Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Books that Changed my Life: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is the practical person’s guide to programming your mind to get what you want, live the way you want to live and help others do the same. Whether you fear is being alone, intimacy, public speaking, making decisions or fear of dogs, Dr. Jeffers' book will walk you through a common sense re-training of your mind to move you beyond your fear.

Jeffers maintains that at the bottom of every fear is simply the fear that you won’t be able to handle whatever life sends you way. So she asks, “If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you possible have to fear?” The answer is NOTHING!

Then she offers these Five Truths about fear:

1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.
2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out ---and do it.
3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out and do it.
4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

If you activated only the principles found in this blog post, Jeffers approach to curing your fears could change your life. I have used this approach to living life for many years now. I thought my son Mark’s death—the nadir of my life—provided something no amount of mind control could see me through. I feared that I was incapable of moving forward in the face of that monstrous grief---I was wrong. Giving up or giving in to the fear of grief would have been a disservice to Mark’s life and to me. So I felt the fear and lived through it anyway.

What do you fear that you need to conquer?  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Books that Changed My Life: Sombodies and Nobodies

In the next few days and weeks, I plan to comment on books that have changed my life. When featured recently on, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire about books. It was a great reminder of books that have made a significant impact on who I am.

I begin with a relatively recent experience. Somebodies and Nobodies by Robert W. Fuller takes a naked look at the role of rank in all our lives. We have fought the abuse of race, religion, sexual orientation and gender but the last stand in the battle against the “ism” is the abuse of rank. We all feel it when someone of greater wealth, origin or superior title attempts or successfully pulls rank over us. Perhaps we feel it less when we are the one pulling our superior rank over another. Perhaps you have cringed when you felt the inferior or the superior position or both! Rankism sullies relationships between persons, nations, the governed and the governors and can be avoided. Fuller helps us understand that equal dignity for all persons, regardless of one’s role in society, begats peace and a livable social order.

Fuller maintains that low rank signifies weakness, vulnerability and lack of power and offers us a view of the world that gives dignity to everyone. Sounds utopian; but could we do it, if we wanted to?

This book reminded me of an incident in my childhood that served as seedbed for some of my own struggle with rankism.
Even children experience rankism

On a sweltering July day in Evansville, Indiana, 1954, the children of welfare families were loaded on to buses and taken to Yabrody Park. This venue, a pitiful excuse for an amusement park, might well have been Disney World for us.  My brother Bill was nine; I was seven.  Before we got off the bus we were told everything in the park would be free today.  We could ride the rides as often as we liked, play the games; anything we wanted to do.
Bill and I darted off to have some fun.  We were having a great time, escaping our every day realities and soon got thirsty.  We walked over to the little wooden shack concession stand and Bill ordered two cokes.  The lady handed them to us; I took a sip of mine and then she said, "That will be fifty cents."  Bill and I looked at each other dismayed. He found his voice first and said, "We don't have any money.  We were told everything in the park is free for us today."  The lady looked at us with disgust and said, "Go ahead and keep them.  Your sister has already drunk out of hers. You welfare kids are all alike. You think everything ought to be given to you!" The shame, humiliation and degradation I felt at that moment remains so strong I can feel it today though I am an accomplished, financially secure adult.

Let's strive to think before we participate in rankism. Where have you experienced rankism in your own life?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lessons from Tristan Robert Bartella on his Sixth Birthday

 Photo by John Lynner Peterson AKA Pappa-razzi

Tristan has been six for some time now because most of the time when he was five, he would say, “I’m five years old but I’m six on the inside.” When asked how old he would be after today he says, “I’m six but I’ll let you know when I’m seven on the inside.” So I guess for today, he is content with six. It’s a great place to be in life when you’re content with your age.

As will all six year olds, Tristan values and social skills and ethics have been developing quickly the last few years. One evening when he was about four, I was playing cars with him. After a couple of races in which I allowed him to win, I made sure I won the next. He put his sweet little hand on mine and ever-so-gently said, “Mimi, let’s play nice and be friends.” Good advice for all of us.

When driving to church one Sunday morning, he said, “Mimi, you and Poppa use different words than my Mommy and Daddy.” We took that as a cue that he loved vocabulary words so we began the tradition of learning a new word each Sunday to share with our friend Don Lichtenfelt at church. Then one Sunday as this tradition was taking place, another friend, Jeannette Lucas remarked, “Oh, Tristan, you are a sesquipedalian. I am, too!” So Tristan has learned to tell you that he is a sesquipedalian and what that means. But when I asked if he had told his new first grade teacher about his love of words, he replied, “Mimi, she’s not like you. She doesn’t care about all those words.” I suspect he got that wrong and I also suspect that he doesn’t want to draw undue attention to himself. Another good lesson---especially for introverts---don’t shine the light on yourself unless you’re sure you want the world looking at you.

The best lesson to learn from Tristan is about love. You don’t have to wonder if you’re loved by him---he will tell you and he will include you in his prayers. A model we should all emulate. Emulate---that might be a good word for tomorrow!

Happy happy birthday, my dearest Tristan.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Why, when something important happens to you, do you feel compelled to tell someone else about it? Even people who are reticent to talk about themselves can’t help telling others about events significant to them. It’s as if nothing has happened until an event is made explicit in language.

Roger C. Schank

In our continuing conversation about living authentically, let’s spend a moment thinking about who you share information with. It’s probably easy to say who you call when you have good news---friends, family, post it on Facebook, etc., etc. But who do you call when you get bad news? If you’ve lost your job, didn’t get the job you wanted, made a decision to get a divorce or even worse, have had a sudden death in the family---who do you call? This list may be smaller and may even be different people. When the chips are down, we turn to the people that have the ability to give comfort.

Now let’s examine another category---who do you call when you are being your worst self? When you have the mean-nasties or experience the ugly, crying jag or move into the bitchy-gossip mode. Who is the friend or family that you trust to see you as your worst self and still love you.

That’s the person who knows you most authentically. The potential for more relationships to be as rich as this last person you named is directly correlated to how willing you are to be your authentic self.   

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are Memoirs Always About Your Parents?

My Dad

A discussion ensued from a post on one of my favorite blogs, 100 Memoirs by Shirley Hershey Showalter. Several memoirists weighed in on whether all memoirs inevitably are about our parents. Several writers agreed.

My situation, however, presents another point of view. I begin by dealing with my parents---who they were and how they affected my childhood. But then I move on. I move on because there was not much parenting going on in my childhood. My story becomes more about my efforts to put my childhood behind me.

A friend of mine cautioned me recently, “Brenda, you can never run away from your history.” I acknowledge the wisdom of the statement. I now am able to say, “If nothing else my father gave me some very valuable genes.” Is that moving on? What did you parents give you?

Check out the discussion here:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thanks for making me the featured writer today!

From Left to Write is a group of over 100 women bloggers. We are all bloggers on a vast range of topics, what binds us as Left to Write is the reading of books distributed to us and writing a post inspired by the book. Notice I say, “inspired by.” Our role is not to review the books given us.

Many times the author will do a Question and Answer interview on the home site a day before or day after our posts. Some authors even make it a point to comment on each of our blogs on the day their book inspires us.

A few of my favorites that we have reviewed are:

In Stitches by Dr. Anthony Youn
Room by Emma Donoghue
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christi Watson
And my all-time favorite---so far---The Swam Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

I could go on with this list because there are too many to list. Have we read some clunkers? Yes, but they, in their own dorky way, teach us about writing and about selecting books to read.

Thank you, From Left To Write, for making me the featured member today. It’s been fun being part of this great group of bloggers.   

Monday, August 22, 2011


Our Current Home in Lexington, KY

During the nation’s idyllic migration to the suburbs in the Fifties, my family moved from rented house to rented apartment to federal housing project. This nomadic lifestyle colored my childhood as sure as the western sunset colors the sky. The hottest summer in decades we spent in a tiny upstairs apartment where a delivery man brought ice in big blocks for the ice box. My Least Favorite Award goes to the apartment with the outhouse--yes!--inside the city of Evansville, Indiana during the Fifties. Could my lifelong intestinal issues have come from the terror of creepy-crawlies when perched precariously over that rough-hewn wood? My tiny butt tried to find balance over a hole big enough to swallow my body while my psyche fought being devoured by fears.  However, each dwelling place proffered best and worst memories. The outhouse apartment came with a delightful old man who wanted to sharpen with his multi-purpose jackknife my only school pencil before the school year started. I’d looked forward to using the school sharpener because I didn’t want the task botched, but when he pushed, I could not say no. He carved a point so sharp and smooth it was a cupid’s arrow straight to my heart.
The best and worst of federal housing projects stun me when viewed through my rear view mirror. Among its best features was the experience of living intimately in a black and white melting pot. Our next-door African-American neighbors brought throw rugs and pillows over to make our apartment presentable when ex-in-laws visited. When I later discovered racism existed not just as historical phenomenon, I was shocked. We did not learn prejudice at home and we did not experience or learn prejudice among our white and black neighbors. My dusty memory proffered playgrounds with no grass and a wasp sting as the worst of the project not racial tension. And I actually liked the giant block of cheese every family got from welfare.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Johari Window helps Authenticity

Photo by John Lynner Peterson

I want to live authentically but what if others don’t? Does it put me at risk in my career or even in my personal relationships, if I want relationships based on honesty and truth?

The Johari Window supplies a good answer to those questions. When we open ourselves to others AKA living authentically, we give them permission to do the same.

The Johari Window is a four square table about communication. It describes how our openness in human communication increases respectively when you share with others and decreases depending on how clearly we express our self and how keenly we are listening to each other. The model was developed in the fifties by the psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. To give and to obtain feedback is an important process in all co-operations. By having a listening attitude and obtaining feedback you get to know how others look at you. By giving feedback others get to know your view of things.

If this is a bit scary for you, start one person at a time. Do you need to start with your spouse? Your children? Your parents? What would it mean to be fully authentic in one of these relationship? 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Becoming Real

You and I have been talking about authenticity lately.  I suppose authenticity could be different things to different people but the bottom line is: authenticity means being true to yourself. This would include giving up the need to have a polished façade and sharing only those parts of yourself that you think are perfect enough for human consumption.
As is often the case, children’s literature boils any complex concept down to its purest form. The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my sons’ favorite stories. Here’s an excerpt:
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real, you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

I had been planning to post on this book for sometime. This is not a new thought. But, lo and behold----alas and alack, my guru Brene Brown has also blogged on this book. (I have mostly forgiven her for beating me to the post.) In her work on authenticity, she has reached many of the same conclusions that I have reached through a practical path.

Brene and I have reached other conclusions from our two very different paths. Before I even knew of Brene and her work, I had reached the conclusions that courage, healthy self-esteem, trust in others and persistence in life are the characteristics that have allowed me to survive and thrive in spite of a difficult life. Brene touts these characteristics as The Gifts of Imperfection. They, she maintains, are the by-products of living life authentically.

Have you become real yet? Has your fur been loved off yet?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Photo by John Lynner Peterson

Readers of this blog know I am a big fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a much-used, reliable, personality instrument). The woman who did my training on the MBTI did research on when we are less than our best type---NOT our best selves. She determined that when under stress, disease, drugs, alcohol or fatigue we are not our best selves.

You might say, “Duh! We all know that.” But the point of the research is that you become another personality type and because it’s not your normal everyday type and you just aren’t very good at it. For example, I am an Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiver. Without giving you a full seminar on the Myers-Briggs, let’s just say, I’m an optimist. BUT, when I get stressed, overwhelmed, don’t get a full night’s sleep, sick---I can be a Debbie Downer who finds nothing right with the world.

So what’s the solution to being our best selves? Balance, balance, balance! Now I’m not naïve about how difficult balance can be in our busy lives. It MUST be a priority in order for it to happen at all. That’s why priority setting is at the base of my Time Management course. Until you know your priorities, you can’t successfully manage your time and your life.  

Know your Type.
Know your priorities.
Find your balance.

Sign up for my Time Management course here.

Call me if you’re interested in taking the Myers-Briggs.

Balance yourself today!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ugliness and Authenticity

Authenticity in the beginning
Photo by John Lynner Peterson

Authenticity has been an interest of mine for some time. I discovered on my own, with age and challenges, that living authentically enriched my life, while constantly creating a polished façade drained me. Now I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to play charades with your life.

A story on the Today Show stirred some thoughts about how we avoid authenticity in the media. A young woman experienced a freak accident at her bridesmaid party that left her paralyzed and in a wheel chair. Her fiancé stuck with her through the long journey of healing and they recently were able to marry. Sponsors of all sorts gave them the wedding of their dreams and a honeymoon to match. The story had a happy ending.

While they asked a few poignant questions about the difficulty of recovery and the drastic change in what they thought their future would be, they really didn’t zero in on the nitty-gritty of what has been required of them to get to the point of having the wedding more than a year later. The anchor didn’t ask, “Were there days when your anger surfaced and you lashed out at your fiancé as well as the friend who pushed you into the pool causing the accident?” The anchor didn’t ask the fiancé, “Did you think about walking away from this marriage on her ugliest of days?” The anchor asked glossed over versions of these two questions but basically, morning television eschews authenticity. Too ugly for breakfast.

So what does it mean to be authentic? It means putting the facts, feelings, thoughts, opinions and your true self out there for public consumption. It means not feeling like you have to white-wash your opinions or emotions before you express them. Yes, there are times and place when you don’t want to hurt others, lose your job or cause a revolution by stating your thoughts or feelings inappropriately, but most of us err on the side of polishing everything to a shine before we tell others.

After I had written about living authentically, I discovered my new guru, Brene` Brown who came to the same conclusions I did. I found my way to authenticity by living life; Brene Brown got there through academic research on shame. Her two books, I Thought it was Just Me (but it wasn’t) and The Gifts of Imperfection are must reads if you want to travel this journey of being yourself.

Have you had an experience of living authentically? Was it negative or positive?   

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Real Life version of The Help

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We called her LaLa because that's how her name came out when son Mark began talking. She came to work for us in 1977 the year Mark was born. I was thirty years old and had zero experience with household help. I didn't even know other people who had household help. I certainly didn't know protocol applicable to white people having “colored help.” Recently having read, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I chuckled about similarities in the novel with how LaLa and I, over twenty-five years, broke down the rules and formed a friendship that continues today across miles and more years. Without doubt, she knew the rules and mores that I didn't and probably wanted to teach them to me, so as to be more comfortable. But we forged a new brand of relationship instead.
The name LaLa stuck but nothing else stayed the same. In 1977, she arrived at work in her street clothes and changed into a white uniform. In the last years she worked for me, she still arrived in good clothes and changed but she changed into her sweat pants and t-shirt so as not to soil her good clothes. If she ate at our house, she waited until I had gone out and then sat in the kitchen. This pattern crumbled with great resistance, but in the end, we could sit at the table and have a sandwich together and chat. In the beginning, I knew little of her home life. In the end, I knew her family, knew her sorrows and knew her joys. I attended her family weddings and funerals. She could ask me to take her to the hospital for a test because all her family was working. We laughed over her family’s foibles and strengths just like we did over mine. She loved reminding me that her husband Warren could “do any thing except make money.” She lovingly reminds me when I share the latest news of Denny, “Miz B, Denny has been his own man since he was just a little boy.” We knew each other’s families.
During the early years, LaLa also worked for the Shraders across the street. Because Mark and Denny saw her there when she was not at our house, they thought that's where she lived and that Mrs. Shrader was LaLa's mother. As children, they did not see black and white skin color as a deterrent to being family. We still don’t.
Through four of my husbands, LaLa held her tongue and her opinions about men and dating. I wish she had not. She arrived one morning when I had just begun to accept that Bart was going to die. I flew into her arms and sobbed. She consoled and listened, then went about her work--just one of many times we would cry over what life dishes out. She did, however, pout about the hat I chose to wear at Bart's funeral. I refused to be solemn and wanted to think of the service as a celebration of his life. The vivid purple suit and gray hat with the veil struck just the right chord in my mind. She mumbled for days about it being inappropriate. After his death, she started bringing me a second cup of coffee as I put my make-up on each morning because that's what Bart used to do.
LaLa attended three of my weddings and we have shared more funerals than we care to count. I know the small African-American church in her little town of Keene and have been welcomed there as family for her husband's funeral and her granddaughter's wedding. We share life events and the range of feelings that accompany them.
As I moved through six residences, LaLa moved with me. She even continued to care for us during the short time I lived in Husband Number Four's house, smaller than her own home. She and I both enjoyed the years when I lived alone in my small condo in downtown Lexington. During that period, she loved hearing the news of my friends and my seminary experiences and enjoyed meeting the guys I dated and would sometimes roll her eyes but nothing else in response.
Miss Celia, the poor white trash character in The Help, comes closest to who I was when LaLa and I first met. While college educated and, hopefully, possessing better taste in clothes than Miss Celia, I had more in common with the help than with the ladies in my Women's Club. And LaLa surely had more knowledge about managing a home, entertaining guests and being middle class than I did. She taught me gently about laundry and polishing silver and despaired that I seemed incapable of organizing a kitchen.
Over the years, she loved checking my outfit before I went out the door and became more than comfortable expressing her opinion. She cared for my clothes in loving ways, even washing my stockings by hand. I know how to handle an iron but my skills were no match for the artful ironing LaLa gave to a man's shirt or to my most delicate silk blouse. However, there were a couple of occasions when she put a dollar bill on the counter and said, "Mz. B, take that shirt to the cleaners. It is just too hard to iron." I took that shirt to the cleaners and left that dollar bill on the counter. She still calls me Mz. B even though I am now officially Mz. P. When she called to tell me her husband, Warren, had died, she used my first name, the first and only time. Our relationship transcended the tradition but her ties to certain cultural norms stood fast.
On the anniversary of her twentieth year of working for me, Mark and I created a money tree commemorating our time together and giving her a bonus. The three of us cried together over it and shared memories--like the time the clothes dryer caught on fire when drying a heavy rug. During our early years, the episode pushed LaLa to tears for fear we would expect her to pay for the dryer. We also laughed over the period in which we called ourselves The Poop Ladies because Mark's diapers had to be changed constantly due to his lactose intolerance. When my lesbian stepdaughter and her partner came to stay for two months, LaLa adjusted and called them Those Girls but never once implied judgment with that moniker.
LaLa's call on each anniversary of Mark's death is one I can always count on. She grieves the loss along with me. Mark would come in the door and yell, "LaLa, give me some sugar" and throw his arms around her. She always called him Mark Robert and called Denny, Den-bones. She spoiled them by cleaning their rooms when I asked her not to do so, but she loved them and contributed to the color-blindness we taught in our home.
While I lived away from Lexington I missed the bouquet of peonies that LaLa would bring to me every Spring from her back yard. I love cut flowers in the house and LaLa knew that was something she could give that brought me great joy. The greatest joy, however, comes from the lessons learned, the love shared and a relationship that enhances my spirituality through its very existence.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's a small world after all---

Husband John and I went to visit the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville yesterday. John is in conversation with the Center about using his exhibit “Who is My Neighbor?” (It is no accident that our studio is named, Global Village Studio.) The Center’s mission extends far beyond a showcase for the Ali story. It continues the mission of Ali’s life especially as he sought to be a bridge between diverse cultures. As readers of this blog know, John's exhibit also strives to build that bridge.

The visit and the ensuing conversation reminded me once again of the smallness of our world. We touch each other so often and in so many more ways than we ever know about. This affect on each other should be humbling to all of us.

I am reminded of when I picked up the memoir, The Soloist by Steve Lopez. I didn’t know Steve or the soloist who lived on the streets of Los Angeles. But in talking about the book, I learned that my step-daughter did know Steve so he was just one degree of separation from me. Then I read about John Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times when Steve was doing this project. Carroll was my neighbor in Lexington, KY. I would not call us friends but when our junior high children sneaked out of the house to drink beer at the park, I called every parent of every child I recognized. John Carroll was the only parent who thanked me. Second personal connection with a book I just picked up off the shelf.

John and I were active in the International Affairs Council in Raleigh when we lived there. We hosted a young woman from Turkmenistan so we went to dinner the other host families. One of the men, wanting his guest to feel at home, put a photo up on his computer screen of a guy in Turkmenistan who had received the host’s micro-loan to start a small business. The guest walked into the room and shouted, “That is my brother!” Small small world.

I frequently attended a writers’ group in Raleigh whose variety of speakers enriched my life. Elaine Neil Orr spoke to us one night about her book, Gods of Noonday, her memoir about growing up as the child of Southern Baptist missionaries in Nigeria. I could hardly wait until the program was over to ask Elaine, “Did you happen to know Dr. Martha Hagood, who was also a Southern Baptist missionary in Nigeria?” She picked up her book and pointed, “Dr. Martha lived right there.” Elaine and I had never met but we had a long line of Southern Baptists missionaries (including my Aunt BJ who named me) who connected us through their global lives.

What is your small world story?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Perfect--Adjust Attitude

My step-daughter reminded me last night about an occasion when she and I were sorting through a group of her shirts. My role was to alter, mend or pronounce the shirt dead and prepare it for burial. I pinned notes on each shirt so we wouldn’t forget the status as we moved on to mending. One shirt needed absolutely no alteration, mending and was still very wearable but she just didn’t like it as much. So I marked it, “Perfect—adjust attitude.”

This same dear step-daughter shared with me last night that she now applies the phrase “perfect—adjust attitude” to relationships. She’s brilliant! It works. When you let go of the need to change others, change the relationship and adjust your own attitude the affect on your relationships is magic.

Try it today.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Aeschylus and the Grace of God

Aeschylus said, 

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart, until,
in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

Never would I have thought to combine the word "awful" with the grace of God. 

Until now.

Learning to detach from people you love can be the awful grace of God. And, yes, it comes only with hard earned wisdom. There comes a time in your life when you decide to get off the merry-go-round of dysfunction. But here’s a warning, the folks from whom you’re detaching will not be sending you a thank you note.

Good luck and God bless.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Humor as Survival Tactic, a response to In Stitches by Dr. Anthony Youn

This book was given to me as part of my membership in From Left to Write, an online book club. This is not a review of the book but rather a response to the experience of reading it.

It has been years since I have laughed out loud while reading a book. In Stitches, Dr. Anthony Youn’s memoir of getting through medical school and residency garnered giggles, snickers, guffaws and belly laughs. Such laughter at bedtime, when I normally do my reading, makes for good sleep.
There is no question in my mind that Dr.Youn’s sense of humor got him through the uphill task of finishing medical school. I long ago identified humor as one of the values that contributes to my surviving and thriving. Below is the section on humor from my soon-to-be published memoir:
Claiming earned Frequent Flier miles becomes a skill equaled only to astrophysics or neurosurgery. Not being one to give up on hard earned freebies---there’s that persistence value again---I determined I would fight to the bitter end so as not to be robbed of my miles. I couldn’t get resolution on the phone or internet, so I concluded this merited a trip out to the airport. I walked up to the counter with no one else in sight except the ticket agent and me. The first words out of my mouth were, “I have had no sex---” The honest-to-god fact that I intended to say, “I have had no success---” meant nothing after the faux pax has escaped my lips. We were both laughing so hard, I barely get out my next words, “That’s true also, but that doesn’t happen to be your problem.”
I can’t help but feel my mispronunciation set the tone for this ticket agent being exceptionally willing to help me get to the bottom of my problem with Frequent Flier miles.
Dr. Norman Cousins' now legendary work on healing began by discovering that ten minutes of hearty belly laughs could provide him with two hours of pain free rest. In Head First, he states "scientific evidence is accumulating to support the biblical axiom that 'a merry heart doeth good like a medicine'".
My son Denny again comes to mind. As a child, he knew how to laugh, even at himself, better than most. At age thirteen, he asked to be dropped off at a girl's house after dinner---new behavior for my budding teenager. Now the word cool was invented for this boy. In his new, much longed for leather jacket, he strutted with the essence of junior high chic.  As he tells the story, everything went fine with the visit in spite of the fact that the girl's parents were much too present.  At the agreed upon time, I returned to pick him up and honked the horn. (God forbid that I should go to the door and let this young girl discover he had a mother.)  He quickly said his good bye. With one swift and graceful movement he picked up his new leather jacket from the floor and headed toward the door. As he placed his foot in the pocket, he impeded his forward progress and ripped a big tear in the most valued garment. Yes, he wanted to die and never have to face the young girl again. Instead, he told the rest of the family so we could all have a good laugh courtesy of our most cool family member.  He also made peace with having a beautifully repaired leather jacket.   
In contrast, folks who are not able to laugh at themselves make good targets for those of us who do. As noted earlier, Husband Number Three possessed unfortunate characteristics that made him a sitting duck for my junior high age sons to make fun of. We actually had to bring the subject up in family therapy. The therapist informed Dan forthrightly that when persons are not able to find humor in jokes about themselves, they make the perfect target for everyone else’s humor. The therapist actually complimented my sons on their ability to laugh at themselves.
Humor even boosts your immune system!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Audience Fatigue, Writer Woes, Publishing Perils

I received an email from a friend this morning. Her succinct message needed no interpretation, “Publish the damn book, Brenda!" I received a similar one last week. Then my very supportive friend who already wants to book my tour of Idaho keeps asking, “When is the publishing date?”

Ok, Ok, I understand that I’ve been working on this memoir for three years now. Some writers spend a decade or more on a book and this writer had oh-so-much to learn. The bad news to these faithful friends---I’m going backwards instead of forward. Having just taken a writing class and a writer’s retreat at the Carnegie Center here in Lexington, KY, I now hold new secrets for how to make the book better.

The writer’s woes? I own up to my fair share of “putting it out there” angst. What happens when the world knows your life stories? Will they be caressed with graceful kindness or batted about as gossip and sensationalism? My goal in writing the memoir remains the same---to shout to all who listen, you can survive--- and not just survive, you can thrive. Life dishes up difficulties large and small to all of us. My story suggests ways of dealing with whatever comes your way.

Publishing perils? I committed myself to learning the publishing industry along side the writing of the book. The publishing world by necessity reinvents itself daily in this technological age. So I must make critical decisions about with whom and how my memoir will be published in an ever-changing environment. All advice welcome.

Hang with me. I’m doing my best to make it worth the wait.

Now what do you think of the name Grit and Grace for a title?

What do you think of this photograph of John Lynner Peterson’s for the cover art?

Opinions welcome.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

That was the summer that---

As I work on finishing my memoir and continue to write this blog, I also continue to make sense of an extraordinary life. I’ve reflected before on the difference Georgetown College made in my life and the significant break I made from my family when I first moved to campus. Today I reflect on the summer after my freshman year of college.

I realized how the gap between my family and me was widening. In retrospect, it makes sense but there were many more years to come in which I would try to fit into their world or force them into mine.

That was the summer that my sister Margaret and I invented “playing rich” in high end department stores. I could pull it off; Margaret couldn’t.

That was the summer I worked at the book binding factory and my mom said, “It is good for you to see ‘how the other half lives.’” Did she think I had no experience of poverty? No, I think she meant since going to college, I would never again have the experience of nine-to-five factory life. She was right.

That was the summer we lived in yet two more houses in one summer and I work two jobs in one summer. My memory is foggy but I know I worked at the lunch counter in a pharmacy as well as the bindery. I remember a man who sat down at the counter and ordered two eggs, over easy. Now I had cooked all my childhood but I had never been taught to cook and I certainly had never cooked on a huge restaurant grill. When I finally turned around and served the man his eggs, he said, “Little lady, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an egg treated that way. But you did finally get ‘em on the plate.”

That was the summer my stepfather Herman and Uncle Steve showed up drunk at Georgetown to help move me home. I learned quickly some boundaries I wanted to erect.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Act of Writing my Memoir

Potential Cover Art photo by John Lynner Peterson

I have written a memoir that illustrates the life that was given me, the life that happened to me and the life that I have chosen to create. I see it as a message of hope for those who have difficult lives. It is a foundation for my other work as speaker, writer, trainer, coach and minister.

I alternately think my memoir is 95% or 50% done. It is so difficult to know when to stop editing and revising. I see the finished work as good storytelling that will evoke tears and laughter. The theme most prevalent in the book is “Don’t just survive, thrive!” The image woven through the book is that of a pearl---a beautiful entity created through pain to the oyster.

I do feel a certain love for the manuscript at this time. I suspect I need to feel less attached. I try to say to myself each time I pull it out, “Relax. Breathe. It’s okay if you decide to change a few things.”

The manuscript might say back to me, “This is not the beginning, middle and end of your life. It is an interpretation of your life at a point in time.”

Laraine Herring, in her book, Writing Begins with the Breath, says, “Every writer has a unique relationship to his or her writing, and it is in the dynamics of this relationship that the perils, joys and challenges of a writer’s life breathe.”

Breathe. Relax. Finish the book! 

But I still need a title! Suggestions?