Archive for the ‘Observing Humanity’ Category

Through Your Eyes

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The way you look at someone–and smile–will affect them in ways you may never know.

Some of us take a lot of trouble with our appearance–to present the best possible countenance to the rest of the world. We gaze in the mirror and refine our looks with gadgets and beauty products, preening and posing until we are satisfied with the way we look. Sometimes we even smile at the reflection we see…and guess what…it smiles back! We leave feeling good about ourselves.

But what about the “look” we give the rest of our fellow travelers in our daily rounds? Are we as generous with each of them–as pleased with what we see in their faces? Maybe some of us are not even pleased with the image we last saw in the mirror. Bad hair day? Acne? Didn’t get the makeup quite right? And, oh no–wrinkles!

Remember that the most perfect “look” you show the rest of the world is the way you look at others, the way you see them, and the way they see themselves reflected in your eyes.

Don’t forget to smile.

A flat tire changed me

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

It’s Sunday. A good day to express gratitude if you take a traditional approach to these things. Actually, I take time every day to be grateful. It is part of my spiritual practice.

I have a lot to be grateful for this week. For one, I started a new job at the beginning of the week. In a job market that has more than 12% unemployment, it’s no small thing. That the job is actually a good fit for my skills and something I’m interested in is even better. As if that is not enough, the company culture, the benefits and not least of all, my boss and fellow employees, are all wonderful. I’m exceedingly grateful for this job.

But beyond that, and all of the friends and family who populate my life, I want to express gratitude for the California Highway Patrol who stopped when he saw I had a flat tire last Monday night. I had pulled over on a difficult stretch of the Interstate through the Sierra Nevadas where I could not even get out of the car to look at the tire. He reassured me and stayed behind my car until the tow truck arrived an hour later to change the tire. He said it was no big deal: he was just doing his job.

I don’t know about you, but most of the time I see the highway patrol, I get nervous. Why that should be, I don’t know. I rarely exceed the speed limit by more than 5 miles an hour, and I have a valid drivers license, car insurance and registration. I’m not a criminal. But for some reason, cops have made me nervous since I was a kid. Maybe it has something to do with my parents’ admonition when I was young that “if you’re bad, the policeman will come and take you away.” That was pretty scary for a little kid. I guess the fear stuck. So much of what we hear as children dominates our belief system for the rest of our lives. It makes it impossible for us to listen to reason sometimes.

Maybe this blog is about fear more than gratitude, but I think it’s about how an act of common decency can go a long way to change deep-seated limiting beliefs. Actually, it’s just about how silly some of those fears are. We all have them.

Because of the unfortunate incident of a flat tire, I have an altered, and more balanced perspective of something I’ve feared my whole life. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could have an opportunity to examine our fears and find them unsubstantiated long enough to experience a different viewpoint?

If nothing else, it’s Sunday. Think about it.

Another Woodstock Relic

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

A recent New York Times article celebrating the 40th anniversary of the three days of Peace, Love and Music in Bethel, New York, in 1969 surprisingly drew a lot of nasty comments Most of the negative criticism and “get-over-it-already” attitude appeared to be the opinions of those aging baby boomers who didn’t attend.  They are either still harboring a 40-year grudge that they missed it, or else they are the same uptight crowd that give us baby boomers the evil reputation (among younger generations) of being greedy old bastards who are hell-bent on destroying the economy and the planet.

I’m one of the relics, a leftover of the 400,000 or so who made their way to Yasgur’s farm to spend three days and nights listening to the premier musical artists of our day. What we found when we arrived was something even more amazing, and that’s one reason we’ll never forget our experiences. It’s the stuff that cultural legends are made of, a story to hand down to future generations. I’m sorry if the uptight crowd still thinks we were a bunch of unwashed, drug-addicted, sexually depraved hooligans. I’ve lived another 40 years as a contributing member of society and I’m going to tell my story, if you care to stomach another version of the Woodstock legend. Those three days changed my awareness, all for the better:

It took a couple of weeks to convince my boyfriend to come back from his summer job in New Hampshire to accompany me to what was being touted as the music event of a lifetime. Eventually, he gave in and we purchased tickets for all three days. I don’t remember exactly what they cost, but I do remember it was a hefty sum for two teenagers in those days. The irony, of course, is that when we got there, so many people had shown up, that tickets became irrelevant.

Neither of us had a driver’s license, so we bummed a ride up to White Lake with some high school friends of mine. About 3 or 4 miles outside of the festival, the two lane highway had turned into a massive parking lot headed one way to the festival. We got out with my friends’ camping gear and walked the rest of the way. It was the first time in my life I can recall walking that far. It seemed like such a great distance for me, spoiled and pampered as I was at the tender age of 17.

There were a lot of people even on Friday afternoon before the concert started, and as the evening turned to night, more people kept showing up. I remember the opening act: the rough urgency of Richie Havens’ voice and guitar, and then Melanie, young, slender and pretty, who later immortalized her own memories of looking out from the stage into an ocean of hopeful young people as we lit matchbooks and candles in the rain. When I saw her years and years later performing for free on a beach in Florida, the crowd broke out the cigarette lighters, shining like stars in a sudden downpour. I filled with my own sudden downpour of tears. I was older, Melanie was a plump, aging hippie with two grown daughters, and it seemed like Love, Peace and Music was a dusty concept to brush off and air out at concerts performed by has-beens.

Many wax ecstatic over their memories of Woodstock. Like the old joke about the ’60s…”If you remember them, you probably weren’t there,” I have my doubts about the validity of most of these reminisces. After all, most everyone was high, and they are all 50 years old or more now. I can barely trust my own memory, and I wasn’t stoned that weekend. What I do remember, besides the thirst, the hunger, the heat exhaustion, bug bites and waking up in a cold puddle of mud was the sheer power of almost half a million young people spontaneously coming together to celebrate life with a collective free spirit that had never been seen in such magnitude.

Without hearing many of the groups perform that I’d come to watch, I begged my boyfriend to help me find a way home on Sunday morning. Painstakingly, we hitched rides one after another until we got to New Jersey, and from there we took a train to New York City. As we passed a newsstand in the bowels of Penn Station, I saw this headline on the front page of the Sunday New York Times…”300,000 at Folk-Rock Fair Camp Out in a Sea of Mud.” A 5×6 aerial photo showed the stage in the right bottom corner and the rest of the frame was filled with tiny dots, somewhere among them my own. Like 100s of thousands of pinpricks of light, we had come together in a galaxy of peace for one brief weekend in time.

I was paralyzed with a feeling like pride, and realized that I had just been part of something significant. I had, for the first time in my life, experienced something much bigger than just myself. It took many years for me to begin to understand how we are all a part of one another, something a lot of people who came to Woodstock that weekend already seemed to know. Still, it was a start for me, and though I wish I’d been less self-absorbed at the time, I could not help but take away a seed of understanding that germinated and grew long after we left the festival behind.

Peace be with you,

Long live the spirit of Woodstock 1969: Peace, Love and Music

Whose Suffering Is It Anyway?

Thursday, August 6th, 2009


In the final days of my cat, Natasha’s life, was human comfort or feline comfort my priority?

Already a spectral presence, frighteningly thin, weak, and silent, my dying cat took up residence under the bed exactly far enough from either side that she could not be reached. I lay on the floor, my arm outstretched towards her as far as possible, begging her to please come out where I could stroke her. Those great liquid eyes stared back from a place I couldn’t go, a place where pain and exhaustion took her when they became her new mistress. It was a contest I couldn’t win.

I cried to her to please not die under  my bed where I couldn’t touch her.  Again, those big, empty eyes turned towards me at the sound of her name: the end of her tail flicked. I still don’t know whether her tail registered happiness that I was near or annoyance. Like most of my species, I needed to believe my life made a profound difference to hers.

In the end it did. I chose to stop her suffering prematurely…and mine. Always the supposedly good human, I had to take control of her death as I’d always had control of her life.

I have to remind myself now of the times when I was sure I made a happy difference in Natasha’s 16 years, of the affectionate head butts, the late night snuggles, even the cold shoulders I received when I was away too long: the rejection that seemed to say Hey Human, pay more homage to your cat next time!

For the last two-and-a half years of Natasha’s life I measured every day in 100 ml dosages of the subcutaneous fluids I painstakingly administered to her, giving her failing kidneys another 24 hours of usefulness and another day of the pleasure of my company. Eventually the fluids strained her failing heart.

Did she want to live? Did she want to die? I’ll never really know, will I?

In the end the decision was a human one. The only feline input was the big void of her eyes staring back already near the other side of life, the place we humans have a really hard time with. I pleaded with her not to die under my bed, and finally when her weakened body couldn’t fight me off, I overpowered her and whisked her off to the vet for a professional analysis of what I already knew.

Did she want a quick release from her suffering, or was it human suffering I was more interested in ending?

I only know her suffering presence is gone from under the bed. For me now, imprinted in my mind’s eye is the slender, regal gray cat whose whole tail shuddered with joy, I’m certain, the moment I entered the room.

We humans  interpret the world so full of our own importance.

Health care reform: A poem

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I took a break this morning from writing a humorous novel. The story of a dying man, told to me last week by a member of his community, ironically insisted on being born as this poem.


When is nature not theatrical enough?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Yosemite is practically in my backyard since I moved west in 2004;  so yesterday, with no advance planning at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my friend and I drove the 2 1/2 hours to get there, and I saw Yosemite for the first time in my 57 years. Years of exposure to Ansel Adams’ stunning black and white photos and Sierra Club calendars did nothing to diminish my joy and delight at actually being in one of nature’s finest temples. I am ready to return in a heartbeat, so please don’t take what I’m about to say as a put down of nature’s majesty. I’m a huge fan. I’m just curious about how constant exposure to movies, TV, Internet and other media affect our real life experiences of those same things.

On the drive home, we decided to take a longer route through a narrow mountain pass. At midnight, we were still negotiating hairpin turns and trying to avoid a) hitting deer which were roaming all over the one-lane road, or b) plunging over steep inclines to our certain death. The thought of stopping to stretch our legs in the thick of what could only be described as the “forest primeval” (or “prime evil” depending on how many slasher movies you’ve seen), filled me with visions of chainsaw toting, hockey-masked killers or giant grizzly bears lurking behind every tree.

When we finally did stop to use a campground latrine, the only thing looming was silence and the milky way so resplendent you couldn’t count the stars. Can you believe it was something of a let-down? My pooling adrenaline was left unsatisfied!

I recall as we drove on and on and on through miles of towering trees (reminiscent of Hollywood or Broadway fairy tale sets) that in the headlights, those trees looked too pristine, too perfect to be real. The deer were too placid, the night too peaceful without a menacing soundtrack.

I hate to think after my nearly six decades of exposure to movies, theater and TV that life doesn’t imitate art well enough! I really don’t want to believe that what was millions of years in the making isn’t thrilling enough for those of us who have witnessed feats of technology in the last few years to make one’s head spin.

I keep remembering those trees lit by our headlights as we drove through the night and how I wondered whether they were real enough.

How hate manifests when we’re afraid

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

My niece witnessed an older woman in the supermarket checkout line deliberately turning a magazine to hide the cover photo of President-elect Obama. The woman who flipped the magazine around said nothing to explain her strange behavior. Was it a silent protest against a Democrat winning the election? An African-American?

I found this story very disturbing: there are undoubtedly many more people secretly harboring resentment over the results of our recent Presidential election. What happens when you can’t talk about feelings, when you are afraid your feelings are unpopular or put you in danger? Some of us have known that fear for the past eight years. Now we have the opportunity to once again speak freely, but how comfortable can we really feel expressing ourselves when there are plenty of people like the woman in the checkout line getting angrier in silence day by day?

The story of the lady in the checkout line was disturbing, yes. It reminded me that I, you, we — all of us need to examine our fears. Don’t silence them so they grow insidiously. Give them a voice and listen to how ridiculous our own fears sound. Then give them up, lest they destroy us all.

How to nourish creativity: Google knows how

Monday, August 18th, 2008

I just received a forwarded email from a friend on the East Coast. It’s a series of photos showing all of the “fun” employee-oriented perks at Google headquarters: “decompression capsules,” slides that take you from one floor to another, pool tables and video games, massage chairs, a cozy library, only 4-6 people per work area and other amenities that, I guess, make the rest of the country’s employees green with envy. The conclusion of the email asks, “When do they work?” and “How much do the employees pay to work there?”

Few could argue that Google is just pampering its employees.  These “perks” are just a few of the ways Google encourages the creative productivity that has made it great at what it does. It’s one of the finest examples today that the American Dream is still alive and doing well.

While living and working in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to visit a number of different offices in the tech and marketing industries. In creative industries, they recognize the need to give all employees an environment in which the ideas flow, because you never know where, when and from whom an innovative idea will emerge.

While the offices I visited didn’t have everything on quite this scale, all of them had elements of these features incorporated into the work environment. Nearly all had cozy living-room style lounges where you could go off to de-stress and hang out. All of them provided a variety of free snacks and drinks for employees, and games like pool, table tennis and darts were in evidence. Some had bars where Friday evening happy hour could start an hour early. At the marketing agency where I worked, there were white boards in nearly every office and rolling white boards in the open creative department area. Play spawns creativity and it’s a good idea to have something to write on when a brainstorm ensues.
Mental and physical health, too, is a big priority, because these people work very hard, putting in long hours when a project is on deadline. They deliver. In their spare time they go hiking, biking, kayaking, and rock-climbing in addition to doing the usual partying like the rest of humanity. And when they are not working or recreating in the beautiful outdoors, they are busy supporting the economy by buying and playing with the latest tech toys other Bay Area folks have invented while working in similar environments.
To those who work in lackluster cubicles with unhappy, complaining co-workers, it must sound like a dream, but in the Bay Area, this is how business is done. I don’t think employees in the rest of the country are complaining about Google as they clandestinely log on to the Internet while they are “supposed” to be working! Its too bad they have to sneak around to have a few minutes of leisure to clear their heads.

Pursuit of Prosperity: What are you worth?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Money is not good or evil. Like everything in life, it is both, and how you perceive it is personal. What is money exactly? We don’t even see it anymore. We swipe a plastic card and somewhere in cyberspace funds are moved electronically from one bank account to another representing someone giving monetary value to someone or something. So the amount of “money” we receive for work or services we perform is simply a representation of what our work or services, and by extension, ourselves are “worth” to someone else.

The more important question is, What are you worth to yourself? If you want to attract prosperity, you have to first believe that you are valuable and that what you give is valuable. Without that first crucial step, you are not going to be attracting enough money to sustain yourself.

Is your life worth living? Then it is worth getting paid, at the very least, enough for necessities. If you believe you’re more valuable than that, you will always be taking steps, even unconsciously, to receive more. If you believe what you do benefits others, you will receive enough money and enough fulfillment to be happy and secure. In other words, it all starts with whether or not you believe you are valuable.

Scrabble is like life

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Sometimes you look at the seven tiles you’ve got, and all you can think of making from them is a two letter word. That’s it, that’s all you’ve got this round. Other times you can take all seven letters, miraculously arrange them to form a big, fat juicy word with a “Q” or a  “Z” or an “X” or a “J” or all four of them across two triple word scores! If you play just for fun sometimes, like I do, and you show your letters to someone else, they immediately see the potential you can’t. You are amazed (and embarrassed) when they whip them into a word where you saw only yowling vowels or dissonant consonants. In either case, you’ve got all the tiles, but you just can’t put them together.

So what if you can only make a two or three letter word that doesn’t land on any colored squares? You still get to pick a couple of new ones. There is fresh potential in every pick, every round, every set of seven letters. It’s all in the way you “see” them.

Like I said, Scrabble is like life.