Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where the Bluebird Hides

By Yoonhee Kim

There's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
It flocks its feathers
Flocks Flocks Flocks
But I swallow him back down
I say, stay down you bluebird
You make me weak

There's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
Scanning each rib searching for an opening
but with a forced smile
I laugh at him and lock him in.
My friends, they laugh too and
are not able to see beyond
Beyond the heart where the bluebird hides

There's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
Its wings are too tough
for the weak heart at night
The bluebird escapes and I
I let it be, flying freely

There's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
It sings only what I can hear
The melody matching to every thump of my heart
You hear that? There. Thump. Thump.
I say, get out, go free yourself
For you know what they all say,
the early bird catches the worm

Yoonhee Kim is a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is considering majoring in public health.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Bluebird In My Heart Takes Wing

By Claudia Ricci

Because of the hurricane, teaching plans at the University had to be rearranged. At the suggestion of my dear friend and colleague (and fabulous poet, Nancy Dunlop), I had the students read Charles Bukowski's famous poem, "Bluebird" -- and then we wrote our own versions. Several students read their poems out loud. Here is the one I wrote.

There's a bluebird in my heart that feels like she's dying, and I want to revive her. WRITE now.

There's a bluebird in my heart that's more alive every time I've got this pen in my hand.

There's a bluebird in my heart and I've heard her singing the sweetest melodies, and it isn't easy to play them on my guitar but I am motivated to try.

There's a bluebird in my heart and if I listen very closely, I can hear her heart starting to beat,
thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum,
thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum

There's a bluebird in my heart and she's looking so much more chipper that I've decided to give her something to eat, for starters just a few seeds...

There's a bluebird in my heart and now I realize that I need to feed this bluebird every single day, no matter what

There's a bluebird in my heart but the world is such a scary place she's not sure she can face it

There's a bluebird in my heart and I've got to keep telling her to have the courage to just sit there and sing as loud as she wants to

There's a bluebird in my heart and she's starting to teach me new songs

There's a bluebird in my heart and when I'm listening to her sing I feel like I could write the longest poem in the world, one that would just keep on going, even when the two of us are asleep

There's a bluebird in my heart and when I am writing down her lyrics I have no fear and I know that the world will laugh and applaud even if they never hear our words

There's a bluebird in my heart and now she's even teaching me to fly!

There's a bluebird in my heart and she's showing me that I always have a place here, writing, and that I even have the courage to start carrying my words on my wings.

(Stay tuned for more Bluebird poems, as soon as my students email them to me.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mom, Thanks for Making Me a Great Reader and Writer!!

By Deanne Snape
My mother can be described as something of a perfectionist. From the cakes she bakes to the way her kids look she always feels as if she has to go the extra mile to make sure that everything goes the way she pictures it in her mind. She’s the type of person to make you do things over and over again until you learn and get things “right.” This is a part of her personality that definitely had its pros and cons for me growing up, but nevertheless it works for her. Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, her personality and everything that she has done for my siblings and me growing up. But I can recall one time when I really hated how perfect things had to be for my mother and that was back when I first learned how to read and write.

When I was younger, I would say about the age of three, my mother started to teach me how to read and write. I loved spending time with my mother so in my eyes this was just another fun thing for us to do together. I remember when she gave me the pencil to write with and I shifted it between my right and left hands until I figured out what was comfortable for me. She showed me how to trace over the letter “A” and told me to continue doing that until I filled up the page. At first this was fun for me; I was getting to do big kid work like mommy. 

But as time went on and the letters got more difficult to trace over, I began to hate having to write. I tried to rush to get through the practices so that I could get them over with, I mean after all, they were cutting into my playtime. But unfortunately for me, that only upset my mother and made things so much harder. I guess she felt like she needed to give me more of a challenge so in addition to having to trace the letters I also had to do it neatly and make actual sentences. I was shocked that she would up the bar like that; I thought she loved me!  I worked through my astonishment and I stuck it out because I wanted to make mommy happy. I began to write neater, well what I thought was neater, so that I could get out of this torture. But since my loving mother was such a perfectionist, it still wasn’t good enough.  I had to start over and over and over again until she realized that my poor little hands couldn’t write any neater no matter how hard I tried. She gave me a break. But after overcoming what seemed like the greatest, longest battle I would ever have to face in my life, my mother threw a whole different kind of mission at me, and it took my outlook on life to a whole new level.

One day my mom took me out into the living room. Since I was so young I didn’t ask why, I honestly didn’t really care, Mommy shad aid to do it so I just did it. On the table there was a book; at this moment I can’t recall what book it was but I’m almost sure that it was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. 

My mom and I sat on the couch and she proceeded to teach me how to read. She would say “Look Dee Dee, sound that out and tell me what it says.” Little did she know that she might as well have given me a book of Hebrew scripture to read because at that point in time there was no way in the world I could have told her that the first sentence of the book said “I am Sam.”  At that point those letters weren’t even words on a paper for me. They were just things in the book that were blocking the pictures. We went through that routine more times than I can count until I finally was able to read through the entire book. My mother never allowed me to memorize anything that I read either. She made sure that I sounded out every vowel and consonant with perfection. I remember that feeling of accomplishment and from then on I remember wanting to read lots more books. That of course made my mother happy so she bought me books to read all the time.

As I got older I still had to practice reading and writing for my mom and since it was work, I never wanted to do it very much. Up until about the sixth grade, my mother had me do my homework in a practice notebook every day before I could do my homework on the real sheet of paper that I was going to hand into my teachers. Writing my work with my practice notebook gave me confidence; in fact, once I no longer needed my practice book, I acquired a kind of arrogance that I would display to my peers when it came to my writing. I felt as if I had just finished learning how to ride a bike and I was finally able to take off my training wheels. I carried on as if my writing was better than everyone else’s since it was always displayed on the bulletin board in the hallways of my junior high school. I thought that I had finally mastered my writing and that I didn’t have to work on anything else. I had thought that I was finished with worrying about English all together.

Then high school hit. In my sophomore year I had an English teacher who was the equivalent of my mother when it came to my writing. Ms. Pacheco was the kind of teacher who exposed your flaws and left you with no choice but to work on them until both she and I were satisfied with the work that was produced.  She pushed me beyond the edge of frustration each and every time I had to revise an essay for her. Her class took so much out of me. To make things even worse her class was my last class of the day so time used to creep by while I was in there. She would call me out on my laziness and she would call me out on the fact that I never wanted to be creative. Whenever it came to putting more than enough effort into a paper we would bump heads because I was perfectly fine doing just enough to get by. I was fine just getting the grade and she didn’t agree with that kind of mentality at all. 

Despite my resistance to her pushing, after awhile I grew to love her class because of the honest help that I got from her with my writing. I went from being pissed off at how hard she made me work to loving it and appreciating the guidance that she gave me. I valued her instruction in English so much that I tried my hardest to make sure that I had her again junior year; unfortunately I wasn’t able to. I got stuck with a teacher who didn’t help me with my writing at all. The only thing that she did do was assign me a 25-page paper that was supposed to help me in college. Fortunately for me, in my senior year of high school Ms. Pacheco and I got reunited and she went right back to helping me work and improve my writing.

My first experiences with the fundamentals of the English language are definitely lessons that I keep in mind today. I laugh at how far I’ve come and how much I hated having to learn. To this day, I’m not the best writer and my mother would still probably want to murder me for how bad my handwriting is. But I still try and I do practice. There are even times when I write out everything in a practice book just like I did when I was younger. My mother teaching me how to read and write -- along with the instruction and assistance that I received from Ms. Pacheco--  were definitely big pluses in my writing life.  I consider myself very very fortunate to have had such a devoted mom, and a wonderfully attentive teacher. But the truth is, though, English is still not something I love. I write and read because I have to get them done, because I mean after all they are cutting into my playtime.

Deanne (Dee Dee) Snape grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY, and intends to major in psychology and minor in criminal justice. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Putting a New Spin on the Way We Speak

Complaining…we all do it. Sometimes we do it a lot. Mostly we don’t recognize just how much we do it. 

Personally I sometimes think that complaining is sort of like anger, but without real enthusiasm.

We complain about the weather (as if we could change it), we whine about the price of gas, we grumble about our bosses, other drivers, shoddy workmanship, poor service. 
If you can name it, we complain about it.       

A number of years ago while a presenter at a weekend wellness retreat, one of the other organizers offered all of us a challenge : Would we, could we, go without complaining for our time together?

For her model, she followed a program outlined in the book “Complaint Free World” by Will Bowen.  The practice began with wearing a purple rubber bracelet on your wrist.  Simple enough.  Each time we caught ourselves complaining we were to switch the bracelet to the opposite wrist.  Oh yes, if we noticed someone else complaining, we were to point it out to them so they could move their bracelet.  And yes too, if we complained that THEY were complaining, WE had to move our bracelets as well.

And how exactly did Bowen define complaining?  He said it was “expressing discontent, pain or grief with the way things are.”

The practice also included criticizing or gossiping.

In Bowen’s book, he would have us follow the program for 21 days, restarting the clock each time we found ourselves needing to “switch wrists.”     

If you find yourself wondering what’s so bad about complaining you first need to take a step back and recognize the power that words have to shape the reality we experience.  When we change the words we use, we can also change the way we think and act.  This is an amazing concept I know, but just consider the following statements:
  • “My life is so up in the air right now, so unsettled.”
  • “My life is changing and full of possibilities.”
It’s pretty obvious which statement feels more positive, more “in charge” of life as it’s happening,  less reactive, more proactive.

Bowen reminds us that complaining can become a habitual practice and lead to “focusing on what we don’t want.”  In doing so we direct more energy and more attention to the negative than the positive.

When it comes to making changes which make life better, dissatisfaction is a necessary first step.  But if we stay there, says Bowen, “we never move forward to brighter vistas. Were the great leaders of the United States also great complainers? I’d have to say no. These important men and women allowed dissatisfaction to drive them to great visions, and their passion for these visions inspired others to follow them.”

In dialing down the quantity of our complaint factory output, we go through stages:
  • Unconscious Incompetence – We aren’t aware of what we need to change and how to do it.
  • Conscious Incompetence – We become aware, and uncomfortable with how much we complain.
  • Conscious Competence – We become aware of our words and intentionally try to change how we speak about things, situations and people. You might find yourself actually being silent more.
  • Unconscious Competence – We have reprogrammed ourselves to “no longer produce the deluge of unhappy thoughts” we have once lived with...and you feel better, and happier.
All ideas have power, and this one certainly does.  More than 10 million ‘Complaint Free” bracelets have been delivered to folks in over 106 countries. Here’s the link for the “Complaint Free World” site, and a link to purchase your very own purple bracelets for a buck each.  What’s to complain about that?

Judith England is a yoga instructor and licensed massage therapist. She writes the Holistic Health blog for the Albany Times Union, and this piece appeared first on that site.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Another Mystery Candle!!

By Claudia Ricci

OK, so it's been three months since I last posted on Sister Mysteries. Clearly, there's a lot to say about the hiatus. But that story will have to wait for another day. Today instead I have to write about the newest mystery in a long series of mysteries with this book -- another candle that won't stop burning.

When I lit the candle almost two hours ago, it looked like it had only a few minutes of wick left. But no. Through some process I cannot explain, the candle continued to burn brightly all during this morning's extended meditation, the flame perched on what appeared to be a practically non-existent wisp of a wick.

Readers of Sister Mysteries may recall a similar candle miracle happening once before. It was November 26, 2010. When it happened that last time, I sat for nearly FIVE hours in front of a candle that wouldn't stop burning. No matter that there was absolutely no evidence of a wick -- indeed, the wick had totally disappeared. No matter that the miraculous flame burned without any visible substance to feed it.

I sat there for so long that at one point my leg went numb.

Something similar -- another mystery candle -- has emerged this morning and it is a quite an interesting coincidence that it is happening today.

It just so happens that I have very recently started working with a brilliant new therapist who I will call Ella, because her first name begins with L. Ella and I have seen each other maybe four times in the last two weeks, but something has already started to shift big time in me because of her influence.

Curiously, just yesterday afternoon, I told Ella about Sister Mysteries, the wild and crazy novel that I have been writing and rewriting for almost two decades (I started writing it in January of 1995. I've worked on it in between writing other things.) Readers of this tome know that the book is actually two books in one: there's the inner story -- the tale of the nun, Sister Renata, who in 1883 was falsely accused of murdering her cousin Antonie (that part is contained on the blog called  "Castenata").

And then there's this outer story, the blog called Sister Mysteries, which is a kind of "meta" narrative, meaning it's the story that I'm writing about the inner story. It tells the tale of all the wacky things that have happened over the years as I've been writing the inner story.

Yeah, it's a little nutty, I agree, and sometimes I think it's more than a little nutty, but it's great fun nun-theless :) mostly because the two intertwined books sit on blogs, enabling readers to click on interlocking chapters.

As I said, this outer story has been touched by numerous mysteries, or I might even say miracles, along the way. They are very well documented in some of the book's fifty plus chapters (all available in the right-hand column on the blog, just click and read!)

Here today is just one more mystery. Another candle that is burning and burning way past the time it should have burned out.

In the Jewish tradition, a similar kind of miracle is commemorated by the winter holiday known as Hannukah, when the Maccabees -- Jewish soldiers -- regained control of their Temple, which had been defiled by the worship of foreign gods. The Maccabees were determined to purify the Temple by burning oil but alas, there was only one day's worth of oil left in the Temple.

Voila, MIRACLE of MIRACLES! That one day's supply of oil lasted for eight full days!!

When we Jews celebrate Hannukah we celebrate that miracle. We spin a dreidel that has four Hebrew letters painted on it -- "Nun," "Gimmel," "Hay" and "Shin." (Nun just happens to be a letter in the Jewish alphabet.)

Anyway, these four letters are a shorthand for the Hebrew phrase which translates as: "A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE."

So maybe I will look at my little candle burning mystery today and decide, "a little miracle happened here." And in the spirit of purification, I will regard this candle burning as a form of purification for me and my book. A form of inspiration too.

Considering that it's been three months since I posted on Sister Mysteries, I needed a little miracle to jumpstart me. I needed this candle to light the way back to a book that is deeply personal and very special to me.

It's time to go forward with the novel. It's time to finish it since it's almost exactly two years ago that I started writing this latest version, the version that exists solamente on the two blogsites.

It's also time to thank Ella for her deeply insightful, intuitive therapy. She has great compassion and endless patience, and she displays a terrific generosity of spirit as well.

There are therapists and then there are therapists. I haven't had the privilege of having a fabulous therapist like this for as long as I can remember.

I can't wait to tell Ella what her work has sparked. I can't wait to tell her what I've written.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Romney, You Be Should Ashamed!

Romney's Audacious Romneycare Claim: Good for Massachusetts, Bad for America

OCT 17, 2012By Richard Kirsch

Romney touts the expansion of health coverage in Massachusetts as a great achievement, but he'd deny that same guarantee to millions of Americans.

As Romney aimed to prove that he cared about the 100 percent in last night's debate, part of the stream of accomplishments he listed in his final answer was his audacious claim that “as governor of my state, I was able to get a hundred percent of my people insured -- all my kids; about 98 percent of the adults.” What’s audacious is not that’s its untrue – it is true. But it takes a lot of brass to trumpet as evidence of your compassion something that you are planning to deny to the 98 percent of Americans who don’t live in Massachusetts. That is of course what Romney plans to do with his pledge to repeal Obamacare.
Last week, Romney told the editors of the Columbus Dispatch that “We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance.” Romney is right again, but in a very perverted way. Most of the time people who die because they are denied health insurance spend their last days in the hospital after getting very sick in their houses or apartments.
Take, for example, Tifanny Owens, the mother of Marcelas Owens, the young boy who stood next to President Obama when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Tifanny was fired by Jack in the Box, where she worked as a manager, because her serious illness was causing her to miss work. With her job went her health insurance, and Tifanny could no longer afford to get the care she needed. She died in a Seattle hospital, leaving Marcelas, age seven, and his two younger sisters behind.
Of course, sometimes people don’t make it to the hospital to die. Like Billy Koehler of Pittsburgh, who had a heart attack in his car when his cardiac defibrillator failed. Koehler, who had lost his job when the company he worked for in Pittsburgh failed, could not afford the $10,000 to get the device replaced. A doctor told him to come back when he had the cash.
Tifanny and Billy's stories are drawn from my book, Fighting for Our Health, but they're far from alone. A recent report by Families USA estimates that 26,000 people die each year in the United States because they don’t have health coverage.
Last night Romney told America, “I believe we're all children of the same God.” But not, it appears, when it comes to saving the lives of God’s children who don’t live in Massachusetts.
Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. This piece was cross-posted in Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

By Claudia Ricci

They say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but can eating an apple also make you happy?

I discovered today at lunch that it can.

I walked in my office in one of those moods.

Tired of teaching. Tired of being tired of teaching.

I reached for a book on my shelf: THE MINDFUL WAY THROUGH DEPRESSION.

Thinking, this might be worth reading over lunch.

And this is what happened.

The book suggested that when a bad mood hits, don’t go down the road trying to think your way out of it. Don’t try to solve it, trace it, tackle it, track it, fix it, get to the bottom of it and by all means,

Don’t decide that because you are in a low mood right now, that you are destined to be depressed the rest of the day or the rest of your life.

Instead, slow wayyyyyyyyyy down. Embrace the moment.

The moment in this case happened to be

Me eating my sliced apple for lunch.

So I did with the apple what they suggest you do with a handful of raisins:

n  Hold the apple in your hand and “imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life.”

n  See the apple, “take time to really see it”

n  Touch it between your fingers

n  Smell it

n  Place a small amount on your lip, then place it in your mouth, without chewing (hard to do!)

n  Spend a few moments just feeling the feeling of having it in your mouth

n  Now really taste and feel it: slightly cool, slightly sweet but with a little bit of tartness; the apple softens as it sits against my cheek

n  Leave it there a little longer, and say a prayer of gratitude that you have a fresh apple for lunch!

n  Now, with a little smile on your face, because you have been able to bring yourself to a place of happiness eating a slice of apple, be conscious of “the intention to swallow.” Be grateful that you have all the muscles in your mouth and throat to swallow!

n  “Sense how the body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise in mindful eating.”

Lunch was over, and it was time to go to my next class. But when I left my office, I was smiling. And I was savoring a couple of chunks of apple in my mouth.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mitt Romney's Guiding Principle is Always: Mitt Romney!

By Richard Kirsch

Romney keeps shifting his policy positions, but he never loses sight of his self-interest.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the way Mitt Romney is once again shifting his political principles. He’s Etch-a-Sketched himself from the hard-right-winger in the primaries into a reassuring centrist in the debate last week. 

But for me, Mitt Romney has always had one firm guiding principle: Mitt Romney. I don’t mean this just to be another Romney put-down. It really is what has guided his life in business and in government. More importantly, it provides a devastating way for President Obama to make sense for the American people of what Romney really stands for. If the president tells the story below, he will clinch his reelection.

At Bain Capital, making as much money as possible for Mitt Romney was clearly his guiding principle. Romney didn’t care whether the companies Bain bought hired workers or fired workers; it only mattered whether they made more money for Bain and Romney. And he got very rich.

When he entered politics, running for U.S. senator and then governor of Massachusetts, Romney said whatever he had to say in order to win votes in that liberal state, even on issues with honest and profound moral divides, like abortion. Since he had to be pro-choice to be elected governor, he was pro-choice. The same was true for supporting gun control. And when he negotiated a bipartisan health care plan, he braggedthat it would be a model for the nation.

So when it came to staking out his positions as a candidate for the Republican nomination, the only question Romney had to answer was: what do I need to say to win? The answer: become anti-choice, pro-gun control, and virulently anti-immigrant and reject my signature legislative accomplishment. If that’s what it takes to win the nomination, so be it. And with enthusiasm, because the one thing Mitt Romney firmly believes in is Mitt Romney.

We saw that kind of all-out enthusiasm last week in Denver, when Romney once more ardently professed to what Americans most want to hear. And because all great salesmen deeply believe in their product, he came across as a sincere, committed leader, selling the one product he’s always been selling: Mitt Romney.

But within that strength is his Achilles' heel, if President Obama strikes at it. Obama must tell Americans that the only thing Mitt believes in is Mitt. It is a simple story that will get Americans quickly nodding their heads in agreement. In the debate next week, the president will point out that Romney is lying and changing his positions, and Romney will deny that and stand up tall for what he says he now believes. At some point, Obama needs to just cut through it all.

The president should start with: “Mitt, I do know what you believe in. It’s Mitt Romney.” He should then tell the story I laid out above in a few short sentences and clinch the argument with:

"And now you’re doing it again! All of a sudden you’re Etch-a-Sketching the Republican primary, going back on everything you campaigned for around the country over the last year. Because you know you can’t get elected president as the extreme conservative – your words, Mitt – you’ve been bragging about. The problem, Mitt, is that you can’t Etch-a-Sketch your way as president. To serve as president, you have got to stand for more than Mitt Romney. You have to have core values, not just what’s best for you. You need to have a firm, moral foundation for what’s best for America."

From a rhetorical point of view, this argument has two powerful elements. The first is what pollsters call “an obvious truth.” People will immediately get it, as it will makes sense for them of the conflicting stories they are hearing about Romney. The mystery will be solved.

The second rhetorical punch is that there is nothing Romney can say in response that doesn’t reinforce the president’s message.

The fundamental reason that Romney’s debate performance worked so well last week is that in this period of economic struggle – “Middle-income families are being crushed” in Romney’s words – many swing voters are open to voting for another candidate for president if they think he can be trusted and has their values. That’s why the Obama campaign has focused almost entirely on undermining Romney. Obama’s closing argument needs to be this: Mitt Romney doesn’t believe in your family or America. The only thing Mitt Romney believes in is Mitt Romney. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. This piece was cross posted with the Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute and also appeared on  the  Huff Post.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weed Whacking Negative Thoughts

By Claudia Ricci

I need some help with my thoughts,

Because they have gotten tangled up in the weeds

Growing in tight knots around my stomach.

The worst part is that I’m not even sure where to


When I tried to describe the problem to my therapist

the other day

I felt like the weeds were expanding, curling up my esophagus

Pressing up on

My throat and the words that spilled out of my mouth

Were shiny and fluorescent green and a little slimy. And of course they didn’t make a bit of sense, or at least I couldn’t quite
understand all of what I was spilling out to her. At one point I know I said the word

“Fear.” I know I said, “I’m so afraid.” She made me try to elaborate and

I felt like I talked and talked and nothing was making much sense. And the more I talked the more tense I felt and the weeds just grew and grew.

Especially scary was this: I told her I was afraid I had no purpose in living, or that I wanted some new purpose, I wanted to feel as though what I did every day of my life made a difference at least to me. “I want my ordinary everyday life to make me happy.”

That’s not asking too much, is it?

She took page after page of notes, and at one point she put her glasses on and flipped back through the pages and she announced that she had found a “clue.”

“You said that when you were younger you were busy trying to become something.”

I nodded. “Yes,” I said. “I was very busy building a career. And I have a wonderful curriculum vitae to show for it. Except now that does not seem very important, that CV. Now what seems important is just being happy day by day.”

The therapist still hadn’t pursued the clue.

“So what I want to ask you is this,” she said. “If you say you were busy trying to become something, does that mean that you had to become something because you were nothing beforehand?”

And I looked at her and I thought wow, how smart a woman she is.

That she could see so clearly the girl that was me, decades ago, who was so desperate to become something  “successful” that she dressed in a navy blue Brooks Brothers suit (matching skirt and jacket) and a pink bow tie, and she marched down to Wall Street with a brief case and put on a corporate face that she borrowed from some magazine.

I need some help with my thoughts alright. I need some help looking back at my life and realizing that I was so afraid I was nothing that I made myself into all kinds of things I didn’t want to be.

I don’t want to do that anymore.

I want to be the woman who is OK – no, not just OK, but happy -- being nothing else besides the woman she fully wants to be.

As I write this, the weeds go limp at my gut. And for the first time I can imagine taking a weed whacker to cut away the mess of knots that is not so tightly wound around my stomach anymore.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Laid Off? Have a Job Interview? Journaling beforehand could make all the difference!!

By Claudia Ricci

What do you do when you find that you've boxed yourself in and sealed the lid with layer upon layer of plastic packing tape? How the hell do you set yourself free?
It won't do to sit inside the box and knock politely, hoping someone will hear you on the outside. Neither will it work to call for help in a polite but muted voice. That will get you nowhere.
There's only one way out of this suffocating situation: You need a knife or very sharp blade. One you can use to slash that box right open.
No knife? Take your foot and kick hard -- or take both feet, and both your fists too. Punch and kick until you've torn open a hole at least the size of your head.
Then stick your head outside. Suck in as much air into your lungs as you possibly can, to make up for all the air you've lost while stuffed inside that stifling box. And now scream and yell your biggest hello to the world that you can possibly muster.
I'm in the process of kicking just such a hole into the box I buried myself in some months back.
This past few months I've boxed myself by not writing. I convinced myself that I had nothing much of importance to say. I figured nobody would miss what I was writing since there are 350 billion other people out there writing these days.
Well now that I have finally seen the error of my ways, I realize that I've missed writing a lot.
And not only that, it has finally dawned on me that along with my writing disappearing, a whole chunk of ME has gone into hiding. Which may explain the mighty crappy depression that I've been fighting for months.
Thanks to a new therapist and some soul searching, I realize that I stopped writing some time after I published my second novel. While many readers loved it, book sales fell far short of my desired goals.
The whole episode left a bad taste in my mouth. You know the flavor -- it's called failure.
Somehow I convinced myself that it wasn't worth writing anymore if people weren't going to respond to my fiction by buying my books. I never really verbalized this negative mindset, I just shriveled up, and let my writing life grow fallow.
What happens with writing is what happens with a lot of the best things in life. Like exercise for example. You can have a great gym or walking routine going for months or years. But then you come down with the flu or pneumonia and you stop going to the gym, or walking, for a couple of weeks. Which then becomes a couple more weeks.
And before you know it, you've stopped your walking and you're back to being a couch potato.
The same holds true with writing. You can be writing a novel or short stories or personal essays or poetry. You are going great guns. You are writing hundreds, maybe thousands of words a day, for weeks or months on end. You're so psyched to write that you get up in the middle of the night to wallop the laptop keys. Writing seems like the easiest and most natural thing in the world.
And then something happens. An obligation -- a work-related duty or some other personal chore -- gets in the way of the muse. And suddenly you wake up one morning and you're not writing that day. And then, the next day. And the next. And before you know it a week or two or more have slipped away and suddenly you're in such a writing funk you don't have enough muse or inspiration to fill an itty bitty espresso cup.
How do we turn these fallow periods around? Once we've kicked a hole in that box, how do we get to work and start writing again?
You spend some time in contemplation. You actively seek out the inspiration brought on by reading good books. You spend time with other writers, preferably in a writer's group.
But most of all, you just decide that you are going to write. You convince yourself that writing really matters. You remind yourself that writing is a lot like breathing. It pulls the very air of life into your lungs and brain. It helps you sort out and explain so much of the sorrow and pain that happens in the world, particularly in your corner of the world. And you remind yourself that even if your words don't bring in six-figure advances, you know at the end of a day of writing that you've plunged into your soul and gotten messy with words, and you've come out feeling a lot more whole.
The therapeutic value of writing -- particularly writing that is close to the soul -- is undisputed.
And like exercise, it's good for everyone, not just professional writers, but for people who do nothing more than keep a diary. For proof of that, I offer you the work of one of my all-time heroes.
James Pennebaker is a Texas-based research psychologist who has built a solid reputation on the health benefits of journaling. For decades now, he's studied college students and a host of other social groups and found that writing regularly in journals about issues that bother us deeply -- both the events themselves and the emotions associated with these events - can lead to much improved health outcomes: For the college students it meant 50 percent fewer visits to the health center, as well as significant improvements in immune function. Students who journaled also displayed improved moods and a boost in positive attitudes.
In another of Pennebaker's studies, outlined in his now-classic book Opening Up, he evaluated the effect of therapeutic writing on a group of 50 unemployed engineers laid off by a large Dallas computer company. "Half the men were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about getting laid off for 30 minutes a day for five consecutive days," Pennebaker writes.
The other half of the group wrote for the same amount of time about time management strategies, avoiding the topic of the painful layoffs altogether. A third comparison group did not write at all.
Pennebaker said the "potency" of the study surprised even him:
"Within three months, 27 percent of the experimental participants landed jobs compared with less than 5 percent of the men in the time management and no writing comparison groups. By months after writing, 53 percent of those who wrote about their thoughts and feelings had jobs, compared with only 18 percent of the men in the other conditions."
Curiously, all the men had gone on the same number of job interviews. So what explains why the men doing the therapeutic writing got more job offers?
Pennebaker hypothesizes that the men who wrote about their thoughts and feelings had more likely processed the deep anger they felt toward the Dallas computer company that had so callously laid them off. He suspects that when men who hadn't done the therapeutic writing went on job interviews, they inadvertently let slip some of their resentment or bitterness about having been laid off.
Writing experiments like these have now been conducted worldwide. Pennebaker concludes:
"Writing about emotional upheaveals has been found to improve the physical and mental health of grade-school children and nursing home residents, arthritis sufferers, medical school students, maximum security prisoners, new mothers and rape victims."
Pennebaker's work certainly speaks to the power of journaling. But for me, the power of writing extends beyond journaling to any kind of writing that speaks to my soul.
It's just such a shame that something came between me and my writing. That being my ego.
The part of me that was feeling bruised because I couldn't brag about how many books I'd sold.
I hope I've learned my lesson. I know one thing: Now that I'm out of that damn box and back in the writing saddle, I'm going hang on for dear life and no matter what, I'm going to keep riding.

This post appeared first in the Healthy Living column of the Huffington Post.