LSS: New songs to sing

When I was growing up and playing the piano for at least 30 minutes every day, I had one book of classical music issued by my piano teacher — and that was what I played. Every. Single. Day.

When I was in the 6th grade, my teacher asked if I’d like a book with all the music to The Sound of Music.

Can you say joy?

For a girl largely focused on words, playing something with lyrics was like a dream come true. Of all the songs in that book, my favorite to play and sing started off with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with string. These are a few of my favorite things.

Taking my cue from Julie Andrews in a dress made of drapes, I proceeded (and continue) to live my life based on the philosophy of focusing on favorite things.

These days, if I were singing that song honestly, I’d have to add finding people or writers who challenge me and make me think — especially in new and different ways to the list of my favorite things.

Last summer I discovered a non-fiction writer to add to my ever-growing list. His name is Seth Godin, a best-selling author who Business Week called “the ultimate entrepreneur for the Information Age.” His daily blog posts are inspiring and sometimes transformative. About a month ago, I opened his blog to see that he was having a two-day workshop in New York City. Just like that, I thought, “Why not go? It’s bound to be interesting.” I knew it was a place I was supposed to be.

I went and it was.

He talked about many of the themes of his books, but he also answered a lot of specific questions from workshop participants. So, while I’ll encourage you to go if it’s something that suits you, I’ll also share the major tidbits I walked away with:

– Share as much as you’re able.

– Lots of people say, “Do what you love.” Seth recommends, “Loving what you do.” And there’s a big difference. In my opinion, the ability to love what you do is often the difference in living a happy life.

– Stop waiting for other people to pick you. Pick yourself. The Internet allows the possibility to do that in a way that’s never been available to a society before. Even though we are hardwired to want to be picked, in today’s world, there’s not an advantage to getting picked.

– For something to be great and worth of people loving it, someone’s got to hate it too. Implicit in connecting to an individual’s worldview is that you can’t talk to everyone.

– Resist the temptation to persuade the haters who don’t get it.

– Almost no one wants to admit they’re wrong, but they can allow new information to change their minds.

– Leaders change the stories people tell themselves.

– The industrialist mindset doesn’t work anymore.

– We all need to find more opportunities to say, “This might not work.”

– Ideas aren’t scarce. What’s scarce is getting difficult work done.

– Secrecy is a false promise that makes you feel secure until it doesn’t.

– Deep is way higher yielding than wide.

– Most people feel like a fraud. The alternative to feeling like a fraud is to do nothing. The real question is, “Is your story authentic?”

– The way you take something out of the pricing of commodities is to sell it to people who care. Find people who care more about what you do than they care about their money.

– It’s easier to change you than change the marketplace.

– Be vulnerable.

Another of my favorite things is jolting my system to get geared up and moving. Seth’s workshop was just the thing for that. And, as great as he was, the new people I met and exchanged ideas with were equally inspiring. Surrounded by creative, hard-working people on a mission provided me new motivation and information to get my ducks in a row.

Just what I needed.

Day 1.

I started exercising again today.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was an athlete. Those days are gone. I enjoyed sports. I loved sports, in fact. But adulthood has not allowed me much time for what I spent most of the free time of my youth doing. The only other time (post chidden) that I got into any semblance of shape was when I hired a trainer — granted that there was pure vanity involved. At the time I had a local television show and didn’t want to have crowds of people dialing the “I found the missing Goodyear Blimp” hotline, so I was motivated.
Anyway, I decided to take the same tactic. If I have an appointment with someone else, I will go. Now, I realize that it says something messed up about my psyche that I couldn’t make myself go exercise on a regular basis without, but it’s reality.
Sadly, tonight a mere 12 hours after my initial workout, I am a bowl full of jelly.
It was not for the faint of heart — literally. Aside from the brief and fleeting smile the woman who had a good 15 years on me and was wearing 4-inch heels as she worked out in the weight room offered, there was little joy involved this morning. (Oh, and by the way, the heels were wedges, but still…can someone explain that to me?)
There was a moment when I wanted to say something unkind to the 24-year-old recent college graduate standout baseball player who stood beside me and said, “Good,” every now and then.
But I didn’t.
And I will go back.
But right now, it does not feel good.

LSS: Finding a human wormhole

When I was little, I used to amaze friends with the fact that both grandparents on my mother’s side were born in the 1800s. (My mom was the baby of her family, born to her parents much later in life. Then, I was born when she was 21.)

They were human wormholes to another time.

Since that time, human wormholes have fascinated me. My grandparents were born before air travel and grew up taking horse-drawn wagons, as all human wormholes, they were out of sync.

This week, I watched a television clip of the most amazing human wormhole that I’ve ever seen. It was from the game show, I’ve got a Secret, back in 1956. The contestant was a 96-year-old man named Samuel J. Seymour. His secret was incredible, but so was the rest of his story.

When he was a “little shaver five years old,” he went on his first trip away from the Goldsboro estate, where he lived in Talbot County, Maryland. His father worked as overseer on the estate. In a newspaper article in the Milwaukee Sentinel published about a year before Seymour’s television appearance, he told his story to writer, Frances Spatz Leighton.

Seymour said that in 1865 his father and the owner of the estate needed to go to Washington for business. Mrs. Goldsboro asked if she could take the young boy with them “for a little holiday.” In the article, Seymour recounts their 150-mile trip by coach and team.

“I remember how stubborn those horses were about being loaded into an old-fashioned side-wheeler steamboat for part of the journey,” he said. When they finally got to D.C., Seymour recounted seeing “men with guns, all along the streets.” He was scared, feeling like the men were all pointing their guns at him. (In the years to come, he realized that Washington was preparing to celebrate because Lee had surrendered a few days earlier.)

Once they arrived at their hotel, a sight Seymour described as “the biggest house I had ever seen. It looked to me like a thousand farmhouses all pushed together,” Mrs. Goldsboro had another surprise.

“Sammy, you and Sarah and I are going to a play tonight — a real play, and President Lincoln will be there,” he remembered her saying. At that point, he thought a play would be a game like tag, and he was excited about the idea.

They made their way to Ford Theater, got their tickets and took their seats — “hard, rattan-backed chairs” upstairs. Mrs. Goldsboro pointed to the flags and explained that’s where the president would be sitting.

“When he finally did come in, he was a tall, stern looking man. I guess I just thought he looked stern because of his whiskers, because he was smiling and waving to the crowd,” Seymour recalled.

The play began and Seymour remembered finally calming down. “I was beginning to get over the scared feeling I’d had since we arrived in Washington. But that was something I never should have done.”

Moments later, the 5-year-old boy heard a shot, followed by a man tumbling from the balcony a few moments after that. He hadn’t realized Lincoln was shot and was mainly concerned for the man who he thought had fallen, until someone yelled, “Lincoln’s shot. The President is dead.”

Personally, seeing an eyewitness account of Lincoln’s assassination bridged the distance between then and now in a way I’ve never felt before. Maybe it was something about the modern quality of moving images on a screen juxtaposed to recollections of sepia-toned etchings of a historical event from long, long ago.

In the grand scheme of things, 1865 (147 years ago) just wasn’t that long ago — which means 2159 (147 in the future) isn’t that far away.

Reminders that we are not so far away from horses and buggies as standard transportation and all of the rest of the historical context of the Lincoln assassination make me wonder about the horizon. Who will be the human wormholes of the future? What events will they recall? Which events of this year will have lasting impact on the future?

Most people think pink.

Beth loved yellow.
I suppose it had always been her favorite color. I can’t be sure.
Though we came from the same small town, when she was a senior, I was in the first grade. I only knew her as one of the beautiful high school girls.
I bet she loved yellow back then too.
She was always a bright spot in the world.
By the time I moved to Washington, D.C. when I was in my late-20s, the gap our ages had caused back home narrowed. She had been in D.C. since I was a kid. By any standards, Beth had done well for herself. She had climbed through the ranks to a rather fancy job with the U.S. Senate.
From where I sat, Beth was important. She had the world by its tail.
And, I did not.
Not only did I not have a job, I didn’t even have a place to live at first.
And yet, from the day Beth and I reconnected, she was as kind and genuine to me as a person could be. If you’ve ever not had a job and spent a few months looking for one, you understand the appreciation you have for those rare souls who don’t seem to mind or think less of you.
That’s what Beth did.
She treated me with as much kindness and respect as I imagine she treated the senators she worked with in the Capitol Building.
That was Beth.
Our families had known each other for generations, but she and I didn’t know anything beyond each other’s names at first.
That changed quickly.
Beth helped introduce me to the city and many of its interesting residents. She had seen the workings of Washington from a unique vantage point for more than 20 years. She had great stories.
Within a few weeks, Beth became a huge part of my life. We became great friends. I knew I could call on her if I got in a bind. We spent hours rehashing the different angles ten years made on our perspectives of events back home. We shared story and story and often found ourselves laughing as long and hard as we could.
One day she called me and didn’t sound quite as chipper as she usually did. I could tell something had happened. She explained that her beloved cocker spaniel had bumped her as he was jumping into her car, and something about that pain didn’t seem right. I don’t know exactly how or why she decided to go to the doctor, but she did.
Within a week, Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I remember her saying how determined she was to fight it. And, she did. She fought it with every thing she had. For several months, she lived life to the absolute fullest. Her younger sister told me that the doctors had said, “She’ll seem fine for a few months, but when it hits, it will hit really hard.”
And it did.
Beth ended up in George Washington University Hospital. Several afternoons a week, I took the blue or orange line one stop from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom. I’d walk the block from there to her hospital room.
She was still determined to fight and remained chipper. She never wanted to focus on the pain. With her mother, her sisters, other family members and friends by her side, we continued telling stories and laughing.
As long as we could.
It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, and most people think pink. But me, I think yellow.

What are your joy triggers?

As my 15-year-old ran through the living room, she yelled, “Do you want me to show you something that makes me smile?”

And my answer, of course, was, “Absolutely.”

Advice: Anytime a 15-year-old girl asks to share something with you regarding smiling, you say, “Yes.”

She proceeded to show me the 5:22 opening number of this year’s Tony Awards. We sat and watched the Neil Patrick Harris lead a song and dance routine that made us both smile — on a number of levels. The first reason was for the sheer entertainment value — the cleverness of the lyrics, the music and the dancing. But the second, more profound reason it made me smile was that she was showing me something so wonderful, something I hadn’t seen. My daughter was introducing me to something new. The little scene brought me joy.

In the meantime, I was searching high and low for this week’s column inspiration, and my friend Julie Kelley, former KATC news anchor (now a news anchor in Virginia, in case you were a Julie Kelley fan and wondered where she was these days) suggested that I write about “joy triggers” — things that prompt joy. She had created a list. One of hers was one of mine. She wrote, “Crunching leaves under my feet on a long walk.”

I’m with Julie on that one. Stepping on leaves (or riding my bike over a crunchy leaf) is one of my favorite things. But in the bigger sense, taking note of the little things that give us joy goes so far in building a greater sense of peace and happiness in the big picture of life.

Here are some more of mine:

Cooking in my tiny kitchen while people I love sit and talk with me.

Finding and reading a great book — which I am doing right now. (I highly recommend Ken Follett’s new trilogy, starting with Fall of Giants, followed by Winter of the World.)

Watching my younger daughter dance.

Listening to my older daughter play her guitar and sing.

When my husband tells a truly funny joke. (He is in the business of telling a great quantity of jokes. They often lack in quality. He doesn’t mind. “You’ve got to keep swinging,” he says.)

Listening to a good song, especially with a friend who appreciates the music.

Canoeing.

Mapping out a trip.

Fresh sheets.

A cool pillow.

The smell of my mother’s cold cream.

When my Gerber daisy blooms.

Getting a light bulb changed.

Going through an automated car wash.

A children’s choir.

A cool morning.

Marking something off the list.

When the moon is a sliver.

When I can see more than seven colors in the sky.

Years ago, I took a wise man’s words to heart and began to make a point of celebrating tiny moments of bliss and victory. He told me, “Take joy in the little things, and you’ll live a happy life.”

He was right.

LSS: Chasing dreams and marking milestones

Shortly after their family moved to town, they called me to babysit.

I was 14 and always game for some extra cash in my pocket, I gladly accepted the job. The little girl was two, and the mother was pregnant with her second child.

I rode my bike the five blocks to their house and certainly never expected the gigantic parts the mother and children — including the little boy who was born a few months later — would grow to hold in my life and heart.

Nearly 34 years later, I find myself in a Los Angeles hotel, rooming with the mother who called me to babysit all those years ago. We’re getting ready for that little girl’s wedding.

Her brother is here also, freshly back from serving in the Peace Corps and finishing a graduate degree. The daughter lives in Los Angeles, and the son in Omaha, Nebraska. They’re both doing work they love and chasing their dreams. Even though I’m just their babysitter from long ago, I am filled with joy and a touch of pride that they both have the world by its tail.

Their mother still lives in our hometown, teaching home economics at the high school. She and my parents are close and see each other often. Through the years, this lady was my cheerleader. She supported me in ways I didn’t even know I needed supporting. Her enthusiasm for life propelled me to try new things and go new places. She showed and taught me new ways to look at life. I will forever be grateful for all the goodness she has brought into my family’s world.

In fact, in the world of non-family members becoming family, I’d say we’re there. Mostly, we celebrate joys and holidays, but through the years, we’ve also grieved together.

Relationships take unexpected twists and turns, don’t they? Not only did the mom, who called me all those years ago, and I become great friends, she became close with my parents and her children became close to me. Those two children, who I knew all those years ago have become amazing, accomplished adults and global citizens.

I haven’t quite wrapped my head around the best way to describe what it feels like to stand on the sidelines and watch children grow into teens, followed by young adults and then into full-blown adulthood.

Maybe it’s nothing more than time passing and the aging that comes with it. Clearly, this is just what happens and there’s nothing novel about the process, but I can’t help but be touched by the magic that this perspective offers — reconciling all the memories I have of those two tow-headed kiddos with these poised, responsible and side-achingly funny adults.

Maybe we share a special bond also because unlike most of our friends and classmates from home, we left. Seeing home from afar, with all its warts and goodness, changes you. If you’re a thinking person, having a love/hate relationship with a place, especially the place you come from, is natural. Having a safe sounding board to discuss the observations and stories that are bound to come from that ever-evolving geographic relationship is priceless — and that is what those two kids have become for me.

How did that happen? I’m trying not to be overly sentimental, but for me, it’s difficult to figure out what filled the years between the day I taught them the difference between white and dark meat chicken and the day I helped one of them fill out his Peace Corps applications and the other one amazed me with her capabilities as she makes her way in the entertainment business.

We have shared so many milestones together. I am grateful this weekend offers yet another.