Let freedom ring?

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Tianaman Square PortraitI just returned from China when NJ Gov. Chris Christie shouted down a sign-yielding spectator while speaking in my small shore town of Belmar yesterday. He was here to mark the two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the area. 

But when he eyed the poster-sized plea to “Get Sandy families back in their homes —  Finish the job,” the potential presidential hopeful switched mid-thought to his trademark snark: “Hey buddy, I see you. But we’re the ones who have been actually doing the work.” He called the sign-holder a “guy who doesn’t know a damn thing about what he’s talking about except to show off for the cameras.” As soon as the man tried to respond, Christie out-yelled him. “Turn around, get your 15 minutes of fame, then maybe roll up your sleeves and do something for the people of this state.” With cops closing in on his prey, the gov put icing on his vitriol cake, practically spitting the words, “Until then, just sit down and shut up.”

Jet lag does funny things to a brain. Or maybe just my brain. And maybe just jet lag from a communist country. But when I heard whistles and applause for yet another horrific gubernatorial performance, I fell like I was back in Tiananmen Square.

Then I glimpsed the target of Christie’s tirade and I was even more dismayed. Jim Keady grew up in my town. For weeks after Sandy, he led teams of volunteers – including my teenage son, Seán – into knee-deep muck to drain basements, tear out sopping drywall and haul moldy carpeting. He joined my husband and I as we helped deploy manpower and supplies from our borough-hall-turned-relief-center. We all gave a lot in those cold, electricity-less weeks following the storm, but I can’t think of anyone who pitched in more than Jim, a former pro soccer player who used to back up Olympic goalie Tim Howard. Now he dedicates his life to a number of causes. One of them is the legions of families not able to get back into their homes after all this time — hence the sign that set the governor off.

I know if this happened in China, Jim would surely be dragged away to jail, or worse, rather than making the rounds of national media to tell his side of the story. So, I guess this is the place where I’m supposed to say that we’re lucky to live in America, that democracy trumps everything. And I’m sure I do believe this. But in my stupor of 3 a.m., lying awake with my body still 12 hours ahead on Beijing time, I am disgusted by trPanda Cub in Beijing Zooickle-down politics cum reality TV. I yearn for a democracy built on civility and respect, where mean is not a synonym for freedom, and where our leaders embody the dignity of their office.

Maybe I just need to think of panda cubs for a while. That will make anyone calm down, smile, and hopefully sleep…

 

Happy “Talk Like a Pirate Day!”

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Pirate IllustrationShiver me timbers, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Can’t tell the difference between a bilge rat and a bung hole, but I be certain that Walt Disney warn’t blowin’ no smoke when he said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” 

Arrgh! I’ll raise me grog to that! And be forever grateful for me bountiful booty of books. What might ye be readin’ in celebration, matey?

Bones and nests and webs, oh my

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Close up prayer flags in TibegBeen a while, and my mind is so stuffed that it’s bursting at the seams like my youngest son’s t-shirt drawer. I hadn’t looked in his dresser in years. You see, my husband insisted our kids do their own laundry in high school “so they would know how” (wink-wink.) I always figured Seán left his clean shirts piled in the basket because he was too lazy to put them away. Now I know.

I opened his drawer yesterday, a month after he left, and stumbled into a cram-packed memory lane. I found thread-bare soccer jerseys… a faded Bob Marley… a silly Spongebob… and a rainbow of festivals and fundraisers. Like scarves in a magician’s hat, they seemed endless. One at a time, I lifted, folded and smile-cried my way through his cotton-poly fingerprints.

Sigh…

I had wanted to weed out Seán’s room with him before he headed to Loyola. Yep. I also planned on college shopping, eating out too much and making him ride waves with me one more time before he ventured to his new life as a freshman in New Orleans.

The universe, though, had other plans.

I’ll skip the details (and some choice words), but let’s just say it involved a white van cutting a corner into my bicycle. In the blink of an eye, I traded my pep-rally role as chief transition orchestrator and dorm decorator for a totally unfamiliar one: spectator.

I watched from a living room recliner as my youngest prepared for his big change. I had to sit by while my daughter, Aislínn, got ready for a long-dreamed semester abroad in Beijing. And I remained propped up with pillows when my drumming firstborn, Ciarán, did a post-college backpack through Vietnam for six weeks then headed away to start his “real” life.

None of them could hug me goodbye; broken bones don’t do well under the pressure of love. Neither do empty nests.

Today is eight weeks since the accident. Patience has never been my strongpoint and inactivity is a foreign land. Yet maybe there’s a reason I needed to sit still. My helplessness helped my offspring fly the coop with stronger, more graceful wings

As my body parts continue to heal, I’m trying hard to adjust to my new life – where tWeb of Pray Flags on Tibet mountaintophe only one I pick up after is my old dog, Scout. And when I hear from my boys in NOLA or Skype with Aislínn in China, I know – like the beautiful webs of prayer flags in her photos from Tibet – that I am truly connected with my children, no matter where we all are.

.. now, to clean out some of those t-shirts!

iPads over World Peace?

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Imagine Peace on Scallop ShellWhen 1,200 Brits were asked what they wanted most for Christmas, iPads trumped world peace almost 2-to-1.

Ok. It was right before the holidays. And the survey sponsor is the Consumers Electronics Association. But really?!?

Perhaps the delighted iPad owners never used their devices to read about another annual survey of 1,200 people –– this one by the Center for Preventive Action. Only instead of cool tablets or sports cars, this ranking includes Syrian unrest, China-India border clashes, Jordanian turmoil, and a deadly terrorist attack on the U.S.  As The Atlantic modestly observed, “the findings are alarming.”

Granted, the Preventive Priorities Survey asks experts to rank global conflicts that might pose the greatest threat to the U.S., so I shouldn’t dis the Brits for missing it. (Although I can’t imagine that our once-motherland is immune from these potential crises.)

Yet this isn’t about who chose an iPad over world peace. I have relatives who’d do the same thing. It is, however, a stunning reminder that coverage of Sudanese atrocities or videos of Ukrainian unrest register in our inundated brains sort of like a streamed episode of House of CardsWe bemoan the dark side of human nature. Then we move onto something else.

You know. Cancer. Floods. Job loss. Heck, even diaper dilemmas or doggie tales. The “story” doesn’t matter. Only when we are directly affected, only when it is our story, do we really care.

That’s why I love Peace Pilgrim. She knew this better than anyone –– that peace is an inside job. She spent 28 years walking across the U.S. with only the clothes on her back meeting people face-to-face, making peace personal. How? By talking about inner peace, by helping people let go of hate, anger and judgment in their own lives. Because, she knew, world peace will only happen when enough of us find inner peace.

So, maybe the CEA can learn from this when they plan their next survey. World peace is a tall order for someone simply jonesing for a little holiday happiness. But I bet if they pit iPads against inner peace, the outcome might be different. What do you think?

Tough Love on “Stuff” Love

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Palm Bark MaskWhen the plaster came crashing down from my ceiling a few weeks ago, I’m lucky I was putting on PJ’s instead of sleeping in my bed, where huge chunks landed in a loud mess.

But even more overwhelming than the explosive scare or the insurance adjustor’s “accidental-collapses-aren’t-covered-by-your-policy,” was having to clear everything out of the room before repairs. 

Funny how you can live in a space, see it every day, and not realize just how much stuff  you really have –– until you have to pack it all up. Anyone who’s ever moved or cleaned out a loved one’s home knows what I mean. But who would’ve thought I could cram so many things into a small Victorian-size bedroom with one tiny closet?

Even worse? It all piled up while I’ve been embracing “simplicity.”  No kidding.

Long before I saw the 1990’s documentary, AffluenzaI was anti-overconsumption. I told anyone who listened (or read my eco-column at the time) about the toll products, packaging and production were taking on our poor Earth. I championed experiences over expenses, and  I compiled lists of places for people to recycle things they didn’t need. For years, I wouldn’t even take my kids to the mall.

Yet I walked around my bedroom this weekend and saw collections of clutter everywhere.
I can’t remember the last time I looked at most of the old tapes, DVD’s, books, or half-finished projects on top of my radiator and floor. Maybe there weren’t a lot of new clothes in the closet, but it harbored crowds of sweaters, skirts, shoes, belts and pocketbooks that I’ll never wear again. I even unearthed a mix of mystery items squeezed into a corner between two dressers.

And as I schlepped it all out and found places for temporarily storage, I suddenly started to smile. Just the weekend before, I spoke to an audience of environmental educators about Peace Pilgrim’s life of simplicity. I could almost hear her words:

“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in simplicity of living.”

What an aha moment! Like health gurus who are too busy to eat right so they run in for burgers and fries, I was happily still preaching simplicity while surrounding myself with dust-collectors.

It’s not that I don’t love some of my stuff. I have souvenirs that bring me back to South America, gifts that fill my heart, skirts that make me young and projects that I will complete. I doubt Peace Pilgrim expected others to live just with the clothes on their back, like she did. Instead, her real message is to make conscious choices.

I realize I’ve latched onto excuses that added to my ownership:
→ I hate contributing to the overburdened waste stream, but it takes time to recycle different goods the right way. (So, I’ll just hang onto it for now.)
→ I can’t throw anything out if there is a chance it can be used in the future. (You never know when you might need molded cardboard for an easel, or a ratty feather boa for a Halloween costume.)

But I’m onto my charade now. It’s the gift in my plaster disaster. And after the repairs are done, one thing I know for sure –– everything will have to pass the two-question test:

Plaster hole

1.  Do I still need or love this?

2.  Could someone else use it more than me?

This way, the only stuff coming back into my room are the things that add value to my life. And that will mend a lot more than the hole in my ceiling!

 

New moon magic

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moon sliverNew year, new moon, new beginnings! Whether you love left brain logic or right brain whimsy, it’s pretty cool to start 2014 with a new lunar phase!

Astronomically, this means the moon is closest to the sun; they share the same ecliptical longitude. I doubt if ancient Hebrews knew this geek speak when they began each month on the new moon, or if science was behind the purely lunar Islamic calendar. But the nearly invisible nighttime crescent continues to play a huge role in Hindu, Chinese and so many other cultures. People all over the world wait for the waning moon to disappear and re-emerge in its waxing cycle before launching projects, starting journeys, setting goals.

For astrologers – who see all things lunar as our subconscious, while solar reveals our ego – the new moon brings the two together. For one day a month, we can peek inside our inner dreams and pull them into being. Goethe must have been under the new moon influence when he wrote, “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

That a new moon welcomes us into 2014 is certainly a sign of genius, power and magic. It urges us to think about what’s important, to bring it into action. Some people might be making resolutions. But me? I’m going to embrace tonight’s new moon and embark on a New Year filled with love, compassion, connection and peace.

What is your lunar intention?

Phases of the Moon

Self-Publishing Course Launches Authors!

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Book Logo for SelfPublishing WorkshopWhen I taught college writing, it was always great helping a student sell a magazine story or essay. But nothing compares to seeing authors publish their first book! Two writers from my Self-Publishing course now have titles on Amazon and other outlets!

Congratulations to Pat Heaney, author of the engaging young adult (YA) novel, Mean Sea Level, and Lauren Kehoe, whose YA book, The Numb, will keep you turning pages.

If you love to write and always dreamed of being an author, it’s never been easier to self-publish. I’ll be offering the how-to series again through the Belmar Arts Council starting Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014,

Self-Publish Your Book: from manuscript through marketing
Tuesdays, 7-9 pm, Jan. 14 – Feb. 18

Whether your book is destined for the best-seller list or your family reunion, the six-session workshop will give you an overview of your options, as well as specific steps, resources and costs for preparing, self-publishing, and promoting your book. Choose one or more of the weekly two-hour sessions:

  1. Make Your Manuscript Shine – Techniques to polish your writing
  2. The Scoop on Self-Publishing – General overview on indie options
  3. Create a Kick-ass Cover – Effective images, ISBNs, blurbs and more
  4. Format Your Manuscript – Importance of interior layout and design
  5. You’re Ready to Self-Publish – Print and e-book how-to
  6. Promoting Your New Book – PR & marketing tips

SEE FULL CLASS DESCRIPTION or to register, visit www.BelmarArts.org  (732-749-3360)

PLUS: I’ll also be giving a
Free Introduction to Self-Publishing session
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 from 7-8 pm
Booktowne
171 Main St., Manasquan, NJ

Through the eyes of gratitude

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Rudy's Little WorldMy friend Stacy Raye is blind, had two kidney transplants and a pancreas transplant. But instead of wallowing in these and other complications from her Type I diabetes, she’s one of the  most upbeat people I know.

I met Stacy after she published a terrific picture book, Rudy Gets a Transplant. Like all the books in her Rudy’s Little World series, it stars her adorable miniature poodle, Rudy. For years, Stacy kept me laughing and inspired through the regular blogs she posted from her furry child’s point of view. When he unexpectedly passed away earlier this year, I couldn’t even imagine her grief.

But a couple of weeks ago, on the 30th anniversary of losing her sight, my amazing Minnesota friend blew me away again by writing about her gratitude – only now the “voice” is that of Rudy’s little brother, Boomer, the Mellow Yellow Lab.

“In many ways, Mommy thinks losing her sight was a blessing.  It has helped her become the person she is today.  Although it changed some of the goals she had as a young person, so many better opportunities have happened that might not have occurred had she not lost her sight.  That is what she calls changing challenges into opportunities.
Who would have known, a 19 year old newly blind girl would eventually meet the man of her dreams, graduate college with honors, have 5 fabulous puppies, 3 transplants, write 5 children’s books, have a comfortable house, wonderful supportive friends, give presentations on both coasts, and do at least 3 TV interviews!  Wow!”

Rudy's Mon & Dad

Wow, indeed. I’ve been away from my own blog for a while but on this Thanksgiving day, I  can’t think of a better reminder than Stacy’s spirit and words. Here’s to seeing all of our glasses half full!

 

Prison and Peace

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cell in Alcatraz prisonJohn Grisham might spin a legal thriller like no tomorrow, but his New York Times opinion piece, “After Guantánamo, Another Injustice,” gave me more chills than any of his best-selling fiction.

It’s about a young Algerian caught in the post-9/11 frenzy for justice, who has spent 11 years at Guantánamo Bay. (Some of Grisham’s books, it turns out, are banned at Gitmo; the author wanted to meet one of the detainees who enjoys his writing.) He learned horrifying details of the inmate’s confinement, more startling because of the man’s apparent innocence.

“Nabil has not been the only ‘mistake’ in our war on terror,” writes Grisham. “Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries.” It is this return home that spurs the “injustice” headline: once there, these men are often homeless, destitute and ostracized – in other words, their lives are needlessly shattered by imprisonment.

But it’s not only foreigners bearing the brunt of a justice system run amok. Take Edward Young, a Tennessee stay-at-home dad of four who’s serving 15 years without any chance of early release because of a mandatory sentence for possessing old shotgun shells. In another eye-opening essay, “Help They Neighbor and Go Straight to Prison,” columnist Nicholas D. Kristof says Young’s nightmare captures “all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system.”

“We have invested in mass incarceration in ways that are crushingly expensive, break up families and are often simply cruel,” he continues. “With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world’s prisoners.”

What’s even more insane? There’s growing evidence that prisons don’t really work. Yet Kristof says that doesn’t stop states like California from spending nearly $180,000 a year on each juvenile in detention, but less than $10,000 for each school student.

When I read these kinds of articles, two things happen. First, I’m awed by the power of writing to expose unfairness. Second, I think of Peace Pilgrim, who never stopped believing in the innate goodness of people. And instead of feeling paralyzed and hopeless, I am more determined to use my words to promote peace and justice, as well.

What re-ignites your flame of activism?

Self-Publishing Workshop

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WorkshopClipI’m excited to announce a new six-session workshop that will guide you from manuscript through marketing! To be held Tuesdays, 7-9 pm from Aug. 13 – Sept. 17 at the Belmar Arts Council.

Did you write a sizzling page-turner? A targeted how-to? A memoir to pass on to your children? It’s never been easier to publish your own e-book or print book, whether it’s destined for the best-seller list or your family reunion. This six-session workshop will give you an overview of your options, as well as specific steps, resources and costs for preparing, publishing, and promoting your book. Choose one or more of the weekly 2-hour sessions:

  1. Make Your Manuscript Shine – Techniques to polish your writing
  2. The Scoop on Self-Publishing – General overview on indie options
  3. Create a Kick-ass Cover – Effective images, ISBNs, blurbs and more
  4. Format Your Manuscript – Importance of interior layout and design
  5. You’re Ready to Self-Publish – Print and e-book how-to
  6. Promoting Your New Book – PR & marketing tips

FOR DETAILS, see the flyer: Self Publishing Workshop