Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Final Writing Project: A Day of Mindfulness

Note to readers: For their final writing projects this semester, students in the Happiness class were required to spend a day being mindful, keeping journal entries all day, and then later reflecting on the day and how it made them realize or appreciate what they have learned from the class. Several of the final papers were just wonderful; I am publishing Meghan Madden's today. 

By Meghan Madden          
             I woke up this morning with a boyfriend. He makes smiling this morning easier than it has been in awhile. I feel warm and cozy as I wake up in my bed. I am not groggy or irritated as usual, but refreshed and happy. It is a Sunday, a good day to live mindfully: A day that I usually just want to lay in bed and recover from my weekend but am too swamped with work. I will not mind going to my fraternity meeting today or spending hours in the library. I am going to try and enjoy these twenty-four hours in the company of my friends, brothers, and boyfriend. 
            Showers are usually not my ideal start to a day. However, today is the day I will enjoy my shower; to be thankful for my warm water, dry towels, and soft robe. I turn the water on hot and let it rush down my neck, back, and legs. I let the steam swallow me up as I breathe in deeply. I enjoy the massage from my fingers as I work the shampoo and conditioner in my hair. The beating of the water on my head and back, the scent of my pomegranate body wash, and the calming whirring sound from the fan relaxes me. I am able to focus on my breathing and the rushing sound of the water as I do part of my daily routine.
            I usually listen to my headphones when I take the bus up to campus, but today I decided to ride the bus in silence. Staring out the window, I watched the trees and the cars and the people rush by me. Watching all of the busy activity from inside the bus brings me relief that I can be still for these twenty minutes. I am starting to think about how swamped I am with work lately and how much I still need to get done; but I push it out of my head. I just want to focus on my bus ride. I know that right now, there is no work I can be doing. These twenty minutes are my moments of sanity before a hectic day. I look up and watch the clouds go by and I am grateful for this moment of calmness. I am grateful that I am able to find moments of peace where I least expect them and when I most need them.
            I bought my coffee and a muffin from Outtakes in the Campus Center and went to the library. I am happy for my usual spot, the comfortable, cushiony chairs in the basement. Not only is it quiet and secluded, but I am not burdened by a hard desk and equally uncomfortable chair. I can sit in the soothing chairs, eat my food, and study peacefully. I am trying to eat my food mindfully. I am not very good at the mindful eating, but it is an experience worth attempting.
            The coffee is hot on my throat. Not scolding, burning hot, but a nice, welcoming warmth. It tastes bitter, the way that I like it. Pure black, no swirls of milk or specs of sugar; just a hot, dark cup. I think of the grinds that were used for this coffee; the beans, the water, the chocolate raspberry flavoring. As I sip it, it warms my body and I feel it sliding down my throat, past my chest, and into my stomach. I imagine it running through my arms, legs, fingers and toes as it gives me my energy.
            My muffin is surprisingly still warm from the heated glass case it was sitting in before I bought it. I look at the purple dots of scattered blueberries in my muffin and think of a large blueberry field that they were picked from. Throughout the scattered blueberries lay the crystallized sugar that gives it the delicious sweet taste. I anticipate the satisfying crunch I know will be present when I bite into the top. I break off a piece, and bits of crumbs flake off into the open wrapper. I put the small piece in my mouth and I can taste the bread, the blueberry, and the sugar all at once. I try to separate the three flavors in my mouth with my tongue. I try and chew it slowly, letting it settle on my tongue and feeling it fall apart in my mouth. Swallowing it, I feel it go down my throat and fill the hunger in my stomach.
            I am taking a break from my studying in order to journal. It is hard to be mindful while I am trying to study over 1,000 years of European Civilization. I am grateful for the ability to read; to immerse myself in a story and enhance my creativity. I am grateful for paper, pencil, and my ability to write. Just the sound of the pencil scratching against the paper is the reassurance that I am learning something new. I know that learning is a blessing and not everyone is lucky enough to have the opportunities for education that I have. I am finding it hard, though, to be grateful for all of this homework when I can see outside into this beautiful day.
            I can sit outside and smoke a cigarette. I know if I think too mindfully about my cigarette I will not want it; so I decide instead to dwell on the people. I like watching people go by and guessing where they are going or who they are going to see. It makes me appreciate the diversity not only in the world but right here on my own campus. Everyone has their own lives, their own problems, their own ideas of what makes them happy. It makes me think about what makes me happy. Not why it makes me happy, just happy that I have the ability to be happy: The simple taste of coffee and muffin that lingers in my mouth. The warm sun I can feel on my arm right now as I sit on the cool cement of this campus that usually depresses me. I am beginning to realize that even in the saddest of places I can find some speck of happiness if I am willing to look for it.
            It has come to the least favorite part of my day, even though I am with some of my favorite people. I love my fraternity, I love doing community service and helping out people that are in need. Alpha Phi Omega has helped me to become a more well-rounded person and I am grateful for that. My meetings every Sunday, however, sometimes make me lose faith in our three cardinal principles: leadership, friendship, and service. I see people wanting to be leaders so badly they would take advantage of community service and squash their friendships. In the spirit of being mindful, in a setting that makes me doubt my compassion, I feel that I should channel Sharon Salzberg and extend some lovingkindness of my own.
            I am a leader and a friend. I enjoy doing service with my friends. I do not do it for a selfish self-satisfaction but because the happiness of others truly makes me happy. I deserve to be free of suffering and to find my own happiness. I am a loving person that is loved back and wants to continue the cycle. I think of one of my brothers. A friend. I want the best for her. I want her free of suffering and immersed in happiness. I love her, care for her, and I know she feels the same for me. I consider another of my brothers. I do not know her well, but I see her being a leader and caring for the fraternity. I want her free from suffering and for her to find happiness. I hope that she enjoys being a brother as much, if not more than I do and hope that she will be successful in whatever she chooses to do in her future. There is a third brother who tends to interrupt people and sometimes has inappropriate ways of confronting other brothers in the fraternity. I would never wish suffering on anyone, so I hope that she is free from suffering. I hope she finds happiness, but I hope she seeks it in ways that do not bring others down. I hope her strong personality brings her success and she is able to form strong bonds with people that understand her.
            Back at home there is so much housework, not to be confused with homework, which needs to be done. I have a hamster to feed and to clean her cage, dishes that have piled up for a week because no one has a spare minute to wash them, and laundry- loads and loads of laundry and no quarters.  I choose one chore, only one, because sometimes there is only so much you can do in a day. My room has been messy for weeks, maybe even a month, but I guess it is finally time to tackle that hurricane. I attempt to do this mindfully, but I know situations in the day will eventually cloud my thoughts and take over my mind. Using my breathing, I will try to push those thoughts out and return to focusing on my cleaning. Hopefully, writing intermittently will keep me focused on my mindful room cleaning.
            I start with my vanity. I throw away old contact cases, put my make-up back in its drawer, and organize my lotions, perfumes, and deodorants so they are easily available. I am so used to living in clutter that it makes me second guess my organizing. Am I happier in disarray or organization? I guess I will find out what I am more comfortable in if my vanity returns to chaos or stays put in its place.
            I move to my floor; that is where my clothes are usually kept. I feel them before I put them in the designated dirty or clean pile. I enjoy the usual rough texture of my jeans, the softness of the inside of my hoodies, the silky mesh feeling of my gym shorts. The different feelings they have and the different feelings they give me when they are on make me appreciate all of the different sensations I am able to feel. It also makes me feel a bit guilty that I am able to have all of these clothes when some people have so little. I try to push the guilt out of my mind and focus on my cleaning.
            As I hang up one of my rompers, I realize that it was one that my best friend Sarah gave me that no longer fit her any more. I think of her, how much I miss her, and how much she does for me. I start doing this with every article of clothing I pick up. The sweatshirt my mom brought home for me one day after work, the Jimi Hendrix shirt my sister sent me for my birthday last year, my first set of APO letters my brother bought me for Christmas. Even the clothes that were not gifts, the clothes I bought myself in the store, I think of the work that was put into them: The women that sewed the fabric, the truck-driver that delivered it to the store, the buyer that bought that shirt for the store that I would eventually wander in and purchase. I realize how many people have contributed to such a large aspect of my identity; an identity that I have come to love. I am grateful for all of these people and the unnoticeably large impact they have had on my life.
            The day is finally over and it is a little bittersweet. The 24 hours that I had in the morning have dwindled down to minutes. I run my tongue over my freshly brushed teeth. I enjoy the feeling of their smoothness and knowing they are clean after a day full of activity. I do a short, mini body scan on my living room carpet before I go to bed. I let go of everything I have to do tomorrow and the little mistakes I made during the day. I sense my toes, my knees, my hips, my stomach, and upwards until I reach my head. It relaxes me and clears my head so I can sleep easier.
            I lay in my bed with my new boyfriend. All of the happiness I felt when I woke up is still there. The kiss goodnight on the cheek makes me feel secure, and knowing that I am loved calms me. I realized today that I can control my feelings if I focus on the good that is right now: All of the love surrounding me, everything that I am blessed with, all of the good things I want to do in my future. I know that when I wake up tomorrow, I will be blessed with another 24 hours. I am grateful for my day and my opportunity to experience life with an open mind and without judgment.
            I am surprised at how rewarding this experience was for me. At the start of this class, I thought I would simply be learning a way to happiness. I thought we would be learning generic clich├ęs like “money doesn’t make you happy” or “you can’t love others until you love yourself.” While these proverbs have all held some meaning, this class has proved to teach me more about what happiness is. I learned that I can “train my mind” and open my heart in order to find happiness in everything around me.
            I chose this Sunday to be mindful because I knew I was already happy. I’ve always been the person that doesn’t need someone to make her happy. I lived by the words of singer Rilo Kiley, “You are flawed if you’re not free.” I am not flawed because I have someone, I am happy that I have someone that accepts me and takes me for every little quirk. With my new, changed mindset, I knew I wanted to live my day openly without judging my experiences and learning even more new ways to be happy.
            My shower, which if you ask my friends, is not my preferred choice of activity, surprisingly relaxed me. I took the time to massage my head with the shampoo, and allow the pounding hot water to massage my back and neck. I finally noticed the exotic scent of my body wash and the subtle empowerment that came from a fresh, clean me. I am hoping that my mindful shower experience will allow me to feel that pampering myself is not selfish.
            My bus ride felt a little awkward. I am a nervous person, and my music is a perfect defense mechanism against the crowds of people. It was hard for me to sit there and reflect on my ride without being “mindful” that people were looking at me or questioning me. I am glad I did it though. It is important for me to step out of my comfort zone and try to be more present in the world. It is easy to retreat into my headphones and my own little world. If I continue in my life of nervous seclusion, though, I may miss out on something that could make me happy.
            In every journal entry, I tried to mention at least one thing I was grateful for. This was easier than people would think. As I reflected on different parts of my day, I found more and more simple things I was grateful for. I even stopped my journaling for part of the day and started listing everything; the list turned out to be more than I could include in my paper. Actually, this paper is one thing I am thankful for because it helped me discover a lot about myself.
            My mindful observations became more in depth as I went through the day. I think this is because I became more comfortable with writing out my thoughts than I’m used to. As an English major and a lover of writing, I have always written and it has been therapeutic for me. Sharing my writing is another story. The thoughts in my head are always so jumbled that I am afraid people won’t understand me or think I am some sort of deviant. Throughout writing my journals I continuously told myself, “If I want to live without judgment, I should not judge my own thoughts.” As I continued to write I became less apprehensive about someone reading my observations and more focused on what I was seeing and feeling.
            I was really happy to finally do the mindful eating. I had never tried it before, not because I didn’t want to but because I never thought I had time. Words of wisdom from Lenore, however, have stuck with me and I do not think I will ever forget them. “The work will still be there an hour later.” My work is, unfortunately, going to wait for me to come back to it. So I chose a small meal that I wouldn’t worry about rushing. It was terribly difficult, though, if I am being honest. It takes patience and will power not to scarf down food. Doing my best though, I did feel myself gaining an appreciation for my warm coffee and simple blueberry muffin. I really think I should practice this exercise and continue writing about it because it forces me to slow down and relax.
            I know that many mindfulness teachers would rather deter students from using any substance that could alter their brain chemistry, even the simple caffeine in my coffee. But I have to admit that my cigarette break did relax me. It embarrasses me to admit that I am an occasional, and I stress occasional, smoker, especially to respected authority figures. Reading over that journal entry, I know that it is a bad and harmful habit that is hard to kick. But along with not judging my own writing, I learned I cannot judge my own behaviors; I must accept them for part of who I am. Actually, it soothed me to write my actions down. I know the calming powers of smoking, but I also see how writing can do the same without the harmful drawbacks, besides maybe a cramped hand. Watching the people during my cigarette though made me think that everyone has their own vices and that is what keeps us all connected, instead of perfect.
            The lovingkindness meditation I practiced during my fraternity meeting was probably the best experience of this project. I have been withdrawn from my brotherhood because I thought I was seeing everyone lose sight of our goal as a community service based BROTHERHOOD. Inflicting love on my brothers that I felt disconnected with, instead of the usual annoyance or almost hatred, I realized that I had not been being a good brother. Who am I to judge another brother or even another person? I should perform the best service and be the best leader and friend that I can be; and hopefully the law of attraction will manifest. While I found it hard to impose loving words on someone I still do not have much respect for, I was much more calm during the meeting and rational with my feelings. I tried to do this with as many brothers as I could, but with over 100 of us and a one hour meeting, it became a little distracting and too long of a list.
            My boyfriend found my whole mindfully cleaning my room and brushing my teeth and my meditation ritual unusual. He giggled at me as I rushed back to my notebook to write down an article of clothing and watched me strangely as I sat silently on my carpet while he waited to go to bed. At first this made me feel uncomfortable. After all, he is a new boyfriend and the last thing I want is for him to find me weird. When I explained it to him though, it made me feel less weird about it and more proud of myself. I lived a whole day with very little judgment, very little absent minded thought, and a lot of compassion for myself, my belongings, and others.
            He was mystified by my whole experience. As a business major and someone that knows exactly what he wants out of college, I think he saw this class as superfluous and an easy elective. Writing my journal articles and thinking about how I was going to end this paper helped me figure out how to explain it to him.
            It is not just about eating slow, listening to breathing, telling people you love them, or even just being happy. It is about a journey THROUGH yourself. It is about learning your capacity to love and avoiding the urge to judge. I told him that I learned there is no one way to be happy or see the world. There are millions of thoughts and views and perceptions that alter the course of every day. Living mindfully is just one way to stop and appreciate everything life has to offer, and everything you have to offer life.
            I have to disagree with the theory of a set point for happiness. I do not think we are doomed to one level of happiness and that is where we will live our life.  You can observe yourself through others, your property, and your thoughts and determine your own happiness. My day of mindfulness taught me it is a matter of opening up, accepting yourself, expressing yourself, and living without inhibitions that can help YOU decide YOUR happiness. This one day of living mindfully is just 24 hours of a whole lifetime to discover a truly happy identity.
Writer Meghan Madden is a student at the University at Albany.

Monday, May 28, 2012

On Memorial Day, We Can Re-Member

By Judith England
Today is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer.  It’s a day when we remember and honor those who gave their lives while in military service.  It’s also a day when we make time to look back on all those who went before  – civilians as well as soldiers.
But it can also be a day when we can choose to look on the life that we have now with  gratitude.  A day to pull ourselves together  and stand for one moment body, mind, heart and spirit all together in one place.
War  tears people and nations  apart, but so does the conflicting demands of simply living in modern life.
One of my all-time favorite books is “A Gift From the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I’ve shared this book with many people, especially young women on the verge of moving out into the world and lives of independence. The slim volume brims with wisdom about finding the balance between self and other, between caring and being cared for, between the need for connection and the drive to independence and self-expression.
There’s a German phrase Lindbergh uses to describe a certain condition -“zerrissenheit” which translates to being “torn apart”.  I take it to mean those times when the push-pull of life’s demands are equally strong, and diametrically opposed.  I trust that anyone trying to balance out the importance of relationships, family, work, friends, creativity, and privacy can relate to what this phrase means.  Constantly attempting to negotiate these needs can leave us resentful, exhausted, and confused as to who are our most authentic selves.
We can easily feel as if we are being “torn apart”, or dis-membered.
The only remedy is to re-member.  To re-member ourselves.  To re-member in the sense of bringing together all those parts of who we are physically, emotionally and spiritually.  To re-member is to heal the dis-membering that can happen so easily, pull us off center and lose sight of what’s important.
This life we live is a precious thing. a finite gift  that only asks  us to show up to reap its rewards. Like those tickets for a door prize that say in fine print “You must be present to win”.
Sometimes a song just gets stuck in your head, and thinking about how cool all this being alive stuff is, Elton John’s “Your Song” is playing out – especially the line “I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words, how wonderful life is when you’re in the world”.
Judith England is a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist in Albany, New York. She also writes the Albany Times Union's Holistic Health blog, where this piece appeared first. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

When a Rose Bends, Part Five

By Dr. Mel Waldman

My wife Michelle has lost chunks of time and memory –- details of her nursing home stay, trips to the ER, and her 11-day hospitalization.  Her high fevers and infections have apparently obliterated most of the horrific experiences in the Brooklyn Hospital where she was treated for sepsis and loss of blood.
She does not recall getting a blood transfusion in the ER.  The weeks she lay in bed in the Brooklyn nursing home with low-to-high fevers and infections have vanished into a dark ocean of oblivion.
Recently, we called her primary care physician (PCP).  I informed the doctor that Michelle had been treated for sepsis and that she has had fevers and infections since December 19th, 2011. I also pointed out that Michelle’s legs and feet were swollen.  The doctor noted that Michelle might have a blood clot.  She recommended that I take Michelle to the ER if her temperature rose to 101.  Yet despite the urgency of my wife’s medical conditions, Michelle initially could not get an appointment to see her PCP until June 20th.  A week later they moved her appointment up to June 11th.  Michelle must wait three more weeks to see her PCP or see an unknown doctor in urgent care.
The surgeon also recommended that my wife stop using a walker.  He suggested she walk with a cane.
Before we left, my wife talked about the life-threatening sepsis that had invaded her bloodstream.  

Two weeks ago, I took my wife by car service to her Manhattan surgeon.  When I told him how ill my wife has been, he ordered X-rays of her right hip.  The X-rays revealed that my wife’s right hip was fine.  On the other hand, he noted that her legs and feet looked swollen.  He pointed out that she might have suffered kidney damage.  He urged her to see her PCP.  
Which of course we can’t do for three weeks.
Two nights ago, I had a dream about a baby girl.  I believe the dream revealed much about my current psychological landscape and my concerns about my wife. 
In the dream, I’m sitting on our Queen-size bed and holding my baby girl.  I feel much love and tenderness for my daughter.  She is my precious gem.  Soon, she has a bowel movement.  When she is finished, I change her diaper.  I hold her in my arms again.  Suddenly, she slips out of my hands and slides to the floor.  I fear she will slip away and die.  But before she reaches the floor, my hands catch her.  She is safe.  She takes a few steps away from me and stumbles across the room.  She does not fall.  I’m holding her right hand.  I believe she wants to become independent.  That’s a good thing.  With much love in my heart, I wake up.

I don’t have a baby girl.  But for the past five months, I have written articles about my wife’s life-threatening illness after having total right hip replacement surgery.  She developed sepsis, a life-threatening infection in her bloodstream.  She almost died. Left untreated, sepsis can lead to septicemia and a destruction of the major organs of the body, attacking the brain, heart, lungs, and liver. 
During the past five months, my brilliant and independent wife became a helpless child.  She became my baby girl.  Yet like a heroic warrior, she continues to struggle and fight for a total recovery and independence.  

Tonight, Michelle’s temperature was 99.6.  I gave her two Tylenol.  She is asleep now. 
And so the never ending nightmare continues.  Sometimes I imagine we are two actors in a surreal play.  Soon we may be swept away into phantasmagoria.  Or perhaps, we’ll find ourselves on stage in the Theater of the Absurd.
You see, this dark experience is so traumatic that I must describe it as unreal.  It’s not really happening to Michelle and me.  Right?
Unfortunately, it is.  The claustrophobic darkness envelops us.  Yet we refuse to surrender.  Michelle will get better.  We will fight this insidious illness that assaults Michelle’s body and soul.  And in the end, we will drink from the cup of joy.

Writer Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, writer, and artist. His stories have appeared in dozens of magazines, including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, and AUDIENCE. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. He is the author of 11 books. This is the fourth in a series of articles about his wife, Michelle, and her recent illness following hip replacement surgery; the first ran in MyStory on February 28th and all can be found through the Search function at the bottom of the blog.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How it Feels to Forgive an Abusive Father

By Molly Silvanic

One of the most difficult situations in my life has always been my relationship with my father. It’s hard for me to talk about it, think about it, or even remember it. I usually just avoid thinking about the situation altogether. That changed, though, when I wrote my Flip Your Script stories. Somehow, I thought I would be able to write about my father without feeling anything. I figured I would just write the story and not feel anything. I was so wrong.

While writing Part One of my flip, “Cracked But Not Broken,” I was angry. While writing it, I pictured everything in my head and it brought back all the pain that I had once felt. Surprisingly, I could remember every detail, as if it had happened yesterday. I remember him being drunk and me trying to leave. Honestly, if I had known it would have made me recall all the pain I felt, I might not have written it. Typing the words became harder and harder; the scene in my head continued to play for like a week after I finished writing it.

When I began writing Part Two, I was still angry at my father. I continued asking myself, how can I write a flip for the first version. He doesn’t deserve the paper or the words! How am I supposed to know how he felt? How can I possibly step into his shoes? I sat and stared at the blank screen for about an hour until I decided just to start with a setting. Once I had the setting -- a dark cold hallway in my father’s old house, I could picture my father in this hallway. I knew he would have to be drinking because it was so rare that I would ever see him when he wasn’t drinking.

As the story began to unfold, I realized that I did understand my father more than I had thought. I understand why he was so angry at me and my family because he was alone. He was trapped in his house by himself without his son, his daughter, or his wife; his only way to cope was through the alcohol. That alcohol is what brought his madness, his sadness, and his downfall.

After completing these two Flip Your Script stories, I am not going to become “Daddy’s little girl.” However, I did give my father a phone call though. He answered and told me he missed me and wanted to see me. He told me he was proud of everything I was doing my senior year at SUNY Albany.

Do I want a relationship with my father? Yes. Do I forgive him for everything that he has done? Yes. Will I ever be able to forget the pain and abuse he put my family and me through? No. I do not know if I will ever be able to forgive him enough to establish the kind of father-daughter relationship that other loving families enjoy. 

Writing these stories, however, has helped me to understand why my father drank and why he was so sad. God has helped me to forgive him for what he has done. Being able to understand my father’s actions has helped me find forgiveness to him. I no longer am haunted by the memories of my father; now they are just painful memories that I understand will forever haunt him. 

Molly Silvanic graduated from the University at Albany, State University of New York, on Sunday, May 20th. She will enter a master's program in Education in the fall.  Part One of this Flip Your Script appeared on Thursday, May 17th. Part Two followed on Monday, May 21st.  For more on the Flip Your Script exercise, and the way it empowers writers and helps them find empathy and forgiveness, go to the Happiness class blog. For other Flip Your Script stories, go to the Search function on MyStoryLives, and type in Flip Your Script.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Forgiving Father: Part Two, Flip Your Script

By Molly Silvanic

Note to reader: Molly Silvanic is a senior at the University at Albany, State University of New York who graduated yesterday. She will enter a master's program in Education in the fall.  Part One of this Flip Your Script appeared on Thursday, May 17th. Stay tuned for a piece that explains how writing the Flip Your Script stories enabled Molly "to forgive [her father] for everything that he has done." For more on Flip Your Script, go to the Happiness class blog. For other Flip Your Script stories, go to the Search function on MyStoryLives, and type in Flip Your Script.

All you hear is the “CLICK PSTTTTTT,” and the “MMMMMM” as he awes at the taste of his beer. As he stands up with the Coors light can in his hand, the wooden chair rocks beneath him, as if the chair is unsure if it should fall over and surrender or stand up straight and be brave.

He wobbles away from the undecisive chair and grabs the door to try to keep his balance. He looks back at the wobbling chair and kicks it over with all of his might. All he can think about is himself. “I work. I take care of my bills. I AM A FUCKING FATHER.” He starts screaming at the door that is holding him up. As he looks down the barely lit, lonesome hallway, there is no one there.

He flops into the hallway and as he takes a step, he falls against the wall and the brown wooden picture frame falls to the floor. The glass shatters at his feet. “FUCK! What the hell man.” He bends over to pick up the picture and as he does, his head begins to spin. Everything around him is going in circles except for the picture. In it you can see his daughter hugging him. She has a smile on her face that makes her look like the luckiest and happiest girl in the world. He has his arm around her like he is the proudest father.

This was nine years ago, before the divorce, before the abuse, before she left.

He yells at the photo: “WELL YOU KNOW WHAT? I’m glad you left!” He screams and shakes the photo as if his daughter would feel the pain. “I’m glad that you and your mother left my life because I don’t need either one of you!” He keeps trying to convince the photo. Tears start to fall down his cheek and as one falls onto the broken picture, his anger takes over. “Fuck you, fuck you fuck YOU!” He glares at the photo and brings it close to his face. “It’s not my fucking fault that he tried to touch you! He was my friend; I didn’t know he would touch my child. That didn’t mean you had to leave me! I would have protected you! You are so ungrateful!”

He screams as he starts ripping the picture out of the frame. With every rip, more tears drop, and with every tear, it gets harder for him to stand.

He goes to take a step but misses the floor and falls flat on his face. The ripped pieces of the photo drop all around him as his tears floor from his eyes. All of a sudden a cellphone goes off, RING RING RING RING is all you hear throughout the house. He crawls over to the black table standing in the corner. His eyes are still filled with tears so he cannot read the tiny screen.

Opening the phone he screams “MOLLY?!” He patiently waits to hear his daughter’s voice, telling him that she wants to come home. But all he hears is a friend: “Hey Jerr, the game starts at 8:30, you want to go get a beer and watch it down at the bar? I’ll drive.” The sound of the man’s voice confuses him and he asks again, “MOLLY?! Where are  you?”

“Jerry, you doing OK man? Molly is with her mom probably, you know she graduates this week. Have you been drinking man? You started without me!”

Jerry closes the phone and just stares at it. As he glances down the dark hallway, he realizes again that he is alone. No one is there, just his tears, his beer and him. He looks down and sees the ripped up photo and says, “NOW BITCH, now look what you made me do. How am I going to clean up this mess?” He begins to cry again, as if the mess is too much for him to clean up. As if this time, there are just too many ripped up pieces ever to put back together.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Forgiving Father: Flip Your Script, Part ONE

By Molly Silvanic

"Cracked But Not Broken"

I close my eyes and all I can hear are mumbled slurs and angry growls. As I bend over to tie my white Nikes, I see a glass that is half full of water fly above my head and hit the light blue painted wall in front of me. The glass shatters and falls all around my feet. The water from the glass darkens the carpet as the shattered pieces of glass fall and reflect the fear in my eyes.

My father has just come into the room. Thankfully, when he drinks, his aim is off. The glass missed my head by almost a foot. I grab my iPod and run out the front door before his aim gets better and the next glass he throws doesn’t miss me. Before I reach the door though, he throws a white plate at me. It hits the wall right beside me and I get so nervous I accidentally drop my iPod. It soars through the air and I can see his reflection in the glass. His eyes are staring at me with a look of hate and evil. My iPod lands directly on the glass side and cracks. I grab my IPod as quickly as possible before he takes his third pitch and tries to hit me again.

As I reach for the handle he yells, “Molly! Get your ass back here! Did I give you permission to leave? What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You made me break a glass and spill water, don’t make me have to do anything else.”

I used to constantly remind myself that it was the alcohol talking, it wasn’t him, just the alcohol but after a while I just stopped caring whether it was him or the alcohol, I just didn’t want to hear it anymore.

I push the door open and feel the breeze hit my face as if freedom is right in front of me. I am almost safe, I just need to close the door. But as I push the door closed, it fires back open like a cannonball shooting out of a cannon.

“FUCK!” I yell and trip down the four stone stairs trying to go as fast as I can. I’m surprised to find that I land on my feet.

“Bitch, I said get back in the house! Who do you think you are!? I AM YOUR FATHER!” He is screaming, staring at me and causing a scene in the neighborhood.

“No! You’re not my father, you’re just a fucking drunk.” I lash back not caring who is listening.

He jumps down the stairs with one impressive leap and grabs my arm as tightly as he can. People on the block are watching us as if it is an episode of Criminal Minds. They sit there on their stoops but don’t say or do anything to try to stop him. He looks down on me with eyes filled with anger and hatred. Quietly he says, “get in the house or God help me I will kill you! You ungrateful woman.”

I look back at him with disgust. And then I make a promise: “You can’t kill me if you never see me again.” As I look at him for what would be one of the last times until four years later, I don’t feel bad for what I am about to do. As I grab my hand and elbow him between the legs, his grip loosens. He starts moaning and bending toward the hard pavement. I take off running, not looking back to see if he is hurt or if he is going to follow me. I just run and run until my mom’s block comes into my sight.

Molly Silvanic is a senior at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is graduating this weekend and will enter a master's program in Education in the fall. Stay tuned for Part Two of her Flip Your Script, and also, for a piece that explains how writing the Flip Your Script stories enabled her "to forgive [her father] for everything that he has done." For more on Flip Your Script, go to the Happiness class blog. For other Flip Your Script stories, go to the Search function on MyStoryLives, and type in Flip Your Script.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Time to Reboot

By Judi England

John F. Kennedy did it.  So did Leonardo daVinci, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt and Napoleon. Salvador Dali did it too, with a method that only took a few seconds,  using a technique followed by the Capuchin Monks.
It was part of Winston Churchill’s daily schedule, allowing him to stay sharp and deal effectively with the horrors of war that raged around him. He is quoted as saying:
“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”
Yes, you guessed it,  all these notables were found in the listing of “famous nappers.”
Chronic sleep deprivation is becoming a serious problem.  As the world charges ahead at breakneck speed we are trying to accomplish more by sleeping less. An estimated 47 million adults in the United States are sleep deprived – regularly getting far less than the recommended 7-8 hours snooze time each night.
Lack of sleep makes us crabby, interferes with creativity and judgement, and a whole lot more.  It’s been linked to the rise in obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, poor job performance, and ranks second as a cause of accidents just behind alcohol use. If you’ve ever experienced insomnia, you know how miserable you can feel slogging through a day.
In an effort to get needed rest, many Americans turn to drugs for help. Did you know that, according to the National Academy of Sciences, 8.5 million Americans take prescription sleeping pills at least once a year? Two million Americans take them every night for at least two months at a time!  51 million Americans (nearly one in four) have taken tranquilizers.
Aside from helping to offset some of the problems that go along with lack of quality nighttime sleep, the nap adds another whole dimension to the day, and brings with it a unique and valuable set of gifts:
  • The recuperative effects of an afternoon nap can more than make up for the loss of an hour of nighttime sleep.
  • Multiple naps can lessen the impact of subsequent sleep deprivation. For example, an MD would perform better if he/she were to take a few naps before going on call for 48 hours.
  • Even a 15-minute rest can improve your alertness, performance and mood for hours.
  • Naps, not caffeine, can help prevent motor-vehicle accidents caused by sleep deprivation. A tired driver who drinks coffee to stay awake is still likely to succumb to “micro-sleeps”- brief naps lasting four or five seconds.  In that short time, a car going 55 mph may travel more than 100 yards, which can easily cause a fatal accident.
  • You’ll be able to work longer.  Research on transoceanic sailors in the Around Along race – which takes place every 4 years – showed that by taking frequent naps, the sailors could function for days at a time with only 3 hours of sleep in each 24-hour period.
While it’s certainly true that a nap isn’t a cure-all there’s so much to recommend it, that perhaps it’s time to stop apologizing for the need to nod.  How about allowing employees a 20-minute snooze break, instead of the caffeine fix? Perhaps we should just be allowed to succumb to that natural lull we feel in the afternoon.  Think about all the parts of the world where the siesta, riposo, or afternoon rest is an honored and integral part of daily life. Energy and brain power have a chance to reboot.  Productivity might increase, and certainly we would be a lot nicer to be around.
There is something so wonderful, so civilized about the nap.  We withdraw by choice. Go to the couch, or bed or hammock.  Disconnect and unplug. We grab a blanket, possibly our dog, close our eyes and trust that world can go on without us for a short while.  As an antidote for stress, a brief respite from the going and the doing.  It doesn’t get any better than this.
Bye for now folks…I feel a nap coming on………
PS: Wrote an interesting post a while back about variations in sleep cycles. Check it out here!
Writer Judi England is a yoga instructor and certified massage therapist working in Albany, N.Y. She also keeps the Albany Times Union's Holistic Health blog, where this piece appeared first. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

So What Does She Do With The Blue Syringe?

Part Two, "Theater Dream"

By Claudia Ricci
What else would she do? That little soggy imp -- dragging all of that hair draped like brown seaweed over her legs -- she stands up and holding the blue syringe with two hands, she squirts me full in the face and ocean water comes shooting over me head to toe, so much water floods me that I am instantly afloat, and forced to swim like crazy through wave after wave crashing over my head. Hard as I try, I am caught and slapped by the salty ocean water. The feeling though is not a bad one, I love the water, I feel like I am being purified, made ready, for what I have no idea.


As I struggle through the water, the realization hits me: what am I doing in the ocean? I was just sitting so comfortably in that theater.  With that, the flood of blue water dries up and I am back in my seat in the theater, still wet from the water. The screen is blank, and the smell of stale popcorn mixes with the dank smell from the theater floor.

“Ugh, I want out of this place, now,” I mutter, "I can't take it anymore." At that moment I notice a man in a red jacket with gold braid on the cuffs and collar.  He is selling tickets and I say to him, “OK, OK, I’m ready now, I will buy a damn ticket if I have to,” and he smiles that smug little smile that I have seen before. 

“Yes,” he says, “I told you before, you have to buy a ticket, that is, if you want to get out.”  It's crazy to think I have to shell out money to leave the theater, but I do, I pay my $9.50, big city prices, and when I take the blue ticket from him it reads only, “JUMP" in big bold letters.  He points me toward the double door, but the closer I get to it, the more I wonder, is it glass, or is some kind of a panorama painted on wood?  I walk up to it and take both handles in my hands and open both at once, and the view outside is lush green hills, a shimmering emerald pond, a divinely blue and gauzy sky, too many trees to describe, and all around, birds in exotic colors squawking and chirping.  The birds are as big as I am, and so I know now that it is going to be OK and I am in the place I need to be. I step carefully onto the branch and I see there is a light, just like the girl said there would be, it is an odd light to be sure, an unnatural mixture of fluorescent and fire and gem-like iridescence.  At first I think the light is coming from the water in the pond, or maybe it’s not from the water, but it’s just a light caught in the clouds which look like donuts dusted in mercurial powder.  Or then I think the light is coming up from the grass, which is covered in a bright feathery dew, brocaded emerald hillsides, just like the tail of my mermaid.

Whatever it’s source, I’ll never know, but something in the light convinces me. 

“I can do this, I can do this, I can do this!”  I scream, closing my eyes and leaping from the branch.  When I open my eyes again, I am skidding along on the light, the gauzy blue is like a net holding me to the ether, and I feel it streaming through my hair and rushing by my face and neck and shoulders. 

I look down and there is the girl twirling, and twirling, twirling so fast she is rising up in the air to meet me, and I am not the least bit scared, I am happy, I am happy so happy, and this is as real as it can be, and that makes me even more happy. Before another minute goes by, we are flying together, her hand in mine. 

Part one of Theater Dream ran in MyStory on Friday, May 11, 2012.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Theater Dream: What Sort of Sea Could This Be? (Part One)

By Claudia Ricci

“Theater Dream”

By Claudia Ricci

For reasons I cannot explain, it is 2004, and I am sitting in the dark in a plush red theater chair.  There are rows and rows ahead of me, chairs stretching endlessly into the inky black darkness.  The room is cavernous, and only a single light is burning.  It is a red light, spelling the word EXIT.  Good, I think, I can ditch this gig at any moment. 

I am waiting patiently in the darkness.  My eyes close and I breathe in and breathe out.  A hum starts up and then, there is slight squeal, as if a metal wheel is turning.  I open my eyes and before me is a giant screen.  The color of the sea jumps right out at me, blue green and foamy, billowing waves, waves so big, so loud that I raise my arms in front of my face as if the water is going to come crashing into this place I sit.  Just as suddenly, the waves fall away, disappear, the sea is quiet and all I can hear is the squeal of the movie reel and my own breathing.

I close my eyes and tell myself this is not a dream, got that, so don’t go getting carried away. But then I know it is a dream and I seem OK with it. When I open my eyes again there is a girl staring at me from the middle of the screen.  She has dull brown eyes and a flood of long wavy hair.  At first I think she is naked, but no, it is just the way she is floating there, facing me, her thin bare arms and legs sticking out to either side, as if she is a paper doll doing the breast stroke or is it the frog kick?  Now she is floating there with her brown hair everywhere, and a prayer plant in the murky green water beside her.  Bubbles rise from the girl’s mouth, but these are no ordinary bubbles, they swell, they are huge, and there are words in black calligraphy popping up in each bubble.  A sentence forms:  “You must have faith.  To heal yourself, you need only jump straight toward the light and the rest will take care of itself.  Trust me I know.”

With the last of the bubbles fluttering up from her lips, the girl waves and turns and suddenly a brocaded tail emerges, glittering green and aqua blue and I think to myself, I want to go where she is going.  But in the next twinkle of the screen, she is gone, the screen is blank.  I blink, so disappointed to have lost the girl.  I yell, “Is this a dream? Or am I sitting in some damn theater waiting to watch a goddamn movie?” I squirm in my seat, wondering if I should be swearing at the top of my lungs.

As if on cue, when I say the word “movie,” the camera returns, and there is the girl again, smiling and waving at me.  I smile and wave back and she motions for me to follow as she swims away.  The camera follows her as she rises slowly to the surface of the water, the camera keeps pulling back, pulling back from the water.  And now I am horrified to see that the girl is no longer a mermaid and she is not swimming in the sea as I thought she was.  No, she is caught in what looks to be a tank.  I see the glass edge, but then it gets worse, I realize that she is trapped in a fishbowl, a bowl shaped like a vase, a vase with a narrow neck and filled with smooth white stones at the bottom.  “How goddawful,” I whisper as the girl presses the flesh of her lips to the bowl.  She is so distorted and fish-like that I look away.

I can’t help myself though, in a moment I look back and I see the camera has pulled back to the ceiling, and there below is the fish bowl sitting on a small table with a white cloth.  The table is in the center of a white room with perfectly clean, perfectly shiny, well-shellacked pine floors.  The camera swings to a small cabinet in the corner, and as the door opens, a blue light floods out, it is so bright that I have to shield my eyes.  I cover them with my hands, and when I next look, I am staring into the cabinet through the blue light at the same girl who had been in the tank.  She is now in the cabinet, huddled, her face pressed to her bare knees, her fountain of wet hair draped like brown seaweed over her legs.  I find myself wondering if her hands are puckered from so much water, when it then occurs to me that her mermaid tail is no longer anywhere to be seen.  I watch her hands emerge from under her hair.  She reaches beside her into a bucket and out of the bucket she pulls a blue syringe.

What now, I think, WHAT does this ocean imp plan to do with the blue syringe?

Stay tuned, Part Two of "Theater Dream" is coming shortly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

African Journal: "The Pond"

By Hedva Lewittes, Ph.D.

Driving across the parched yellow plains from the western to the central Serengeti we encounter an ample pond.  The landscape is abundantly and gloriously verdant: the yellow green bushes along the shore, and the more muted colors of the trees and grasses on the surrounding plain.  It is midmorning and rather than chasing after animals we park and stop to let nature unfold. An over-hanging palm frond shades a mostly submerged hippo who lounges unobtrusively. On the far side of the pond a giraffe grazes.  A gathering of zebras takes center stage.  Skittish, they rotate so that some are in the water while others circle on the land behind them.  Their braying and constant motion creates confusion in both sound and image. I switch my attention to the more distant giraffe who continues to amble and eat.  When I re-focus on the zebras, a new picture emerges.  

Now exactly ten form a single straight line, all leaning into the pool to drink.  On our trip the shy zebras have not been the stars.  Numerous and easy to spot they rarely come near enough for an intimate view and lack the gangly grace of giraffes or the elusive thrill of lions. But on this day, we delight in their charm. A group of zebras is called a dazzle and the reflection of their brownish black and white stripes in the ripples that they make in the blue grey green water does indeed dazzle. The giraffe begins a leisurely stroll around the pond.  He samples the bushes along the way but eventually crosses the road in front of our jeep stopping at the acatia that shields us from the sun.  Plunging his nose and mouth into the branches and small sage-colored leaves, his out-stretched body merges with the tree’s iconic umbrella shape to form an arc. Then he lifts his head to dine higher up.  A sub-species, his feathery-edged patches are a rich dark brown. The left side of his slender face is so close that we can gaze into his deep almond-shaped eye.   The battle-worn wisps of hair at the top of his small stubby horns and the bump in front of them identify him as a male.   A short tuft of hair runs down the back of his long neck where a bird calmly perches.  Entranced, we stand in our vehicle snapping pictures and enjoying him.  Whether he is curious or friendly we can’t really know, but he is certainly not afraid.  Although giraffe young are vulnerable, size protects this adult.   Neither predator nor prey, he conveys a sense of ease.  I drink in the peace of a few timeless moments.

Writer Hedva Lewittes is Professor of Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury. "The Pond" is taken from the journal she kept while traveling in Tanzania last year. She travelled to the Western and Eastern Serengeti, visiting the Oldepai gorge, Ngrongoro crater and Arusha.