maya

Adding my 2 cents to the outpouring of love and stories that are flowing in the wake of Maya Angelou’s death this week.

Maya Angelou

I first “met” Maya Angelou when she appeared on Bill Moyer’s Creativity special on PBS.  The Cooperman’s were not a TV watching family; from the time I was a kid, parameters were set on how much television we could watch, and it wasn’t much: just two hours a week. There were exceptions: good educational programming (to a pre-teen, read: booring!), the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz, and Cinderella with Lesley Ann Warren and Celeste Holm, and we also got to see the Apollo land on the moon, and the NY Mets win the ’69 World Series. If we managed to get up before our folks on Saturday morning we could sneak in some cartoons or the LSD-like wackiness of Syd and Marty Croft. But those were exceptions.

So when my father sat me down to watch this show with him, I knew it was a BIG DEAL, even though I didn’t know why.

I can’t remember what year it was, but I was at a horrible stage in middle school or junior high when – as a tall, lanky girl with boobs (real obvious ones too. the guys-staring-and-snickering, girls-teasing kinda boobs) – while the rest of my classmates (and my older sister) were short, cute and with no real chests to speak of - I’d begun to feel awkward, strange and terribly out of place in the world.

And then I “met” Maya.

Tall and powerful, Maya had endured huge personal challenges during equally challenging times in US history, yet here she stood (still i rise, she said): a poet, writer, actor, dancer, teacher … and I was just fascinated. 

The way she spoke – the cadence of her voice — and the way she persevered and forged her own path in so many different worlds: entertainment, writing, politics, feminism — that I, a blonde, lower-middle-class Jewish girl in the suburbs of New Jersey felt a kindred to this older, once poor, struggling black woman from Stamps, Arkansas, and she became a touchstone of hope, power and strength for me.

I bought I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and each one of her autobiographies after that (i still describe happy times as “singin’ and swingin’ and gettin’ merry like christmas” – the title of her 3rd autobiography). I then moved on to her books of poetry; I devoured whatever she wrote. 

So when I heard that she was going to speak at my college my senior year, I was beyond excited. I was rock-star excited.

I loved Kenyon – a small liberal arts college set on an idyllic campus in the middle of farm country in Ohio – but my entire experience there wasn’t always idyllic.  I had some tough times during my four years and I vacillated between a growing self-understanding and confidence, and a comparison habit that kept a low-grade anxiety and depression always threatening to grab hold. By the time my senior year rolled around, I was pretty happy (way better than the year before when i’d had my first bout with real depression), but my nerves about “what are you doing after college” were starting to creep in, and I was worried that the tentacles would take me down again.

For some reason, none of my closest friends wanted to go to the lecture, so I headed to Rosse Hall alone. I arrived early so I could get a good seat: house right, down front, on the aisle, and waited for the house to fill.  

I don’t remember all the details of her talk, but I remember my excitement to actually SEE her in person. To be in her presence and hear her talk live. And I remember the feeling of recognition, delight, and longing she lit within me – as she did the first time I’d seen her on the Bill Moyer’s special.

When she recited Phenomenal Woman, she spread her arms wide and filled the whole hall with her bigness, grace and power; I was completely transfixed.

I was so moved by the talk and her presence, I remained in my seat after it was over and everyone was filing out of the hall; I just wanted to stay in that energy as long as I could. She was joined by someone on the stage – who was obviously a friend, and some folks from the college, and they just stood talking for a while. When they started gathering up to leave, instead of walking toward the side door next to the stage, she walked down into the hall and right up the aisle toward me.  

And then she stopped.

At my seat.

“Did you like the talk?” she asked. I could barely speak for the shock and excitement, but I managed to stand up and squeak out “Oh, yes.” She talked with me for a minute and god help me, I can’t remember a word she said, until the moment when she reached out and put her arms on my shoulders, leaned down just a little bit to look right into my eyes, and with that beautiful lilting voice of hers smiled and said: “Be happy.”  She hugged me (ohmygodohmygodohmygod, i was thinking and crying as it was happening), and then she smiled, tilted her head in a way that seemed to telegraph: Good? then touched my shoulder again and lightly smiled before she turned and walked out the hall, leaving me feeling blessed by a true Goddess or Fairy Godmother. 

It was just a couple of moments. But big, generous amazing moments. So brief and so wonderful. Probably nothing much for her, but huge for me.  That this graceful, amazing, giant of poetry and compassion saw me sitting there – saw something – and took the time to come over, chat briefly - but so generously – and hug me … and shine some light on a funked up girl-woman in the middle of Ohio getting ready to launch into the unknown. 

And, try as I have over the years, it’s hard to articulate just how much this meant to me – how much it inspired me at a time when I needed inspiration –  but today I had to try.

Still, I think this poem of hers says it better than I ever could. 

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When Great Trees Fall
By Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

countdown …

photo.PNGSeventeen more days.

I’ve worked in the nonprofit arts for most of my adult life, and in seventeen days I will be leaving to put my energy and attention into my work. The what-I-came-here-to-do kinda work.

No pressure. No big deal.

There are things I love about what I’ve been doing in this industry I’ve been part of for so long (in this job/iteration: for the past 8 years), and I’ll miss them.

But I’m also excited to give my work some real space, energy and attention and see if I can make it fly.  I think I can. I hope I can.

About 4 months ago I wasn’t “thinking” or “hoping” … I felt really prepared, and I was confident in my ability to attract the people who were craving the stuff that I give.

Yet the closer I get, the more unprepared I feel.

That’s actually nothing new for me. “I’m not ready” is one of my most negative modus operandi’s.  A cousin to “I’m not good enough,” and “there are others better/more qualified/who have been at it longer than I” … these walls I bump into over and over and over again.  They’re also one of the myriad of things I write to remind myself out of over and over (and over and over) again.  (i suspect i’m not alone in that. you?)

I’m glad I felt prepared for the leap four months ago (and have the writing to prove it), cause knowing that that feeling lives somewhere within me - underneath the simmering terror and “I’m not ready” – tends to calm me down when it surfaces.

I’m lucky to have had (and continue to have) the support and encouragement of some amazing people cheering me on (“this is what you were BORN to do …”) for a long, long time.  I’m grateful (as always) to the all the Writer Babes who have gathered and written their hearts out for the last 13+ years – these wonderful women who remind me each time they show up that this work is important; it matters.

I’m not ready … and I am so ready.

Seventeen days.

 

throw-down thursday (3-27)

I often say that my business play-list is almost (if not more) important to me than my business plan. And I’m only sorta kidding.

A business plan changes and morphs, but my business play-list is the music that speaks to my soul and is, in its own way, a manifesto. Written by others and generously shared with (me and) the world, this music reminds and inspires me to live mindfully, bravely, kindly, meaningfully, and yes, out loud. It helps me keep on doing what I do.

And this song? This one has been on my play-list since I first heard it many (many, many) moons ago. Give it a listen. And if you are so moved, write about it … or whatever it brings up (that’s what we do here at throw-down thursday…).

And if you want, you can share some of YOUR play-list/manifesto tunes with me. (i’m always happy to add more to the mix …)

i’d like to thank the academy

I used to love watching awards shows as a kid. In my younger years I had dreams of being an actress and singer and, like the old cliché about aspiring performers, I’d stand in front of the mirror in our blue tiled bathroom holding a brush, practicing my Tony/Emmy/Oscar acceptance speeches.

As I got older and realized what the life of a performer was like, the dream lost its glow. In time, I found that the things that I loved about performing: community, collaboration, being allowed – no, not just allowed – encouraged and celebrated for sharing big emotions, stories and truths … these things didn’t require a stage, a costume and a different character. I learned that I didn’t have to tell someone else’s stories, and I could collaborate and create community and shine on with all my own stuff on the page, in writing workshops, speaking engagements and readings.

Still, sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to have that public platform to thank all the important people who brought me to this time and place in my life. So, inspired by a couple of awesome Academy Award acceptance speeches from last weekend …

I’d like to thank my parents, for giving me love, love and more love; for giving me something to push up against in my teen years (and sometimes beyond), and support, encouragement and understanding always.

To my sister and brother for the same, only different. And to time, for making our sibling challenges fade into love, understanding and respect. For remembering things differently, but the same, and for the way those shared stories have made us into a unique, special club. And for giving me one of the best roles of my life: Uncle Debbie (and to all the little – and not-quite-so-little-anymore – people who call me that.)

To my aunts, uncles and cousins, for many of the same reasons, and to one particular “loovely coozin” for all the shared experiences and stories along the path. (here’s to more.)

To the friends I grew up with; the ones who knew me when I wore blue cats eye glasses; through the teen years, the drama, the growth spurts and the hurts. And to the ones who are still in that inner circle of call-at-any-hour/come-running-in-a-pinch and who will laugh uncontrollably when we each remember different lines from the old songs from 5th grade chorus, among other things.

To all the boyfriends, crushes, and ‘the one(s) that got away,’ as well as my dear, wonderful ex-husband: for teaching me about love, and relationship, and for helping me see that love doesn’t always conquer all, but it IS better to have loved and lost than not at all. And yes, for making some songs still kick my ass and break my heart years later (oh, those damn songs).

And to the hubster: for all the foot rubs, and for helping me see that a tsunami is not a requirement (and as a matter of fact … uh: tsunami = destruction/pain. duh), and for being “in” with my theory that relationships really are the biggest personal growth workshop ever.

To my step-son, for still calling me his step-mother, long after his dad and I split up, and for “whatever Debbie”ing me when I remind him of his little self, but stilling putting up with me and letting me have what I have, and what I had. (and to his mom, for helping all that.)

To the places I’ve lived, for helping me see what matters in my community and in my space. For reminding me (sometimes too many times) that I can create space, breath into, love and rest just about anywhere I go. (and ok, so a little closer to NY would be nice now, but y’know: the hubster/compromise/the aforementioned personal growth workshop of relationship …)

To my beloved Writer Babes. Each and every one of them. From the early days to today. For helping me see what I’m doing on this planet; for appreciating what I do and paying me to do it (yay). For reminding me every time they show up with pens poised that the power of writing in community and being seen, acknowledged and appreciated for their unapologetic selves is one of the best self-help gifts ever. And that my evangelism around this practice is important and worth doing.

To pop culture for countless references, hours of entertainment, songs to sing, and inspiration, insight and delight. (where would i be without the force and yoda? really …)

To my teachers, coaches, friends and inspiration (some of them are all four) including, but certainly not limited to: Pat SchneiderAnne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland and Maya Angelou; Lorrie Schneider, Lori Mazan, Sue Coleman, Ruth Flohr, Sandi Davis, Gail Barrie, Kathy Miller, “the Corals,” my “Goldies” (and tanya and michelle for bringing us all together), to my blog buddies (‘specially those from the early days), the peeps I worked with during my time with The Coaches Training Institute, my Clubhouse buds (and again, thanks, michelle), my poet teachers (rumi, billy collins, mary oliver, david whyte, and on and on and on …) for everything. Everything.

And to the person who gave me my first journal – even though I don’t remember who you are: thank you, thank you, thank you.

And, since the music would SO have been playing me off by now, so … like Maureen Stapleton said when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Reds: “I want to thank … my family, my friends … and everyone I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Ever tried writing your own ‘I’d like to thank the Academy’ speech? (why not today?)

another go ’round the sun

calendarThe last day of 2012. And how are you spending it? Are you a resolution person? Do you reflect, set intentions, or have a ritual to mark the end of the year? Do you go to a New Years Eve party, or watch whatever television something that has replaced Dick Clark and the ball dropping thingie? (i never got that: standing around in times square – where it’s probably bloody freezing – or sitting on the couch to watch a huge metal ball lit up by loads of light bulbs drop a few feet.) (and really, it doesn’t even drop; it slooowlly inches down a track where it says 2012 at the top, and when it falls, the 2 changes to a 3. oh, the excitement!) (… but i digress.)

The older I get, the more mixed I feel about the significance (or lack of it) around the changing of the year. Does magic happen when the clock strikes twelve on December 31st? Do we get a clean slate? More energy? Forgiveness? Cause really, it’s just another day … with no greater power to grant renewal than any other.

But we forget that, of course. In the process of managing the details of our lives, it’s easy to get distracted (not that i would know anything about that … [see dick clark/ball drop musing above ...]). So maybe because of all these distractions in our lives, we embrace the opportunity to reflect, and use whatever collective energy is swirling around for change and improvement. I know I do.

I had a nice stretch of time off from work with the x-mas and New Year holiday falling as they did, and that gave me a lot of time to think about the coming year; from big-picture visioning and dreaming to nitty-gritty details around my work, to personal self-care type stuff. You’ll hear more from me on all that in the coming months: more opportunities to play, explore and unleash your awesome along with me … but in the meantime …

… to start off this next go ’round the sun, I decided to dip back into a little something I wrote a few years ago at the turning of the year. Same as it ever was, though so much has changed.


On the turning of the year
(2012/13 revisited) 

Days go by, we meet people, we buy groceries. We work, we sleep, we eat, we drink coffee, we wish for more, we strive to do better. We wonder why some things are so damn hard; other times we think about people who are really suffering and struggling, and we feel lucky, soft and grateful.  And we are grateful.

And sometimes we still forget.

We wish we’d said something when we had the chance, other times we wish we hadn’t said it when we did. People get sick, and people get well; some don’t. Fear is sold on the news and there is plenty to go around. There is also magic and beauty to go around. And sometimes we forget.

We do laundry, we hang out with  family and friends, we move and we procrastinate. We can’t get that stupid song out of our head. We triumph, we fail, we let people go. We rise to challenges and we hide our heads in the sand. We get the mail, we pay the bills, we bitch about the price of gas. We dream, we stretch, we take out the garbage, check email, laugh and cry. We hug the people we love.

Deadlines loom, deadlines pass, and new ones grow in their place. We come home at the end of a long day and get into comfy clothes, light candles, listen to music, and have a glass of wine. We wrestle our demons, we wrestle each other. (sometimes that wrestling stuff is fun.)

We choose, we second guess, we choose some more, we plow forward hopefully. We move with purpose, we hesitate, we adjust, we plow forward some more, we fall down and get up. We dance with the unknown even if we don’t ever think about it.

Tomorrow the calendar flips to a new number, but nothing else is really different. It’s another new day; a chance to choose, to dream anew, to take bold steps, to shine on. There’s much to celebrate: it’s the same complicated, challenging, magic and beautiful world … and never the same river twice.


Happy New moment, new day and new year, friends.  Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for participating – whether by reading my schtuff, coming to my in-person workshops, working with me one-on-one, adding your thoughts to the weekly writing party we call Throw-down Thursday, or emailing, commenting here on the blog, following me on Twitter, or being part of the Facebook page/community.

And yes, “more please” too. “More please” of each one of you. “More please” of your awesome, “more please” of your vulnerability, your bravery, your writing, your living full-out. With much love, thanks, and lots more “more please.”
Deb

thank you, more please

With the recent ravages of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy here in the eastern US, followed by Thanksgiving (and now, with the december holiday season upon us), I’ve been noticing waves of gratitude flowing in from all corners of my real and virtual communities.

Oprah used to talk about keeping a “gratitude journal” … saying “it was the single most important thing … I’ve ever done.”  And y’know, I’m a ‘writing evangelist’ … I love the power of writing, and telling stories, so you might think I’d really get into something like that, but I never could. I made attempts, but it never quite landed for me; something always felt “off” … it felt forced.

If I was having a tough day, I’d have to ignore the things that were pulling my focus (push them down under the surface) to look for five things to be grateful for among my swirling crank-fest. But sometimes, one just has to be with the challenges and the crank-fest-ness in order to move beyond it … and while it might be good/helpful to put some attention on being happy for fresh flowers and the wonderful crunch of a honeycrisp apple in the midst of a crank-fest, writing only the stuff that I was grateful for – without acknowledging the challenges? Uh, no. It just didn’t work for me. So …

My variation on the gratitude journal – with or without the journal part  …

When something good happens in your day when you experience something that makes you feel good, happy, comfortable, content, excited, jazzed or otherwise delighted … or if something happens that feels a bit like encouragement from the universe – whether it’s teeny or huge – acknowledge it right then, in that moment – and follow up by saying “thank you/more please” … either out loud or quietly to yourself. (when you can, or if you feel so moved, write it down.)

Try it when your partner gives you an awesome foot rub or you find a penny on the street. Say it when you snag an amazing deal on plane tickets, or when the kids put their laundry away without being reminded. Say it to yourself as you walk out of a meeting where you land a client you’ve been wooing for months. Say it when you finish a painting; when you have a reallly delicious stretch; when they have the good bread at ShopRite; when you reconnect with an old friend.

You could add a dance move from time to time. Raise a glass when appropriate. If you want to add it to an existing practice, write about some of the times you’ve said it, or thought it, or maybe you just want to write about how the whole process is going, and what you’re noticing. You could also shoot a photo (both of the shots in this post are from my ‘thank you/more please’ photo file…).

Thank you/more please for awesome technology; thank you/more please for green lights when I’m running late; thank you/more please for the house to myself; thank you/more please for this fireplace, this moment, that sunset. Thank you/more please for good friends; a good report from the doctor; a great song; a hot cup of coffee.

If it feels good; if it makes you happy – whatever it is – meet it with: “thank you/more please.” Then watch how the simple act of paying attention – acknowledging the unique, the happy and the awesome – and encouraging it with “thank you/more please” – will beget more and more reasons to say “thank you/more please.”

And (please), let me know how it goes. (thank you.)

One more thing …

I’m grateful for you – for visiting my corner of the blogosphere – for reading, commenting, asking questions and participating.

And to each of you who wants to discover more of your awesome through a writing practice, and the ones who encourage me to keep developing my work and sharing it …  thank you, thank you, thank you; more please.

saturday in the park

Went into the city for a whirlwind visit with Daf and his GF yesterday. Couldn’t have been a more beautiful October day: sunny, mid-70s; Central Park was bustling.

While waiting to meet-up by the monument at the Columbus Circle entrance to the park, a man approached me, smiling.

Did you do this? he asked, pointing up at the monument.

Without skipping a beat, I replied Yeah, do you like it?

It’s beautiful, thank you.

Well, y’know, if you’re gonna be The Universe, you might as well produce some sparkly beauty for everyone to enjoy.

You did a wonderful job, he said.

Well, thank you. And thanks for your contribution to this stunning day, I said.

Ah, you like that? he replied.

Very nice, I said.

Couldn’t have done it without your help.

It was probably a group effort.

Yeah, I guess so, he said.

And with that Daf and the GF arrived (daf, knowing me all too well, immediately teased about how apros pro it was that he found me conversing with a stranger …), and moments later the BF walked up … and my new friend and co-creator went on his way.

Thanks for the beautiful day, I said; You too, he smiled and waved as he went off to co-create some more.

And what awesomeness we concocted, this man (and everyone else) and me.

the BF, daf (the ex), and his GF

out of focus, yes, but infectiously happy skaters

a little bach concerto, tree side (i only know it was a bach concerto cause the BF told me. i’d’ve just said: ooh, what a nice classical something-or-other …)

Off to the park again shortly to meet up with one of my longest standing blog bud’s Kerstin - who is driving down from Massachusetts . Looking forward to seeing what kind of beauty we can all pull together today.

 

 

iMourn (and keep moving …)

If you’re new to my blog, let me start this post by warning you: when I named my writing groups Living Out Loud, it was because my approach is all about unleashing on the page w/out apology and then bringing more of that to your life and your writing. 

And when I’m writing and living out loud, I have a tendency to swear. So … you have been warned. 

Fucking pancreatic cancer got another one.  Steve Jobs. Damn. 
  
If you’re not new to me/my writing/my blog then you know that I take pancreatic cancer kinda personally; it killed my mother when she was just 66. From diagnosis to death (and every nasty moment in between) it took 10 months. 
 
My cousin Michael had a little over a year from his diagnosis to death.  One of Daf‘s old colleagues (a secretary/assistant whose heart was as big as her all-jersey hair) went in about 8 months. A friend’s father was gone in two months. This disease is a killer; a nasty, evil killer that takes no prisoners. And while we know we don’t get out of this life alive, people who get pancreatic cancer are pretty much getting handed their tickets for a fast and painful train ride outta life-town. And even though Jobs’ was of a variation of the disease that had better odds, it was still pancreatic cancer.  Better odds with pancreatic cancer are still lousy odds. 
 
There’s so much that could be said about Jobs’ impact, but I think it will be said far better by many more than I – those who really understood his genius and the true influence he’s had on technology and our lives.  Instead, moved as I was the first time I saw this, here is the Commencement Address Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005 (if you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a watch. and if you have seen it, it’s worth hearing again …)
 
 

 

In particular … “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

The man’s talking about living out loud, isn’t he? He’s talking about finding out what moves you, taking a stand for it and then moving toward it. So, Apple, Mac, Pixar, iPod, iPhone … all amazing and wonderful things/companies, and yet, that inspiration to “stay hungry/stay foolish” and “think different” (even though that always drove the inner grammar police in me crazy: it’s think differently, damn it …) is the legacy I’m feeling today. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. 

So … semi-related: While I’ve been planning to “announce” the news that I’d signed on to run the Miami “Mara” (half marathon) as a member of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Team Hope again in the next week or so, I intended to do it with a bit of flourish and back-story (and maybe i’ll still do that down the road), but tonight, I’m feeling that helpless, sad, damn it, enough-already pain that I’ve felt too many times before.

So now seems like a good time to say – if you’re so moved, any amount is welcome … help me do what I can to kick pancreatic cancer’s ass.