Archive for January, 2013

Believe in Yourself

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

This is for the other late bloomers. The great people who never had the foresight to create (and believe) their own hype, their story of how wonderful they are. The trouble is, in the absence of positivity, negative thoughts will invite themselves in and take over like weeds. The one encouraging word is quickly squashed by a louder negative comment. So, why do we focus on that? Perhaps it’s easier that way, easier not to succeed than to roll up one’s sleeves and do the dirty work: practice every day, stay late at work, or—dare I say it?—make mistakes.

I don’t feel like talking about mistakes today, though. I would rather talk about possibilities. I have a fat, paperback book at my desk that I packed and recently unpacked during a move from one desk to another. Now that I don’t have a cabinet, it is out in the open, so I have been looking at it.  The author grins at me from the cover. It is an older book, by that I mean not a new release; it’s from 2005. Last year, I read “Unstoppable” by Cynthia Kersey, which contained 45 stories about personal triumph. It was one of my favorite books of the year. It would be worth reading again, but I have this other book, this thick book about success principles that, even if I concentrated on one principle per week, would take just over a year to finish. As I flipped through the book, past the mildly self-righteous introduction and into the guts of it, I thought, “Well, why not?” Isn’t there enough negative stuff bombarding our existence? Isn’t life too precious to waste another minute telling myself that I can’t do something? I have some crazy goals swirling around in my head, and I can use all of the encouragement and inspiration that I can pack into my brain.

Twenty thirteen is already into its fifth week, so I will start with this principle—Believe in Yourself.

You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned,, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the earth by the Master craftsman. – Max Lucado (author)

Believing in myself is the attitude, the choice, that I will concentrate on this week. The words “I can’t” no longer exist in my vocabulary. So maybe my dad was right: “You can be anything you set your mind to, kiddo.”

Random Poetry Prompt

January 22, 2013 1 comment

I am answering a random writing prompt that asked, “What is your favorite poem?” I don’t want my last impressions of this day to be the 5:45 pm bus that arrived at 6:18 pm. Nor do I want the negative feelings of coming home to a trash bag having been ripped apart with its contents strewn across the floor, the telltale sign of a bored doggie. Tossing a bit of poetry into the mix seems like a good way to unwind and regain my composure.

I do not have one ultimate favorite poem or poet, although there is one poem that I am saving for a special occasion which I refuse to utter until the time is right. Then there is “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop that I heard a character partially read in a movie that stuck with me, although I cannot recite it word for word. I just like it. Every time I read it, it makes me think—about its meaning and about the artist who created the poem.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

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Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

There is one poem that I managed to memorize, probably because of its simplicity and brevity. I remember it being attributed to Dorothy Parker, but I have since seen it credited to Oscar Wilde:

Love will die if held too tightly.
Love will fly if held too lightly.
Lightly, tightly, how do I know
Whether I’m holding, or letting love go?

Then also attributed to Ray Bradbury, but substituting art for love:

Art will fly if held too lightly,
Art will die if held too tightly,
Lightly, tightly, how do I know
Whether I’m holding or letting Art go?

What is your favorite poem?

Chips on Sale

January 18, 2013 Leave a comment

imageI have mentioned our cost of living before so there is no logical reason for the gasp of surprise when I encountered this rack of sweet and salty snacks during my turbo-charged jaunt around the city this lunchtime. Hoping to maximize the final few minutes of the shortest hour of the workday, I considered combining two errands into one. Buying a bag of tortilla chips now would save me a few extra steps to the grocery store up the street.

Until I saw the price.

Really? $9.56 for a bag of chips? No wonder they were on sale.

Welcome to my world.

On the upside, we enjoyed 70-degree weather today. Not bad for winter.

If I Tell Him How I Feel, He’ll Leave Me

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

If I could wake up tomorrow with one special ability, I would want the ability to speak easily to others. Not only the gift of language to speak to anyone with no language barrier but also to communicate with others no matter the situation.

Many people think they cannot talk about certain subjects because of the potential reaction of the other person or they fear not being understood or that they will say the wrong thing. The solution, they decide, is not to say what is on their mind even at the risk of damaging the relationship through extended silence, wrong conclusions or physical distance. Family members, co-workers and business associates all suffer from strained communication at times and feel held hostage by their own inability to express themselves in a way that is respectful, clear and non threatening. I often hear people say things like:

“I didn’t say anything because I knew it would come out all wrong.”

“I had to walk away because it wasn’t the right time to talk about that.”

“If I tell him how I feel, he’ll leave me.”

To all of the head nodders out there, I disagree. Perhaps, maybe, two percent of the time, it may not be the right time to speak up because the receiver is not in the right frame of mind to process your message. The trouble is, the longer we wait to have the difficult conversation, the harder it may be to bring it up again. In some instances, not having the conversation can be more damaging or even tragic than the actual discussion that needs to take place:

• talking to your kids about drugs or sex versus intervention or an unplanned pregnancy

• approaching a family member about his signs of depression versus a suicide attempt

• calling off a wedding versus an unhealthy marriage or a bitter divorce

All meaningful relationships encounter occasions that call for high-stakes conversations. These conversations have been happening—or not happening—since the beginning of man’s existence. Consider this exchange:

Nathan: Let me tell you a story. There were two men in one city—one rich, the other, poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb. The poor man took good care of it, even fed it from his own table.

David: Go on. Tell me more.

Nathan: Well, one day a traveler came to the city and stayed with the rich man. When dinner time came, instead of taking a lamb from his own flock for the feast—remember, he owned lots of sheep and wouldn’t miss one—the rich man stole the poor man’s one and only lamb, killed and prepared it and served it to his guest.

David: That scoundrel! What kind of man would do such a thing? He ought to pay for it, fourfold even!

Nathan: You are the man.

Life is messy, and sometimes we have to talk about it. The writers of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, define crucial conversations as those when (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. The conversation between King David and the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-9) had all of the elements of a crucial conversation with the added element that, if a prophet angered a king back in those days, it could be ‘off with his head’! Early in the book (page 3, second edition), the authors make this assertion:

“If you know how to handle crucial conversations, you can effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.”

So, what is the first principle of dialogue? How can we ensure we won’t say something now that we will regret later? Start with Heart. Motive. Decide what you really want and stay focused on that goal.

King David and Nathan had a long relationship of friendship and mutual respect, and Nathan was loathe to damage their relationship, even in the face of a delicate, serious situation. The stakes were high, yet Nathan did not back away from the conversation that needed to take place. He began with the right motive and stayed focused. Dialogue skills can be learned, and it is possible to hold difficult conversations in a way that maintains the relationship—or even improves it—and results in a workable conclusion, even if the parties agree to disagree. No slamming doors. No silent treatment. No hard stares across the dinner table. Is this possible? The writers of Crucial Conversations assure that it is.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (

Graffiti and Irresponsible Travel

January 13, 2013 4 comments

With the rollover into a new year, many people make New Year’s resolutions and create or review lists of things they would like to see, visit or do sometime in the rest of their lives. For instance, imagine that visiting Machu Picchu is on your list of ultimate travel experiences. You save for months, perhaps years, for your dream trip and excitedly anticipate the day your flight touches down in Peru.

After a scenic train trip up 7,800 feet, breathtaking views of the mountains spread out before you. Exploration of the magnificent archeological site lives up to your longtime dream, except for a troubling practice. You had not anticipated the widespread graffiti left by previous visitors. Not ancient Incan writing but instead the thoughtless scribbling of tourists who lack respect for history, culture and OPP (other people’s property).

The previous scenario is hypothetical, but the practice of tourist graffiti is not. So here is my question: What makes tourists think that writing their names or “Susie luvs Ralph” is acceptable, whether etched on a column along a Roman cardo or a trunk of an oak tree in Central Park?

I recently confronted a woman as she tried to write her name on an ancient Roman column using a ballpoint pen. I asked her to stop. She continued to try to get the pen to write. I explained it was irresponsible to write on the property. She responded, “Well, there’s no sign to say not to do it.” My blood pressure spiked. Where are the tourist police when you need them?

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Since when does a reasonable, rational person require a sign stating the obvious to deter said reasonable, rational person from defacing public or private property?

How do they think the graffiti will be removed—with a bit of Clorox and some elbow grease? Or perhaps with the help of the next hard rain?

Is it important for the next visitor to know that ‘James’ was there in 2012?

By the way, the trustees of Petra—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and unfortunate victim of tourist graffiti—actually do mind when visitors leave their autographs onsite. Under “Responsible Travel”, the Petra National Trust (PNT) admonishes visitors to “treat Petra as you would your own home”. That includes not littering, climbing on monuments and, oh yeah, drawing graffiti. Can’t get much clearer than that. The PNT even included the antidote for the pen-wielding sickness (or whatever the weapon of choice). Graffiti cannot be removed. To satisfy the need to leave your name on a prominent place onsite, become a member and donate to the PNT. In return, the PNT will inscribe the donor’s name on an official plaque and display it in the visitors’ center.

Help preserve national treasures

Help preserve national treasures

Petra and its tourist-attracting counterparts deserve a little respect for their age. Natural elements and human contact cause strain on these national treasures. Erosion occurs from wind and rain. Human contact such as touching, leaning, and rubbing and even walking on original stones wears away natural surfaces. We all want to enjoy these sites in their beauty and splendor when we visit, and responsible tourism is essential for the preservation of history.

It is better to travel well than to arrive.

Petra National Trust:

Five Stops on My Old Stomping Ground

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment
Boston Skyline

Boston Skyline

I was recently asked what I missed most about Boston, and I had to give it a bit of thought. Not because I couldn’t think of anything but rather because I had a running list. Because ‘family’ was obviously first on the list, space was next. There is a larger land area to explore than in my daily routine of work-home-church-work in this big, wide world, and a change of scenery could provide a therapeutic recharge, even a short city break.

Daughter and I rode the subway into the city with no specific plan but to see what happens. After purchasing our Charlie Tickets, we boarded the train and ended up at the Park Street stop. As we swung open the door from the station onto the street, the cold air blasted us. I started to consider that an itinerary that involved being inside would be our best bet, now that I am thin skinned after many years of living in a warmer climate. ‘Inside’ to Daughter meant starting the afternoon’s exploration with lunch at Chipotle for hot, fat burritos. Actually, the burritos did the trick and with our tummies warmed and full, we began our afternoon excursion.

The following list of Boston sites is in no particular order of preference or schedule:
Boston Massacre site
Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market – Proximity means little if taken for granted. I worked diagonally across from Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market long enough to have explored the museum and shops but never took advantage of it until after I had moved away and returned as a visitor. On this visit, it seemed like a good place to stay warm on our mother-daughter jaunt into Boston. We almost made it, too, but we came face to face with a tour bus kiosk that called out to us. See the City and stay warm! Not literally, of course, but I have to blame something for spending x-amount of dollars on a two-hour whip around the City.

Old State House
Actually, our whip around filled in some gaps for me that I missed in history class(es), this time delivered by a friendly driver/guide who conducted the tour as enthusiastically as if the bus were full. For 99 percent of the tour, we were the only passengers, so we entertained him as much as he did us. We listened to his spiel about the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride, Old Ironsides, and the neighborhoods that make Boston a mixture of cultures, and I wondered why history didn’t seem as interesting when I was in high school.

Os Gemeos – Who’s ready for a bit of controversial, contemporary art? Then stand on Rose F. Kennedy Greenway (Dewey Square), just outside the South Station T stop, and look up. Looking at the mural months after the unveiling, the controversy has ebbed away, as most controversies do when another subject becomes the focus. Vivid in color and multi layered in meaning, I am glad I had the opportunity to see the artwork before it comes down in November. According to the back story on the plaque at the foot of the mural, this giant representation by Brazilian artists, Os Gemeos, is not a depiction of a Muslim woman. Here’s a tip: after your initial reaction, stroll over to the plaque and read the blurb that will give you all of the information that I’m going to skip right now. Then, after being enlightened, step back and look at the mural again. I’m sure I saw two business men standing across Atlantic Avenue watching me pretend know something about art. They were probably thinking, “Really? Is this the first time she has seen that mural?” Yes, I am THAT far behind everyone else. For the record, I think the mural is intriguing. Art should make you think, feel and at the very least, react. It did.
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Fenway Park – Our guide must have been a die-hard Red Sox fan because he took great pleasure in stopping at Fenway Park, lecturing about (and quizzing us on) the statue of the four baseball greats then memorializing our visit by taking our picture in front of it. The Red Sox will always be my team despite never having been to a home game even though my brother probably still knows the stats of every player and now living in another country. At least now even I know that Dom DiMaggio, brother of Joe, was a Red Sox center fielder. How many of these baseball giants can you name (without Googling)?
Baseball Greats

Boston Common – Here’s to originality. Apparently, the Boston Common is the oldest park in the country. This location probably shouldn’t be in the list because I actually liked spending time in the Boston Common often. I remember the Swan Boat ride in the pond, but it’s winter so ice skating was the popular activity that we noticed on our drive by. It looked like fun, although neither my daughter nor I can ice skate. I am not a fan of falling down so . . .

College Life – In alternative lives, both daughter and I would have been Boston college students, she picked a college and I chose Emerson, ???! years apart, of course. Boston and Cambridge boast a long stream of prestigious colleges and universities. The previous two as well as Harvard, Northeastern, MIT, UMass, Berklee College of Music among others lived more in my dreams than in any possible reality of attending. I used to listen to WERS at night, the radio station of Emerson College, and envy the journalism, communications, film and writing students who attended the College. Ah, well, we all make choices, don’t we? The trick is not to sit around and wallow in regret of choices made but look forward and recognize future possibilities.

In most cities that I visit on my own (versus on a pre-arranged tour), I opt for the touristy tour bus trip that, years ago, I would have scoffed at as being cheesy. My, how perspectives change. On my next trip to Boston, I will make an earlier start to allow time to hop on/hop off at some of the sites that I only took pictures of this time: Boston Public Library (nope, I have never seen the inside of it—for shame), a walk around Beacon Hill for the neat side streets and architecture, a walk along the Charles River. Maybe I could buy a sweatshirt at the Coop. Would anyone believe I graduated summa cum laude from MIT?

Don’t answer that.