Saturday, December 29, 2012

Notes from the Front

The "front" of my little happiness war, I mean.

In case you haven't read the post yet, I'm responding to the increasing violence and hatred in the world by waging my own little war of kindness.  I'm not delusional (much.) I know that I'm not saving the world by buying someone a cup of tea --but I can't just sit around watching the haters continue to spread intolerance and vitriol without doing anything.  Something has to happen to start tipping the scale back on the side of good. (I said it better the first time.  Go read the post --we'll wait for you.)

Anyway, I decided to become a Love Ninja.

It is, possibly, the most fun thing I've ever done.

Mostly, my little seeds of kindness have taken the form of warm liquid. (I don't know what that says about me.)  I've been buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the local food market or I've even bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery a few times. (I try to go local because even if the clerk forgets, I'm putting a little money into the small business owner's pocket, so it's still a win.  It's hard to be a small business owner today.)

So far, my favorite encounters are the ones where I get to see what happens when the person gets a little happiness delivered to them free-of-charge.  It doesn't happen that often because usually, I just pay and go--I'm consciously trying to not make these gifts about ME, but rather about the recipient.  So far, my all-time favorite was when I was still standing at the counter in the tea store when the clerk informed the young woman (not much older than my older daughter) that her tea had been paid for by someone else.  She looked up in utter disbelief.  "Oh, yeah, RIGHT," she said.  And then she was so happy when it turned out to be true!  Made my day.

Another really fun aspect of all of this is that I get the people behind the counter involved in what I'm doing.  And the looks on their faces...!  I think, you know, that most people in the service/retail industries have just come through the most hectic and worst time of the whole year.  On one day when I was paying forward a little happiness in the tea store, the owner told me that her day had started off with a customer screaming at her and storming out after he broke some merchandise and refused to pay for it.  This time of year doesn't always bring out the best in people. Although I'm not giving the clerks gifts, the way they react to getting to be the bearer of good news is really heart-warming.

The other thing I've learned is that I'm really handicapped in the Good Samaritan business because I'm so shy.  One day, I bought these little ten-cup packages of tea and I was going to take them to a crew working on the electric lines on a street near our house.  I drove past them twice, but just couldn't bring myself to stop and get out of the car.  (I left the little tea sampler bags on the cars parked in the front of the yoga studio, instead.) When I have to explain what I want to do to the clerks behind the counter, I break out in a sweat.  It's so totally worth it, but it takes reaching out of my comfort zone.

Not everything I do has money associated with it.  I find that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just...well, GIVE in general.  So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic.  I helped a woman carry her packages to her car. I'm digging into my yarn stash to make some hats.  I just...I just want to indulge in some mindful kindness.

Once the kids are back in school, I'm hoping to venture a little farther afoot--maybe helping at a soup kitchen, maybe taking sandwiches to the day laborers. I feel certain the opportunities will present themselves if I'm looking.

It's not too late if you want to join me. The New Year is approaching and, as Sri Dharma Mittra says, "How you start something is of great significance."  How should we start 2013? I say we do it with kindness and love.

(And also?  Yoga.  Lots of yoga. More about that in my next post.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Warrior for Peace

Like the rest of the world, I couldn't even absorb what had happened in the Connecticut school shootings. I couldn't begin to process the enormity of an act of such violence against such innocence.  I couldn't conceive of so much hatred in one person. I almost couldn't bear to think of those poor parents, of lives interrupted and forever altered. I felt incapacitated. On Monday, when I went to pick my kids up from school, I watched the little first graders come gamboling out to line up for their buses and I just...I just started to cry.

At first, I thought that part of my reaction was a by-product of all of this work I'm doing on trying to remain un-numb and vulnerable in a world that seems increasingly dark and filled with random acts of hatred. Because what I learned about about numbing myself is that it numbs ALL of me. I can't selectively numb my emotions so that I don't feel the depth of despair when I hear stories of such vile hatred and inhumanity, and still feel the heights of joy when I look at my children. There is no way to ONLY address the painful emotions that make me feel naked and exposed or uncomfortable. When I numb THOSE emotions, I numb everything else, too, including the positive emotions. And the result of all that numbing is disconnection: from the world, from my fellow humans, from my authentic self.

So, I've been really working on that.  But when such a heinous murder of innocents presented itself, I can honestly say that it was one of the hardest things I've ever done to just stay present with that grief and despair.  To feel it and feel the pain of that community and those parents and not reach for some numbing mechanism.

I think another part of my reaction was just how small I felt in this vast sea of darkness. I just felt so powerless against a rising tide of intolerance and vitriol. I had to give myself a break from social media because the deluge of hyperbole and bitterness and polarization made me physically ill.  I have had enough of hate. I have had enough of politicizing a tragedy to further a political stance. Enough of the stridency. 


You know what, though? The truth is, we ARE small. Individually, nothing we do is going to make much a difference against the hatred in the world.  It's kind of like being a vegan. I am under no illusion that my little one-person boycott of factory farms will change the course of the vast and corrupt food industry. But maybe if enough people choose to boycott the misery of the factory farms, at some point, there will be a natural progression to more humane and sustainable sources for our food.

I was thinking about this today and it occurred to me that somewhere in there is what I want to choose as my reaction to the Connecticut school murders. And the rise of torture and rape in war. And child abuse. And blatant racism. And intolerance, and greed, and freaking road rage. It's not enough to absorb the pain of the world.  It's not enough to cry with the bereaved parents. It's not enough to throw a few dollars to support the causes near and dear to my heart. 

It's not enough.

I'll tell you what I'm going to do. Are you ready?

I'm going to meet force with force.  

I'm going to sow kindness and peace and acceptance and love with a ferocity no madman can touch. I'll be a freaking peace warrior. I'll be a soldier of kindness. I'll be a beacon of acceptance in the face of increasing darkness. I will practice patience in a world of frenzied activity with the same power of an automatic assault rifle. Everywhere I see hunger, I'm going to feed someone. Everywhere I can, I'm going to bring healing to people in pain. Everywhere I see a need, I'm going to try to fill it.  I'm going to march out of my house every day dressed in ANTI-fatigues. Every time someone cuts me off in traffic, I'm going to consciously forgive that person and wish him or her well. I'm going to hold the door open for people, offer my umbrella, give a few dollars to the homeless guy on the street corner. I am spreading the mother-effing LOVE, people. I'm going to be a Love Ninja.

It's all I have in the face of the stark cruelty of this world. It's all any of us have.

I confess that I have this hope of being joined by you.  I think it will take all of us, each burning a tiny candle of determined, unselfish, committed love. I have this hope that if we can all burn as brightly as we possibly can, we will make a huge difference. That we can light up this world.  

I get to choose my response: I can succumb to fear and insulate myself and my little family from the pain of this world, or I can meet evil with the force of my heart, which is far, far greater than all of the malevolence.  

I'm choosing love, in the biggest way I know how.

Join me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Way My Brain Works

I've been absent.  We had a hurricane and Halloween and we instituted No Screen Sundays (which may be the best thing we've ever done) and then we had a very non-traditional Thanksgiving, due to our very non-traditional food preferences and then I went to learn writing with Elizabeth Berg.  It's been a wild few months and I have a lot to talk to you about.  Later.

Because right now, of course, I want to talk about something completely different.

(Please try to keep your complete and utter shock to yourselves.)

You know how I wrote once about needing some sort of update for my psyche?

A few weeks ago, we had the first ever Cooper Family Photo taken, by a real, live professional photographer.

I loved all of the photos.

Except, here's the thing: I don't recognize myself.  I mean, at ALL.

Like, look at this picture:
Does that look like me to you?  Seriously?

Because I have no idea who that woman is.  (Except for the lipstick on her teeth--that's pretty much like me when I remember to wear lipstick.)

And it's not just that I have make-up on and earrings.  It's that the person I see in these pictures bears no resemblance at all to the person I have in my head.

For example, I've been trying this new (to me) yoga pose called Full Kapotasana.  I was in class one day when my friend Gary brought his teenaged daughter and she did it and so I tried it, too. (See, that right there should be a clue that my self-image is not constrained by reality.)

When I got home, I tried it and had my older daughter Katherine take a picture of me.

Which was kind of a shock, because in my head, I felt like I was doing THIS:

See how it gets tricky?  If I had known what I really looked like, would I have felt so good about my own effort?  If I had known I looked so...MATRONLY, would I have bought these shoes?

(Well, okay, yes.  Yes, I would have still bought them.  Because I love them and they were on sale.)

But would I have signed up for yoga teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City in February?

Because I did that.  I really did.

And, actually, I did it even after I'd seen the pictures.

(More on that if they accept my application.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

When Writers Come Together

This past weekend, a dream I have had for, oh, as long as I can remember came true.

Many of you know that Elizabeth Berg is probably my all-time favorite fiction writer.  There is something about the way she uses language that really gets right up in my heart and stays there.  I find that the characters she creates stay in my head like new friends--I'd like to invite them over for breakfast, or to watch a movie in our jammies. She can craft a sentence that will bring me to tears.

On Thursday, I travelled to Boston to take a writing workshop with her.
See?  I was really there!  (Although, right up until the last day, I didn't quite believe it.)

I KNOW!  I know!  I... I know. Like that feeling when you think you've won the lottery and it turns out that you HAVE.


(I guess I should maybe make that a dream, too, as long as my dreams are coming true.)

Of course, in classic introvert fashion, I spent the entire day before thinking of reasons why I really shouldn't go, why I didn't want to go, why going was a BAD IDEA.

And then I went.

And it was truly a life-altering, transformational, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

First of all, since I know you're curious, the answer is YES.  YES, Elizabeth Berg is every bit as winsome and irreverent and gentle and lovely and astute as she appears to be.  One of my secret fears was that she'd be something other than the incredible person she is in my mind, but that fear was laid to rest immediately. She's hilarious and warm and open and charming.  And she tells the truth with such grace and tenderness.  In the final piece I wrote, I took a risk and wrote a foul-mouthed character into my story.  As you know if you've read my work for a while, this is not natural for me,  I've only just recently stopped flinching when people say the "f" word in front of me in anger.  While I occasionally use profanity for the shock value, I almost NEVER use it in my writing because I just...I can't pull it off.  Elizabeth totally picked up on that. Very gently, she told me it sounded forced.  At first, I thought about pouting.  And then I realized that she was entirely right and also? On my side.  That's a hard tightrope to walk, you know?  Offering criticism in such a way as to speak the truth, but with such grace that the writer feels supported, listened to and uplifted.

I quite, quite love her.

I even still kind of want to BE her, but failing that, I can at least KNIT for her. I gave her some hand-knit socks.  I finished a pair on my way to Boston that I thought were for my yoga instructor.  (Yvonne, Elizabeth Berg is wearing your socks!) But I think they were meant to be for Elizabeth because it was her birthday AND when she saw them she said, "My favorite color!"  (I was still too shy to ask her for picture of her wearing them. Next conference.)

So, of course, while the conference with Elizabeth was amazing, something else totally unexpected and magical happened: The other conference participants turned out to be long lost sisters of mine. I'm really shy and I was prepared to dislike the other workshop participants.  (When you're shy, you assume everyone is going to hate you, so you hate them FIRST, by golly, because then they can't hurt you.) (Because, why yes, this IS eighth grade.) But, oh, y'all, they were amazing.  AMAZING.  And SO talented.
Talented AND funny!

We were a really disparate group on the surface.  Ranging in age from 44-67, some married, some divorced, some with small kids, some with small grandkids, some without kids at all. We bonded immediately --honestly, I think there is no greater act of intimacy than to share one's art in progress.  It was like meeting seven strangers and immediately standing up and taking off all of my clothes.  And then having those seven people examine my scars and wrinkles and pudge and pronounce me perfect.

That is powerful stuff.

So, we bonded immediately and then Elizabeth sent us on assignments that stretched us and grew us and challenged us and brought every one of us to tears at least once. I was utterly transformed by the end of the those four days.  On the first day, I said, "You know, I'm not really a fiction writer." and on day four, I said, "So, this is what I want to talk about in my new novel..."

We met as strangers, we left as family. And by gosh, we left as WRITERS.

To learn more about Writing Vacations, click here.