Gracie jumped up out of a sound sleep, sat momentarily in front of the TV, barked one bark and ran up the stairs to the second floor.  I remember shaking my head and thinking, “Okay… whatever!”  Seconds later “Thunderpaws” came bounding down the stairs with one of her toys in her mouth.  Gracie was carrying her cow toy. She associated the “mo-o-o-o-o-ing” of her toy with the “mo-o-o-o-o-ing” of the field of cows in the commercial.  That was the first time I remember thinking “My golden retriever is smarter than your honor student.”

There used to be a belief that dogs could not see TV.  I had realized that was not true.  I am a fan of the “Buddy” movies starring a litter of golden retriever puppies.  Gracie and I have enjoyed them on many occasions.  She will sit with her face right up to the screen to watch the movie.  If the pups get out of line, or in trouble, she will give them a “woof!” to put them in their place.

While doing some research into a totally different product made by the Nestlé Company I came across some astounding information this morning!  One of the products Nestlé makes is Beneful dog food.  Gracie loves her Beneful!  I began reading about the marketing experiment now being run in Germany for this product.  Nestlé is now designing commercials to market to dogs.

Is it not enough that children sit in front of the TV while making their list for Santa, or while making their shopping list for Mom when she is buying toys or cereal or which fast food mecca to visit for dinner?  Now we are marketing to Fido!  Researchers have found that if dog friendly sounds are imbedded into a commercial that it will attract Fido’s attention.

The first sound is a “squeak.” which can be heard by humans and their four-footed friends.  The sound is familiar to the dog and associated to a pleasant comforting sound of their squeak toys.

The second is a high frequency sound similar to a dog whistle humans can barely hear, but dogs can hear clearly.  I’m not sure I like the idea of a pet food company sending subliminal messages to Gracie that I am unable to hear and could potentially be sabotaging nine years of training.  Again, the goal is to attract the attention of the dog.

The third sound is a soft high pitched ping which can be heard by dogs and people.  The “spin” is that Beneful creates an opportunity, through these ads, for human and “best friend” to have a “shared experience.”  I realize I am not the most techno-savy person in the world, but couldn’t we just take a walk together or play fetch with a fluorescent yellow tennis ball, or have a little tug-o-war with that mo-o-o-o-oing cow?

Pulse: Alphonso Labs

Okay, so they get our attention and we have this magical sharing moment during a Beneful commercial.  The question that remains is, despite her intelligence that surpasses your average honor student, how does it get from Grace’s brain to my shopping list? Perhaps phase II of this campaign will be to teach the dog to use the ipad to order their dinner and put it on the shopping list.

There are posters advertising Beneful dog food in Germany (they must be the global test market) that are hung on a low level throughout city streets and scented like Beneful dog food!  Imagine Fido being walked on a leash, dragging you to a poster hung on the side of the building that smells like stew, then dragging you down the street to a market to get more to take home!!  It has become a scary world indeed!!!

Beneful Germany is running a month long promotion to identify the learning style of canines.  After viewing this commercial the two-legged members of the household are to go to their website and answer the question, “Does he/she get their tail wagging and most excited by the squeak, the high frequency whistle or show no reaction and therefore assumed to be dreaming of their next Beneful meal?”  In the end, some lucky pooch who barks in German will win a years supply of Beneful.

Additionally, dogs are being used in advertising directed toward humans.  They will make us look at a commercial or ad.  They engage our emotions – linking memory and emotions to make us remember.  We trust dogs, and in this economic world, people not so much!  Dog lovers feel a kinship with the company we read to love dogs also.

I am truly frightened by advertising that has been researched, designed and produced with my dog as the target.  Maybe I’m just afraid it will work and that will cause me to have to admit that Gracie is smarter than I am!!!

Now, if you can get the two cats to pay attention you may just have something there…


The Rim Walkers…Those Who Change the World

I have always been fascinated by people who challenge assumptions that are widely held by a dominant percentage of society, who are called insane, and then move humanity in a forward direction to a place and quality of life they have never known before.  Where do their original ideas come from?  Where does their strength come from as they stand against the masses who often criticize them, shun them and just plain believe them to be crazy?  Where does their passion come from and how does it sustain them as they move their ideas and ideals forward until they are manifested into reality.  Where does genius come from ~ are their brains wired from birth to challenge the beliefs of a world in which most of us are quite comfortable living or are they nurtured and educated into ways of thinking that lead them “out of the box” and into a world most of us can neither envision nor accept?

Throughout history, many of the people we would define as a creative genius, society would define as insane.  I call them Rim Walkers.  They seem to teeter between the world where the masses live and function quite happily in a world in which goals are defined by what others have that they want and a world that involves a leap of faith into the unknown void of a world that does not, and never has, existed.  That world reminds me of the famous quote by Robert F. Kennedy, “Some men see things as they are and ask why?  Other men see things that never were and ask why not?”  Rim Walkers are the “Why nots?”

In the 70’s I was invited to the opening party for an exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  The exhibit opening was honoring a group of individuals who were creative geniuses.  Creativity: The Human Resource was a truly extraordinary exhibit honoring a group of individuals who changed our world.  The opening gala was elegant and opulent honoring the Rim Walkers among us.  The exhibit has been brought to mind lately with all of the publicity surrounding the death of Steve Jobs and his contributions to our world.  I’ve decided to do a series of blogs striving to determine what we can learn from true genius.  I begin with Steve Jobs…

In his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University Steve Jobs basically created a summation of “How to Live Before You Die” in 15 minutes.  He presented three main ideas/stories.  The first was to “connect the dots.”  In brief, he advised us to follow our interests and intuition.  Follow your heart.  In essence, one cannot stand on the threshold of life and accurately define the perfect activities and events that will cause us to arrive where we are meant to be.

One cannot connect the dots looking forward. It is only in looking back that the dots of your life will connect.  The example he gave was that after he “dropped out” of college he stayed on campus for another year and a half, slept on the floor in friends dorm rooms, cashed in bottle deposits to eat and “dropped in” to classes he felt passionate about.  One was a calligraphy class.  In trying to connect the dots forward, the question would arise, “I’m glad you are having a good time and passionate about this class Steve, but exactly how is this calligraphy class going to pay your rent and make you a self-sufficient, productive member of society?”  Ten years later the knowledge and experience of that calligraphy class laid the ground work for creating the world class typography system that the soon to be released Macintosh computer, and later the PC would be known for.  To be sure, this requires a leap of faith that throughout your life the dots will connect.

The second lesson, “follow your heart and your intuition.”  “Do what you believe is great work and don’t settle for less.  Doing what you love inspires you to move society forward.  Put a dent in the universe with your power of vision.”  Steve Jobs challenged us to say “no” to 1,000 things.  Only in that way do we achieve true innovation.

Early in my life I aspired to be a professional photographer.  I was trained and doing wedding photography.  To nurture my interest in commercial photography and lighting I attended a seminar with one of the top commercial print photographers in the country.  I remember him talking about building a big bonfire annually and burning his slides.  The mouths of every audience member dropped open in horror.  We were all sitting there thinking we could work for the rest of our lives trying to produce one image as good as his and he is burning these images.  His reasoning was that if he kept them around and sat back telling himself what an outstanding photographer he was he could not move forward with new ideas and innovation.  I think this is what Steve Jobs was telling us also.

We must always follow our hearts, passion and intuition forward.  There is something inside of us that knows where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to accomplish.  If we listen to that voice the dots will connect in the way that will be most meaningful for us and the world.

Finally, at a point in his life where he had just beaten pancreatic cancer, he talked about death.  He talked about waking each morning, staring at himself in the mirror and asking, “If today were the last day of my life, would I be doing what I am about to do today?”  He advised, if there are too many mornings when the answer is “no” it is time to listen to that small voice within and move on.  He described death as likely “the single best invention of life.”  When we passionately invest in a project or idea and it fails to be what we wanted it to be, the death of that project will be one of the dots leading us forward to a world changing idea.

Two final thoughts from Steve Jobs, the Rim Walker:

“Don’t let the voice of others opinions drown out your inner voice and intuition – somehow it already knows what you were meant to be.”

“Don’t be trapped by the dogma which is living with the results of other peoples’ thinking.”

…and we do…


First Frost ~ Woo Hoo or Boo Hoo?

I opened the door, leash in hand, to walk my golden retriever Gracie and was hit in the face with the bitingly crisp morning air.  Each blade of the lush green grass was encased in a translucent white sweater.  The leaves on the shrubs were tipped with a frosty brush.  The bird bath, full from several days of rain, had a layer of ice on the surface.  As I looked up and down the street I noticed that all of my neighbors were running from house to car with their hands in their pockets trying to maintain whatever body warmth they could salvage.  As my brain registered the fact that I was witnessing the first frost of autumn, 2011 all I wanted to do at that early hour was to let out a gigantic WOO-HOO!!  Many are still grieving the end of the summer of 2011 as we head into Columbus Day weekend and would disagree with my reaction.

Frost is defined by Wikipedia as “the solid deposition of water vapor from saturated air.  It is formed when solid surfaces are cooled to below the dew point of the adjacent air as well as below the freezing point of water.”  Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes not so much.

Why was I celebrating?  Gracie has spent the last two months a miserable pup.  She has allergies.  With the first week of August each year comes red irritated eyes and inflamed ears, continual scratching, panting and an inability to sleep.  Each year the allergies progress bringing worse symptoms for a longer period of time.  It is now October, we are both exhausted fighting the weed elements that grow in the field across the street.  Many a night I am reminded of those vibrating beds that used to be in motels in the ‘60’s where for a quarter you could pretend you were a newly tinted can of paint put into the machine to vibrate!

Living in a beach community where the population increases tenfold in the summer months I have a different perspective on summer.  After suffering many cases of sun poisoning as a youngster, my days of slathering my porcelain white skin with baby oil and lying out to fry in the sun are long gone.  I prefer the “way off season” when I have to climb a snow bank to get to the beach, and can often enjoy it on my own with Gracie running free by my side.

I spend the summer darting  cars who think  my tiny street is the Daytona speedway where they can  show off their automotive power  slamming on their brakes when they reach the entrance to their campground.  I spend the summer picking up food trash from my front yard that has been pitched from the windows of the trolley provided to  transport vacationers to the beach or tossed aside by inebriated pedestrians staggering up the street .  I spend my summer co-existing with the youth who use summer at “the camp” to hang in groups of ten to twenty and experiment with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, cigars and sex.

So as not to be an old grump and leave the sand bucket half empty, summer also brings friends I only see in the summer, the reopening of my favorite seafood restaurants, the programming of our Chautauqua town especially the July 4th Parade and Illumination Night.  Summer brings Gracie’s job – she is a therapy dog known as “the reading dog” where children sign up at the local library to read to her.  Summer is my time for adventures. and exploration of places I have never been.  Summer brings the smell of the sea, sweet Maine shrimp, lobsters, clams, and scallops in abundance.  Summer brings the sweet smell of corn cooking in a huge pot on the stove, burgers and dogs on the grill, picnics and cookouts.  It also brings the farm stands and farm markets with local strawberries, blueberries, melons and if we’re lucky, someone will “import” some Jersey tomatoes!

I do, however, look forward to the annual first visit of Jack Frost, Father Frost, Ded Moroz, or Jokul Frosti (depending on your cultural background).  Grace is close to being med free until next August. The community returns to a size in which everyone is comfortable.  We regain ownership of our grocery store.  Traffic returns to manageable numbers.  The kids go back to school.  Our little Chautauqua town goes into hibernation and begins planning next summer’s season.

Fleece and flannel (not to mention long pants) return to my closet.  The smell of pier fries, pizza and the spun sugar air of cotton candy is replaced by the crisper scent of apples, cider and pumpkins.  The corn on the cob we enjoyed so much over the summer becomes the dried corn stalks we use to decorate for Halloween.  All of the sudden the standard ingredient in recipes seems to be butternut squash and I begin to crave a Philadelphia centered brand of spiced wafers to be dunked in milk.

First Frost, Columbus Day, Leif Ericson Day, Autumnal Equinox, whatever you want to call it, there are signs of great change afoot!  While I grieve the loss of things that make summer wonderful, I welcome the things that make autumn different, but wonderful as well.  In a few months there will be little white flakes falling from the sky and clinging to the earth.  The transition to Maine winter will be complete.  This season too has it’s beauty and wonders.  Then there is “Mud Season.”  In other areas of the world it is known as “Spring.”  I’m still working on finding the reasons for joyous celebration of that one…

Life is about change and about embracing the best each change has to offer!


Empathy Is Not Without Challenges…

In this month in which I apply for social security I am spending a lot of time thinking about a friend I have known for almost 40 years.   We worked closely together on a team of 5 special subject teachers for 17 years.  I still feel that “team bond” more than 20 years later.  We are now physically separated by six states due to my move to Maine.  She is my age, and she is terminally ill.

I am only just beginning to realize how emotionally complicated this situation is.  Within that team bond, when we worked together, we celebrated with each other, we grieved with each other, and we were a professional and personal support system within the day to day joys and frustrations of job and life.   I am not sure I know what to do with those “team bond” feelings as I watch the progression of her illness via a computer screen and email updates.

I don’t want to believe that she no longer has the ability to live and function as she once did – as a strong independent woman with a book always in her hand, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a desire to master techniques and skills in cooking and the many crafts that have been an integral part of her life.  I don’t want to believe that she is losing ground physically and can no longer walk on her own.  I don’t want to believe that she is losing memories.  I don’t want to believe that the brain she nurtured her whole life is turning against her.  I don’t want to believe that she has now moved to a long term care facility.  If I am really honest, I don’t want to believe that I could be in the same situation.  While some days I feel older than dirt…I am too young to be in that position… and so is she.  That comes from the “perfect world” ideology ~ a world in which we can each define “fair” according to our liking.  Alas, it is a world that does not, in reality, exist.

My mother spent my entire adulthood giving strict instructions, “if I ever get to the point where I can no longer care for myself, just shoot me, don’t ever put me in a ‘home.’”  The period of decision making surrounding my mother’s care came two and a half years ago after months of hospital stays, rehabs and declining physical health.  She willingly accepted the decision of long term care because she was exhausted from fighting illness.  She spent the last five months of her life surrounded by gentle and compassionate care minus the fears that came from the “what ifs” that burdened her when she was home on her own.

I am realizing that with every update on my friend, I respond on two levels, one to my friend’s situation, and one to a level of empathy in which I respond from an egocentric gut level of “how would I feel if this were me.”  It is a level of empathy that grows out of my own fears.  In transferring those feelings to my friend I commit the sin of denying her physical and mental state in the here and now.  Reality check, she is not capable of processing information and situations as I would.  Nor, when she was, was she inclined to always agree with me.

Many days I receive reports of joy filled hours with visitors bringing little gifts and telling stories that bring much laughter.  My insides are at peace on those days – she is okay, and I feel like someone will be there to bring me laughter and joy if I were in her place.  Other days it appears to be a doomsday report.  She’s not okay and I’m not okay.  I do my best on days when, even if the physical report is not so good, the report sticks to the facts and refrains from an interpretation of the facts.

I am attempting to step back and separate my fears from her life and care.  I am not the one who is on this difficult journey.  I would be unfair to my friend and her family to assume I was and second guess the decisions that have truly been made with her best interest in mind.  I am on a difficult journey too.  My challenge is to take actions to remind her that I love her, attempt to bring some joy and smiles to her face and be prayerful and grateful for those who love her and are physically surrounding her without prejudice for decisions made that are not within their circle of control.  Then I know she will be at peace and move forward in her journey embraced in the white light of love – she deserves no less.  By taking myself and my personal fear out of the equation, I can hopefully, in some small way, help her on her journey.

The latest report received is that she continues to lose memories.  She lives in the “here and now.”  In many respects she is in a better place than the rest of us.  I am assuming she is not comparing herself to who she used to be.  She accepts each day gratefully even with the challenges that often accompany each day.  That has been my prayer for her since her diagnosis.  Hopefully, all of us who love her can do the same.