Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Trusted Tarot

Gold star for the Tarot. It is never shy of giving the hard advice. It doesn't have to sugarcoat anything. It knows, and you know it knows, and no one's playing games. Friends can be like that too, but then, if you are a salesman, like I am, you can always convince them to stand behind whatever stupid thing you're thinking even while knowing it's not right. No such luck with the Tarot. You cannot trick it. The conversation is one way and straight up.

Take the other day, for example. My Tarot card was The Five of Cups, a card that signifies loss. The interpretation was adamant: "stop crying and look in another direction for happiness. Get over hurt, and then pick up remaining cups and carry on." Wow. Nice. True. I always say that the first thing I do when I'm upset is to dry the tears and plan a party. The Five of Cups is a good reminder of that.

Today's card, the Ace of Swords, is similarly aggressive in its stance that those who get the card, "stop fooling ourselves and look into the crux of the matters of our soul." It also suggests aligning oneself and focusing with clarity on the issues at hand after a bout of disillusionment. I love that. Alignment is as important in life as it is at the gym. It is good to remember that.

I am not one to take advice easily from others, I am stubborn like that. I need someone to be a stronger salesman than I, and I am pretty good, if I do say so myself. But I seek advice from everywhere, I gather information from many sources every day in my search for answers. The Tarot is one trusted source as, in interpreting its symbols, there are many signs to read and adhere to on your road.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Boys Have Feelings Too!

This morning, Eli came into my room to snuggle. As we chatted, he said something mean about his brother, just the garden-variety "Oscar is stupid..." or something of the sort.

I stopped hugging him and pulled away, angry.

"Look," I said, "the mean things people say to each other, that siblings say to each other, about each other, stick," I said. "My mother always told me and my sisters that, and it's true. You end up feeling bad about yourself later because of something someone said about you when you were young. For some reason, we believe these things, believe me."

He just smiled. "But you and your sisters were girls, we're boys," he said with that smirk he gets when he thinks he has shown he's smarter than I am.

Now, I was really enraged. "Are you kidding?! You think it's okay for boys and not girls?! That seems to be the prevailing sentiment, yes, so boys say all kinds of mean things to each other, teasing openly, differently than girls, but it doesn't make it okay. Boys feel bad about themselves too, they believe this stuff about themselves too, and it is only down the road, maybe if you have girl friends or fall in love, that you'll hopefully be able to open up about all these things. It's pathetic."

He just stared at me, a slight smile on his lips. Then, he regaled me with an example, a mean thing a boy in his class had said to another boy about his lack of skill in sports. "And that boy he said it to is the best one in sports!" he said.

Ah. This started me on another great rant. My common, "People, sadly, just want to keep other people down 'cause they're jealous..." rant. I went on and on at great length about how horrible it is to take out on others your petty jealousies and insecurities, how it doesn't get anybody anywhere good. He started humming at one point, at which point I, finally, shut up. Whew. Tough snuggle.

But all of these things are so important! I am getting to know the male psyche better than ever because of my boys, because of what they think intuitively or learn from society is okay and not okay for a boy to think and do.

I have learned, anecdotally, from giving out stars and long before that, as long as I have had male friends, which is forever, that boys have feelings, just like girls. Sharing them is so often not okay, but I have often been privy to boys' feelings because I elicit them, I am interested. Giving out gold stars, the men seem sometimes more grasping and grateful than women, many of whom will shout their emotional needs from the rooftops, for better and for worse, not that that means they get them met...

Listening to my own son--the next generation, the generation I am hopeful will be more enlightened--disregard the feelings of boys in general makes me crazy. I am on a mission to make sure my boys know they have a right to their feelings and respect others' rights as well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beware of Dogs...

I walked into the Verizon store yesterday and was met with a ferocious-looking Pit Bull. I like dogs, a lot, but I am still wary of them, especially those bred to kill.

Not wanting to be rude, knowing that to dog owners who know their dog is gentle being afraid is like wrongly convicting them of a crime, I was cautious.

"Um, sorry?!" I said as I tried to make my way past Cujo to the counter.

She was nice, not snippy like some dog owners would be. She understood. "He's a sweetie..." she said.

"I'm sure. I love dogs. I've just had a few lunge at me lately so I'm a little gun-shy," I said.

We chatted a bit, the dog owner, the guy behind the counter and I. We bonded over what a better Verizon store this one was than some others, began talking fast and furiously about who knows what. The dog kept looking at me, barking, trying--it seemed--to lick me, to play. Or maybe he wanted to hurt me? It was hard to tell.

As the dog owner left, I posited this to her: "Do you think he likes me or hates me?"

"Oh, he likes you," she said, "he wanted to jump on you and play!" And with that, she was off.

I turned to the guy behind the counter, a helpful sort, a young film student, energetic and sweet.

"It's funny, some dogs will stop on the street and look at you, and some aren't interested at all," I said. "I guess they're like people."

He nodded. "I don't look at dogs because I'm afraid they see into my soul, and that they won't like what they see..."

I died. I had already given him a gold star for his willingness to help me with my complicated cell phone problem, but this would normally have been the perfect moment.

"That is hilarious!" I said. "But, why are you so self-loathing? I'm sure some dogs would like you. You're nice!"

"We're all self-loathing, aren't we?" he said.

I had to think about it. I guess the answer is yes, but some more than others. Or maybe it's not only about self-loathing, it's about willingness to bare your soul to another, to let on all those secrets that shame you.

I was brought back to a conversation a while ago with a friend who I was telling about a short story I had read, Nikolai Gogol's Diary of a Madman. I told him how, in it, the narrator imagines that his boss's dog is sharing letters with another dog about the boss's daughter, who he loves, telling all kinds of secrets of the things the dog has been told by his owners. I posited how funny it is that people share things with their dogs they might not say to anotoher human.

My friend had shook his head. "Oh, no, I would never talk to the dog. I'd be afraid of what they'd think of me..."

Wow. I had laughed then like I had laughed at this young kid. Man, who knew we all had so much to hide. Apparently, the dogs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just Say It!

She came out of her building just as I was walking by. She smiled widely and leaned in, “I’m SO glad to see you!” she said. Under her breath she added something about there being a reason she was so glad, not just because I was great to see but something more tangible, but still. It felt great. It didn’t matter.

“I love that,” I said, beaming from ear to ear. “It’s so nice to hear that you’re glad to see me, and with such enthusiasm! People don’t often say the nice things they’re thinking.”

She nodded. “It’s true. They don’t. It’s embarrassing.”

“Why, though? Why is it embarrassing? I don’t get it, we’re all too ‘embarrassed’ even to tell people when they have something in their teeth, we can’t handle the role it means we play in their embarrassment…”

She nodded vehemently, throwing up her hands. “It’s true!”

Damn it, I’m not willing to just throw up my hands, this is ridiculous! So, we can’t say the nice things we are thinking because of our own insecurity, really? We can’t take that moment to say that thing that will make other people feel good?

Well, this woman had done it, and look what happened…we had a great connected conversation, one in which we were equal, engaged participants, all because of a simple enthusiastic “Good to see you!”

She said she had a teacher who had said that to students, “So good to see you…” and she always thought it was nice. “When I was teaching, I started to say it,” she said, quickly adding, “only when I meant it.”

The meaning it is definitely important. Imparting nice sentiments with enthusiasm magnifies the affect many times over. I do it every day, many times a day, offer a nice sentiment along with a little gold star and I am told, nearly each and every time how I’ve made someone’s day. And, far from being embarrassed, I am rewarded by the nice sentiment that I had a hand in brightening even just a moment in another person’s life. Try it. With or without a gold star, it works.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Discovering Love

Watching my children figure out love is scary as shit. I catch my breath sometimes as I watch them in their classroom or in the schoolyard, hear them talk to their friends about "girls." It is a long and arduous road, I think, good luck. There aren't enough gold stars in the world to make it easier.

And there is nothing I can do, short of telling them when they treat me rudely or call me ugly that this is not going to stand them in good stead if they ever hope to have a girl love them. "I will always love you, regardless of what you do or say," I tell them, "but other people might not. You might, actually, have to be nice."

I say it, but I'm not sure it's even true. A few weeks ago, a little girl in Oscar's class came up to me at pick-up, a little girl I had taught to do cartwheels in the park, who had pushed herself hard, kept at it until she succeeded.

"Stephanie," she said, looking up at me with big eyes, "Today, Oscar asked me if he could tell me he hated me," she said.

I smiled. "Really...and then what happened? Did he tell you he hated you?"

She nodded, slightly smirking. Oscar stood, silent, next to me.

"Well," I said, leaning in conspiratorially to whisper to the sweet little girl, "I'll tell you a little secret. Usually, when boys tell you they hate you, it's really because they love you."

With this, Oscar blushed a deep pink and hit me and the little girl started a little happy dance. Something in her twinkly eyes told me she knew it all along.

Last night, I got confirmation on my theory. As my boys lay in their bunks, reading, I heard Oscar ask Eli, "What girls do you kind of like like, you know, like a friend, like they're nice..."

"I don't know, you say first," Eli said.

"No, you say first," Oscar said.

"No, you," Eli said.

"Fine," Oscar said, as usual, giving in as is his due as the youngest.

I stood halfway down the stairs, not moving an inch as to to make a sound, listening. Not surprisingly, it was this little smitten girl in the schoolyard, the one he'd told he hated.

I wish I understood why we are so often forced to say the opposite of what we feel, why we are compelled to hurt the ones we love. It is as if we are angry at them for making us feel out of control, for making us recognize that we are not complete within ourselves after all, that we rely on others to see who we are.

In Existentialism and Human Emotions, a little light reading I picked up this morning, Sartre offers that "The other is indispensable to my own existence, as well as to my knowledge about myself. This being so, in discovering my inner being I discover the other person at the same time, like a freedom placed in front of me which thinks and wills only for or against me." Such is the discovery, Sartre says, of inter-subjectivity.

I think, really, we'd rather this not be the case, rather that we could go it alone and be just fine. I think that must be the reason pre-pubescent kids push off their nascent feelings of love as abject hatred. They are not ready, quite, to see themselves fully, not ready, certainly, to recognize someone else. I suppose it happens for different people at different times, this readiness for love. For some people it is early, others late, some never. It is no easy thing.

I try to elicit my boys' feelings about things so that, later, at heartbreak time, they will be better able to share instead of turning to substances to blot out the feelings they cannot rid themselves of. But it's hard for them, even now, even with a mother who is such a loudmouth, such a sharer. Forcing them is an impossibility and will likely backfire in the end. All I can do is pray and teach them tactics that sometimes have helped me, like writing in a journal or making real friends who might be there to lend an ear when the time comes.

Mostly what I get when I ask personal questions, questions about their feelings, are defiant responses, like "Poop" or "Farts" that tell me I have crossed the line. I have to laugh, take the cue. They'll talk when and if they're ready. And, maybe, if they're lucky, they'll be able to talk in a real way, in an open way, with the one they love.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Beauty of What We All Bring

I went to Heritage Day at my sons' school this weekend. It is a day that, maybe, is only possible in Brooklyn, with rooms dedicated to cultures spanning from Transylvania to Newfoundland and people in them proudly displaying their first- or second-generation knowledge of the foods, the fashion and the fun to be had in these faraway places.

Last year, I had arrived, not happily, and balked at what heritage to put on my name tag. My parents talked little about their parents' countries of origin, vaguely referring to basic wandering around Eastern Europe like so many Jews. But this gave me no identity. You cannot place "Jewish" on the map and placing myself in the supposed Jewish homeland of Israel would be more than a bit disingenuous as I'd never been there.

"I'm from Arizona...practically the first generation of people to actually be from there originally," I had said to my husband's cousin, an active member of the PTA.

She had brightened. "Put that!" she had said.

"Really?" I said, skeptical. She had been adamant and so I listened. But, as I wrote, another mother walked up and chastised me.

"You can't put that," she said, "that's not a heritage!"

My momentary waffling whooshed into the far-distant past. I just smiled a smile that said, "Oh, yeah, just watch me!" and I slapped on my badge: Stephanie - Arizona.

This year, states were added, even boroughs, like Brooklyn, from where so many of our children hail. I showed up wearing denim with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, proffering tortilla chips and salsa to those who walked in as I worked the front desk, proud of my heritage.

After a bit, I wandered around, getting my name written out in Persian, dancing a traditional Palestinian dance.

"Palestine?" questioned a fellow Jewish parent, "don't they know that doesn't exist anymore?"

I didn't smile. I didn't find the joke even remotely funny. The world being, sadly, what it is, I get that wars make new borders, new names for places once called something else. But, whatever happens, people should not be robbed of their heritage, who they are. Doing so just makes new wars, new borders, an inability to cross over those stupidly-created lines and dance together, dine together.

I was thinking of this in Prospect Park yesterday as I stopped on my run to watch the beautiful swans swimming around the icy water gracefully. A woman travelled over a fair distance to me from where she and her friend were sitting to hand me The Brooklyn Paper.

"I didn't know if you'd seen this," she said, pointing to the cover story about the stunning development I was unwittingly witnessing before me. Turns out that two normally territorial, aggressive swan families previously at war are, for the first time, sharing the lake, getting along swimmingly as they try to keep warm.

Ah, the beauty of Brooklyn. Here, we can all be together and, ideally, appreciate the beauty of what we all bring. Even the animals feel the love.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Game of Choice

A third child. I am the youngest of three, so is my husband. We set out in our relationship planning to have a third. We scoffed at the seeming loneliness of only two. Now, though, diapers a distant memory, personal projects finally beginning to take some shape, it seems difficult even to imagine adding a dog let alone a new human being who will eventually talk back.

I know a lot of people who have "accidentally" decided on a third. But there are no such thing as accidents, I'm convinced. Things happen for a reason. I told this to a friend today, pregnant with her third, facing down the many blissful but burdensome duties that make up parenting.

"Plus," I said, laughing, looking down at her adorable baby bump, "it's happening. It will be good..."

She smiled, grateful. "It will," she said. Gold star for her and for her toddler, a sweetie who is in for a big surprise!

The truth is, the reasoning behind a third, planned or no, is always complex. Decisions are not what they once were when we were young and stupid, stuck in the idealism of letting a little folded-paper fortune teller decide our fate: city or country, two kids or three, Jerry or Glenn for a husband.

Talking to a friend the other night, I posited the theory that, "Often, its divorce or a third kid." He thought it was a funny thought, one I should use. So here it is. Like most things I say, I believe them instinctively but have not compiled the necessary research to prove them out. That's why I'm a blogger:) But even real media stories do the same. Malcolm Gladwell does the same. The story is born in the writer's head from their own personal thought file, then has to be proven out...or not. Some theories might just hold true for some. Finding universal truth is the holy grail. Very, very hard.

It is universal, however, that we are forced to decide what to do. I have a lot of people tell me that they don't decide, that things "just happen." I believe in that, to a degree. But unconsciously we are deciding all the time. We are programmed early to figure who we are, who we want to be. Elementary school assignments often ask the basics: Your name, your favorite color and, oh, just a little thing: what you want to be when you grow up. As if you know. My kids' answers are all the range, from web designers to baseball players to Eli's new obsession, a small goal of being President of the United States. For the record, I wouldn't wish that last job on my worst enemy. But I digress.

We are educated early and often to learn how to decide these things. It is crucial in a society that its people be able to determine who they are and what they might best offer to the community at large. If that doesn't happen, chaos ensues, we revert back to monkeys, sitting, pondering, picking nits. Sometimes I think that would be nice.I do that a lot, actually, minus the picking nits though that too has been true a few times in recent years.

But then, after a bit, my puritanical productivity brain kicks in, the one drilled in to me even on the playground, the American Dream drill, and I am back on track, focusing myself again on what I can give to the greater world. It is, after all, at least somewhat, up to me to decide.

Albert Camus said it well. "Life," he said, "is the sum of all your choices." Gold star Mr. Camus. Would that we could foist responsibility onto someone or something else Unfortunately, it's all on us. Where is that damn origami game when you need it??

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Making the Grade...

Juggling multiple projects, trying to get things done before my jury duty began, life at home began to slip. Groceries didn't get purchased, laundry didn't get done, the god-forsaken white-painted wood floor in the kitchen didn't get cleaned.

This morning, Eli went to look for a shirt for gym class at the new, beautiful Armory across from his school and, lo and behold, it was still wet, in the washing machine. He took the news good-naturedly after searching for it hopefully, in vain, amongst the piled-up dry laundry, the load that had been put in days ago.

I looked at him apologetically, like I had when I had forgotten to buy eggs, when I had forgotten to buy new toothpaste, when I stuck him in afterschool 'cause I was too busy to pick him up.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I guess as a Mommy this week, I get an F."

He didn't skip a beat. He looked up at me through his overgrown bangs, his big eyes filled with understanding. "No," he said, "A-"

I threw my head back and laughed. "So sweet, I love you!" I said, giving him a big kiss. He was adorable, only docking me slightly, still keeping me at the top of the range. "I think you deserve a gold star for that," I said, slightly tenuous, unsure of his interest in receiving one.

"Yeah, sure," he shrugged, nonchalance laced with excitement. Mr. Cool. "Do you have one?" he asked. We were out of so much else...

I laughed. "Of course." When I proffered it, he put it right on his shirt, the one he had chosen as good enough when the right one wasn't available. I loved that he could be flexible, not make a stink, let me off the hook. As I try harder and harder to get some of my own work off the ground, that is going to be important. I can't always be Super Mom. Sometimes, my kids are going to have to understand. Sometimes, they're going to have to go to school with mismatched socks, rumpled clothes, scraggly hair...It shouldn't really matter to their day. As long as they know I love them, as long as they know that these little oversights aren't signs of not caring, I think we'll all be OK.

"You know I love you..." I say to them all the time, many times a day. The typical response? "Well, duh!" That's what I like to hear. No matter how busy I get, I will always hammer home the message that loving them will never fall off the to-do list.

Hopefully now, though, I can get back on track. See, after a few hours waiting around at the courthouse, where I arrived on time to do my duty,I got called to the empaneling room in the courthouse and was told, along with my fellow jurors, that the trial had been settled. We were free to go, free for another 8 years!

A lightness in my step, I bounded out into the fresh air feeling like I had just escaped from prison. Ah, a huge weight had been lifted. No days spent frustrated and bored, serving out my sentence. My prayers had been answered.

I gave out a lot of gold stars, to a fellow juror and one for his wife, a lawyer for whom I felt a new sympathy; to the jury announcer guy who was the bearer of the good news, to a security guard "for protecting us!" I said; and to a guy I overheard respond to a friend's "How are you?" with a, "I'm trying, man, I'm really trying..."

In my sing-songy mood, I could have given out packs in mere moments. I refrained. There was a lot to do at home...I'm shooting for an A+ tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


"Do you believe in bravery?"

"I like to see it anywhere, in animals, birds, reptiles, humans."


"Why? It makes me feel good. It's a matter of style in the face of no chance at all."

--Charles Bukowsky, Women

Bravery. Man, as I ran around the park today, for the first time in a while, darting around the tree-lined paths, along the edges of "Danger, Thin Ice," I thought about all the brave people I know.

I thought, especially, of my friend, Ken Wheaton, whose book, "The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival" was just published. I met him for drinks last night, to return the lucky copy of his great, hilarious book that he had left at my house after a party I threw for him recently, a reading/gathering to celebrate his great success.

No matter the outcome, no matter how many books sold, it is a great success to write a novel. Believe me, I hope to get there myself. I am working on it. Ken is great. He is insistent, with himself and with me, that finishing is crucial. He makes it sound like it's easy. When I told him I hadn't been running lately, he just shook his head.

"It helps with the writing..." he said. He is so right. He ran a marathon. He wrote a book. Same thing, really, in the mind. I have not run a marathon, didn't even sign up for the half. I am afraid sometimes of setting and reaching such tangible goals. Of how I'll feel afterward. It is the reason, I told Ken, that I threw him a party.

Sometimes, when you accomplish a life-long dream, it is hard. Then, you have to think of what's next. You have to be brave, again.

Ken will be showing off his brave prose at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble Feb. 11 at 7:30. Check it out and check him out at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good Enough...

I heard a loud sigh behind me and a straightening of a sheath of paper against a tabletop.

"Well, good enough," a disembodied male voice said, to himself, to all of us sitting around him at Naidre's, obviously deciding he was done, with something.

I laughed to myself and reached down into my bag. I mean, really. I couldn't let this go.

I turned around with a smile and the biggest gold star.

"I have to give you this," I said, "because of what you said, because of the 'good enough.' I don't know what you're working on but..."

Was it eavesdropping if someone was speaking to themselves aloud, in public? I couldn't care. He had to have a star. Finishing something is hard, knowing when you've worked on it enough to be done a sometimes Hurculean effort.

"Wow, what is this?" he said, taking the star and staring at it on his finger.

"It's a star, I give them out," I said.

"You give them out," he said, nodding. "Cool. I haven't received one of these since the fourth grade."

Funny, men especially, older men, seem to remember exactly when they got their last star, seem to want to talk about it. I smiled.

"Well, you deserve it. Sometimes good enough is good enough." He paper-clipped his project together, put it in a file folder and closed the folder. He put the gold star on the front.

"Maybe the star will remind you to do your best," I said.

He sighed, shook his head. "I'm hoping my best is good enough..."

"It's all you can do," I said. "It'll be great!"

He put on his coat and waved good-bye with a heartfelt thanks.

As I watched him go, I thought about my own deadlines, my own projects coming together today that I hoped were good enough. Had I tried my best? I know I was trying's always hard to balance all you're expected to do.

This morning, my husband out of clean underwear, my children having overslept and not been given time enough to cuddle, not made their usual smoothie and hot breakfasts, I wondered if I was doing all I could do. Sometimes, something's gotta give. As the blame on me piled up, I offered, in my own defense, "Um, don't you guys sometimes make mistakes?"

Moms aren't really allowed mistakes. Often, the stakes are too high, dirty underwear and starving children high.

"I've got to get back into the loop," I said to my husband once we were finally on the way to take the kids to school.

"What loop?" he said.

I laughed. "That's the problem, there are so many loops, it's like a loop de loop."

He laughed at me. "You're loopy."

Indeed. As I tick things off this morning, complete tasks, get back into my many loops after the long weekend, I'm with my new friend: I hope against hope it's good enough...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Morning Gym Stars

She was new. It's so hard to be new.

She was talking to me but I had to unplug to hear her.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"Oh, sorry. Where's the women's locker room?" she smiled sheepishly in apology. "This is my first day."

I smiled. "It's downstairs," I said, pointing behind her to the stairwell.

"Thanks," she said, gratefully. I don't know why it's hard to ask questions about things you don't know, to admit you don't know something, but it is. It was for her. I felt bad as I pulled on my coat and watched her walk away that I hadn't given her a star.

"Damn," I thought.

As I walked downstairs I saw her, heading the wrong direction to get to the locker rooms.

"Excuse me!" I yelled then caught up with her. "They're this way..." I said, "here, I'll show you." I walked her to the top of the stairs and pointed, told her where to get a towel, the whole drill. Then, I reached into my bag.

"Wait, I have something for you..." I said. Just then, my friend, a trainer at the gym, a two-time gold star getter, one for his funny, stalker-esque comments, came through the gym door. He had been playing basketball with some buddies. I had waved down to him from upstairs, as I box-danced to Michael Jackson.

"Hey!" I said, "I'm giving her a gold star." I turned to the lady and did just that. "I give them out for trying," I said, "and you're here for the first time, that's great!"

"She's crazy," my friend said first-timer, gesturing his thumb at me. The woman looked at me like she' might agree but thanked me anyway, heading down the stairs.

"Hope to see you around! Good luck!" I said.

I turned to Trainer Stalker. "How are you?" I said.

He went off, listing the many things he was, most of them bad, but with a smile. I like that. So much more honest than the standard, "good," or, worse, "fine." I laughed.

"What are you dissecting next?" I asked.

His eyes lit up. "Cow eyes!" he said. Last time I'd seen him, he said he'd dissected a rat in school for physical therapy. He is learning so much science it makes my head spin. He began to spout it at me, in rap form, studying in song for his next exam all about atoms,something about G? He showed me a photo of him in glasses and lab coat, wielding a knife to inspect a giant rodent. He looked like a natural. I told him so and, of course, gave him a gold star.

One of his basketball buddies walked up and, in the spirit of giving, I gave him a star, too. "He's going to college soon!" Trainer Stalker said, patting the guy on the back, offering up the reason he deserved the star I'd given him and even another. He took off his own star and gave it to him. I had to give Stalker another one.

"That's the rule," I said. "Anyone who gives their star away gets a new one for themselves..."

I took a picture of the two of them, standing proudly with their stars on a Sunday morning, but I am electronically challenged as usual. Stalker, if you're reading, can you text me a photo of you with your star? I have to stay modern, I have to go multimedia. Soon, soon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Giving Thanks to an Inspiration

My whole face lit up, I could feel it.

“Hi!” I said.

The stranger smiled, laughing a little at my enthusiasm. “Hello.”

Even though he was a stranger, I knew his voice well. It had been in my house, on my TV, I had sat in movie theaters and plays where I had watched him and listened, laughed, thought about what he said, let it wash over me, affect me. He wasn’t actually the stranger. I knew him well, or at least, I thought I did, I felt like I did. I was the stranger. He didn’t know me at all.

“I LOVE your work!” I said. Sometimes I don’t say it. I leave celebrities in peace. He was just trying to take care of his business at the post office. But this was Wallace Shawn, and he looked just as engaged and interesting and interested and accessible in person as he did in the movies and plays in which he had played parts, parts that likely portrayed parts of his own personality. He was a writer too, so he had to have believed in those words he uttered, the roles he developed for himself.
Of course, he had been great in Princess Bride. But The Designated Mourner, Vanya on 42nd St., these were what I remembered most, what I related to, plays, both made into movies to garner a wider audience, works that attempted to pry out emotions in subtle ways. As a writer, I know how hard that is, subtlety. He is a master of it, which is what makes him so funny. He has perfect comic timing.

Luckily, as I stared at him like a psycho, I realized I could take action. I could give something to him to repay him, even just slightly, for all he had given me.
As I neared him, I apologized for my intrusion in his space. “I’m not a stalker,” I said, “but I have something for you.” I broke out a big gold star and handed it to him. In somewhat of an explanation of myself, of the offering, I said, “This is what I do.”

He took the star gratefully, then looked up at me, perplexed. “What do you mean, ‘this is what you do?’”

I laughed. “Well, I write about this, about giving out gold stars to people just for trying. And,” I said, “you don’t just try, you do!”

I fumbled in my purse for my cards, then found them in my pocket. “Here, this is my blog.” I said.

“Ah, thank you,”he said.

I waved and walked out with my friends. I was so excited. I love having some way of thanking and repaying these artists whose art has touched my life, inspired me. As someone trying to create my own art that, hopefully, on occasion, touches people, I have a new appreciation for how important it is tohry feedback that what you’re doing is worthwhile, that it resonates. Mr. Shawn seemed to appreciate my appreciation. At least, if he didn’t, he acted like he did. He was gracious.
I googled him when I got home, wanted to see what he’s done lately that I’ve missed. I came upon a book of essays I will most certainly buy, and an interview with him from The Guardian a while back. In it, he spoke about his own writing efforts. He said:

I've decided to take a bet on my subconscious. Isn't all writing to some extent about trying to get through the layers of propaganda and false interpretations and received ideas and clichés that prevent us from seeing what's going on? I think that's the enterprise.
I couldn’t agree more. The sentiment made me wish I could give him another gold star. Thank you again Mr. Shawn! Good luck getting through the layers. You are an inspiration for me to do the same.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Allowing for a Sick Day...

Flexibility is important. I'll be honest: it is not something that comes easily to me. I often fixate on a particular mission and can't give it up. This morning, as Eli, my older son, sat crumpled in the corner of the bathroom with his red, raw nose and a mustache of similar red rawness, snuffling and coughing, I knew I needed to exhibit some flexibility.

"Are you sure you can't go to school?" I asked, imagining if he jumped up and said he could that I could get on with the day as planned, that I could go to coffee,to the gym, volunteer at the new Armory for my little one's P.E., meet with a new friend in the afternoon.

He just lay there, looking up at me with his sad brown eyes, face flushed with a slight fever, robe open slightly, pathetically. I sighed. He is not a complainer, never wants me to worry. Today was different. He was fine, nothing earth-shattering, but he needed to stay home. I had nothing that couldn't easily be cancelled. Like with jury duty, I had no real excuse. I had to be flexible. I guess today's gold stars will have to go to me, for doing the right thing, and to Eli, for putting up peppily with his little cold. For he has pepped up. Enough so that I keep asking him, hopefully, as if I could still send him late to school, "how do you feel?"

He reads me 'cause he answers, "Better, but still sick."

I am glad I have the flexibility of schedule to not be completely derailed by a sick day. Eli is too. He reminded me this morning of the last time he was sick, when he was throwing up, when we cuddled on the couch, reading and relaxing. The memory launched him into memories of vomit sessions past. His brother joined in.

"Remember when I threw up on Grandma in the car?" Oscar asked Eli.

Eli laughed."Yeah,that was funny."

Oscar shook his head. "Not for Grandma..." he said. True, very true.

My kids are generally good-natured about vomiting or about being sick, especially if I can help them figure what's wrong, explain it to them in a way that makes them worry less. But, then, I worry that they might gloss over things, thinking they are no big deal, as I often do, that they will ignore warning signs of something just because they have learned to tough things out. It is a hard balance, like all of parenting, helping your kids take things in stride but teaching them, too, that sometimes it is important to pay heed.

It is for that reason that I let Eli stay home. I think it would send the wrong message to ignore his entreaty to stay home, to ignore his very unusual perch on the bathroom floor,to not agree that he should not affect the other children, that he should try to rest and rejuvenate. So here we are, both of us in pajamas at nearly noon. It's kind of nice but you can bet tomorrow, with a packed schedule, I won't be nearly as flexible.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This morning's delightful conversation at Parco began so naturally with this nice woman clad in a super cool knit hat that I can't remember how we started talking. We just did, and we talked and talked on a variety of subjects, among them parenting and how, really, no one knows just what to do.

"I told a friend who was clueless after she had a baby not to get sidetracked by all the information out there, by all the books and advice, to just go ahead and do what she was going to do," she said.

I nodded excitedly in agreement. "Exactly!" I said, for the millionth time paraphrasing my first pediatrician's advice that "You're going to do things your way and that's going to be the best way, the only way."

I gave her a gold star for her great advice to her friend, which I can imagine had somewhat consoled her as my pediatricians' had consoled me. As a longtime journalist, I am always talking to a million people in the hopes of finding consensus. But, often, with so many things, with most things, there is no consensus. There are just different ways, different notions, different paths, and everyone has to find theirs. That said, it is nice to find a kindred spirit, someone who, like this nice knitted-hat lady, had somehow come to the same conclusions over time.

Later in the day, working on a freelance piece about parenting, I spoke to a child psychiatrist whose take on the subject at hand--talking to your kids about sex -- turned out to be the same as mine, without my even twisting her arm!

"I agree with your observations..." she said first off, after I had thrown a few theories at her, the theories that had given me the idea for the article.

I always love hearing that, especially from an expert. I told her so. She laughed.

"Nothing helps you not feel crazy like talking to a psychiatrist!" she said. But, here, I didn't necessarily agree.

"Not all psychiatrists are the same..." I said. "Finding one that's like minded is sort of tough, it's hard to know, harder even than finding a boyfriend." Boyfriends, though it might be rare, can sometimes tell you what they really think, while psychiatrists, ones you pay for your own therapy rather than interview for an article, may not be quite so bold. You sit there guessing what they think, where they might be coming from and why, what kinds of personal events have helped shape those thoughts, something I can't stand not knowing in any relationship, let alone one I pay for.

I really, really liked this lady, though, I thought her insights were dead-on, not the least because they mirrored my own nearly exactly. I sent her a gold star, digitally, via e-mail. Not exactly the same, but still. The experience had buoyed me. Writing a reported piece is far different than writing a blog. Even though I quote others on my blog, it is very obviously my own opinion that shines through in my choice of what to use. The same is true for a reported piece but there is more pressure somehow, more onus not to be terribly wrong. The moment of finding that corroboration from an expert that you've been looking for, hoping for, is great. It makes you feel like your instincts are, possibly, potentially, some-of-the-time on the right track. It is important to trust yourself, important also to find that, as you spread your thoughts, you might actually be on to something.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gold Stars for Jurors

Like cattle, we entered the main jurors room, Rm. 261. If people had personalities, they had left them somewhere along the way, on the subway or out in the freezing cold. Packed together, unsmiling, row after row, all different, the only constants U.S. citizenship and a Brooklyn address, we sat, waiting.

I read Bukowski, hoping no one was reading over my shoulder at the steamy scenes, judging my choice of material. But in between writing about sex, even during, his insights are sound, like the one where he said, "It was, finally, for everyone, a matter of waiting. You waited and you waited - for the hospital, the doctor, the plumber, the madhouse, the jail, papa death himself."

He was so right. Here I was, waiting. It seemed, after all, just like waiting for death this waiting for jury duty to begin, to commence to, hopefully, be over. And then, the movie began. Oh, the movie. The video to convince us all of our civic duty, the video that began with bad actors dressed in Medieval dress to depict how bad it was back when people had to be tried "by ordeal," when guilt or innocence was determined by how fast your hands healed after being stuck in boiling water or whether you floated when they threw you, hands tied, into the river.

"Was this fair or impartial justice?" Ed Bradley asked seriously, staring into the camera. "Justice has come a long way since Medieval times," he said. I laughed. So did my neighbor. Good. At least one kindred spirit to share the wretchedness with, I thought.

The video went on to show modern-day jurors' reactions to serving, including one honest gent who offered up: "Jury duty is a pain in the you know what." And, then, another history lesson, the beginnings of the modern jury under King Charlemagne, then how it evolved in England, then the U.S. And here we were.

My neighbor and I started chatting and, eventually, he asked what I wrote about. I reached into my bag, thinking I'd show him rather than tell him, that there was almost no better place to give out gold stars than on a Monday morning to people called out of their lives to serve jury duty. I gave one to him and passed them along to my entire row. People didn't exactly pep up, it would have taken more than that in this situation, but they seemed slightly pleased, at least slightly acknowledged for having to put up with something that was, indeed, a pain in the you know what.

My name was called not long after and I followed the signs into a windowless, grey flourescent-lit box that reminded me all too much of my last job. Except I had nothing to do, except wait. And, then, unlike my reporter job, I was the one being asked questions. Strong in my mind as I filled out the form about my background and potential biases was the last time I had been asked questions to be on a jury panel, a similar civil case. I had answered the lawyers' questions honestly but knowing that any strong hint of bias would get me off. The judge had begun to fume at my dithering over whether or not I could put these biases aside, and had pulled me along with the lawyers outside into the hall.

He let fly once the door was closed. "Are you going to tell me that you are a Northwestern-educated young woman and that you cannot put your biases aside to be impartial in a court of law?!?" He took out on me all the rage that had been building up inside him for years as busy, educated people figured ways to get out of their civic duty.

I felt bad, but...I had a job that did not look kindly on my taking off work, I was strapped even without the distraction of jury duty. I did not want to serve. I shrugged sheepishly. "I was just answering the lawyers' questions honestly..." I had said. He had stumped away, back into the court room. I was not picked.

Damn that judge. His words rung in my ears today as the lawyers asked virtually the same questions. I was forced to say when asked if I could be impartial despite various and sundry things that I have seen or done, people I knew, that indeed, "Yes, I would try..."

Everyone laughed, including the questioning lawyer, the plaintiff's lawyer, the one on whom rested the burden of proof. "Try?" he said, "I need more reassurance than that!"

But, apparently, he didn't. He and the other two chose me. Just me and two others out of the 10 they questioned, seven others whose biases seemed to suggest they might not try as hard. Of course, in the end lawyers know: all you can really do is try. We all have our biases, we will bring them, of course, with us into the court room. There is no other way. Even in modern times, justice is not meeted out perfectly.

As Diane Sawyer so aptly put it in her role in the jurors' movie, "If we want freedom in this country, if we want fairness, we all have to support it."

I'll do my best come Jan. 21, when the trial I sit on begins. By law, though, I cannot blog about it specifically. I have made my vow. But I'm sure there will be lessons learned, many stars to give out, much waiting. I'll have to bring Bukowski along to pass the time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Making an Impact

I have been dubbed by many "The Gold Star Lady." I like it. There is something about being given such a moniker with "Lady" at the end that makes me sound crazy and eccentric, like someone with a big cozy messy house, a lot of pets...I have no pets, barring the small frogs we are caring for in our neighbors' absence, but my alter-ego has many of them wandering about. She, unlike me, doesn't care about shedding fur.

The other morning, as I sat at Parco, working on a few things and waiting, like always there, for magic to strike, a woman who had sat down at the next table with her young daughter leaned toward me.

"Are you the Gold Star Lady?" she asked.

I smiled, picturing my eccentric alter-ego. "Yes," I said, looking at her more closely, eyes narrowed, trying to remember the circumstance in which she received her star.

"Oh!" I said, "You're the lady who was covered head to toe in water-proof gear!"

It was her turn to smile. "Yes," she said. "I have to tell you, that star made my day! It was pouring, I was having such a hard time..."

"I noticed," I said, laughing, "that's why I gave you the star. I'm so glad it helped!"

"I was just saying to a friend how nobody seems to notice other people..."

I nodded. "I agree, that's why I started this project," I said. "But it's so hard. I believe in it so much and, yet, it is hard to figure how to get the word out, to promote it, to make it a wider effort." I shook my head, sadly, frustrated, as I got up to go.

We introduced ourselves and I gave her my card. As I walked out, she looked up. "Hang in there," she said, "You're changing lives!"

I could have kissed her. I think it's the nicest thing anyone has said to me since I started the project, it is, of course, my greatest aim.

I looked at her with intense gratitude. It was as if she had given me a huge gold star. "Thank you soooo much," I said, "that is really, really nice of you to say."

With a wave, I was off. There was a bounce in my step as I bounded off to yoga, ready, now, to relax and elongate, happy in my head knowing that even if my little project stays just as it is, I am affecting people positively. That is, in the end, all that really matters.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Can't Do Everything...

I've been trying to be better about giving gold stars to people I might have failed in the moment to reward, people whose wisdom works on me over time and makes it into the blog. Yesterday, for example, I walked right into the appliance store on the corner with gold stars ready for the twin who had offered up in classic Brooklynese that one can do anything themselves...

I did have another excuse for walking in. I wanted to price juicers, which I might purchase as part of my mission to eat better in 2010. As one of the twins talked the various merits of juicers ranging from $80 to $250 I was distracted by trying to determine which brother had offered the sage advice. Finally, as he finished informing me of my choices and I said I would think about it a bit, I asked straight out.

"OK," I said, "one of you, can't remember which, offered up the comment a while back that 'you can do anything yourself.'" I was clearly fixated on the wrong brother as I spoke. The one who had been helping me raised his hand.

"That was me," he said, "it's kind of my mantra."

His brother nodded vehemently. "Yeah, he almost blew up his face trying to fix the heating himself recently," he said good-naturedly.

The advising brother laughed sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess maybe there are some things you could let other people do, but...after working here..."

I nodded. "I get it. You know enough to know that other people are possibly going to do it wrong, so frustrating."

"Exactly," he said.

I do get it. I am the same way, even though I am not at all handy. With things I have a strong opinion about, which is to say most things, I feel like I have such a clear vision of what the outcome should be that I'm generally disappointed or frustrated with people that I hire. It's totally unfair, I know, since I shouldn't complain if I can't actually do it myself, but there it is. It is hard to imagine exactly what you want, pay someone to do it, and then be practically back to square one after all is said and done. It means, for me, that many projects go undone, the perfect person for the job too hard to find, I too lazy to figure it out myself. For the appliance store owner, clearly, it means almost dying trying to do things himself that he doesn't really know that much about. But, to be fair, even experts, even doctors and electricians, are often just working by trial and error, trying various things to see what works even if the result of their efforts not working is the loss of life or limb.

I owe my cleaning lady a big gold star, many of them. I will come clean, no pun intended, that she is often blamed for all the things we lose in our house, all that is broken. To be fair, she might put things in weird places, she has even been known to throw things away, broken things I never quite got around to fixing but meant to. But still, that is no excuse to badmouth her even slightly in front of the children. It is pathetic that my kids imbue her name in anger as they hide Lego structures because I myself have thrown past masterpieces in the Lego bin to clear off surfaces before her arrival. I do not protect her. I mutter her name under my breath when I can't find things, even clothes that she in no way could have been part of having misplaced. See, I should really clean the house myself if I am going to complain about the job someone else does. I do remember that, recall that having someone else scrub my toilets twice a month is a luxury.

Thinking of this, I gave both twins stars.

"I wrote about you on my blog," I said to the advisor, "encouraging people to resolve to take things into their own hands."

He smiled, big. "Cool," he said, "I'm a guru."

I laughed and waved as I walked out. "You are," I said. "You are."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Breaking the Cycle of Self-Sabotage

OK. I'm going to lay my cards on the table: I am filled with self-doubt. I mean, to be fair, there are moments when I, frankly, think I'm fabulous. But,then, an opportunity to prove my fabulousness to the world arises and I, historically, go running for the hills, into hiding. After all, I want no one to be able to disprove my hard-won intermittent theory that I am a superb human being capable of amazing things. Alone, punching the heavy bag at the gym, eyes closed, dancing to Michael Jackson, or throwing myself at the wall to stand sturdily on my hands, I can be all that I believe I can be and more. Sleeping too. Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream...In dreams, I can change the world. Harder, really, in the waking hours. Where to start, how to proceed.

The beginning of the year with all its potential to tap one's potential is scary. Getting back into routine or trying to create new ones, making decisions on what to do, when to do it, how and with who. Not easy. Throw into the mix watching Milk, as we did last night, and it's a recipe for disaster, or at least divorce. My poor husband. He definitely deserves a gold star for trying.

After the movie ended, heroic Harvey Milk made a martyr for the cause, I lost it. As usual with anything I read, watch or see, I turn the lessons learned onto myself. In this case, the movie begins as Mr. Milk turns 40, an age I will all too soon see.

"But I haven't done anything yet..." he says to his new, I might add GORGEOUS lover. It reminded me of Sally in When Harry Met Sally when they are driving to New York. "But I haven't done anything yet..." she says, wide-eyed and innocent, hopeful.

The story of Mr. Milk is both incredibly inspiring and, at the same time, sad. He so tries to help so many people, individuals and the masses. Sometimes his hard work pays off, sometimes not. He loses more than a few along the way. I know that's life, that's what trying is all about. But I totally related to the moments where Sean Penn sat angst-ridden, listening to opera. I hate opera, that alone would depress me, but I get it. The passion with which he wanted to make a difference was so palpable in his eyes, in the voices of the sopranos.

I feel that same passion so often but yet, sometimes, before I can act, panic sets in: what if it doesn't pay off? Luckily, Mr. Milk didn't allow himself to wallow in those kind of what-ifs too often.

As the movie ended, and my own personal panic set in, I tried to explain myself to my husband. He tried so hard to help, to say the right thing. Poor guy. Probably anything he said wouldn't have worked, but his frustration at watching me sabotage myself over and over again came through loud and clear and communication shut down. Bummer. I needed support and he wanted to support me. I had just been advising someone earlier this week that this is often what happens in a marriage. Just in the moments you need your partner the most, they get so paralyzed by not knowing how to help that they lash out and become mean. I think we're all a little too conditioned that "tough love" might snap people out of their funks. Maybe, sometimes, delivered in just the right way, but more often it feels like a punch in the stomach, best intentions go majorly awry. Luckily, this idea was top of mind so we recovered quickly, albeit a little worse for the wear. But a lot of times people don't.

A friend of mine reported to me recently that she was, after much unhappiness, leaving her husband. Communication had shut down, not just for minutes but for months. I sympathized. It is so easy to see how it happens. She is being pursued by a number of people, people who want and appreciate her as well anyone should. She is beautiful, bright and full of life and energy. She smiled big as she spoke of herself emerging into a more confident creature at 40.

"I finally understand my value!" she said. I loved that, someone being able to appreciate themselves as a hot commodity. I gave her a big gold star.

"Do you know how big that is, that some people never get there?" I said as we parted, as I gave her a great big good-luck hug.

It is the most important thing, understanding your own value. My friend's self-confidence, like my own on-again, off-again fabulousness, may be brought on by external interest, external validation, but, really, it rests in our own hands to uphold. I wish it were different. I wish someone had the magic wand. Whoever finds one gets a BIG GOLD STAR! In the meantime, I'm going to forge forward, trying to maintain my fabulousness daily in some form or fashion. I hope you will too...and, if you lose it, try, try, try not to blame others!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm Back, Baby!

Getting up the nerve to give out stars after a hiatus is hard. I find the best opportunities mean I would have to come clean about eavesdropping. Like yesterday, when I heard two professors discussing the usefulness of Wikipedia. One spoke, guiltily, of having used the Internet resource in large part because it was what always came up when he searched Google. The other shook his head.

“It’s hard because I tell my students not to use it, but then I use it myself.” He looked sheepishly down into his coffee, humbled by his own admission. But, then he explained, “To be fair,” he said, “I use it as a means, not an end, while for them it’s the end.”

I so wanted to give him a gold star for his admission of hypocrisy, however justified. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to interrupt, to insert myself. I would have if I’d been leaving, but I wasn’t, I was staying. So were they. It would have been awkward for them to resume their conversation without being conscious of me.

Today, in the same café, talking to a friend, wrapping up, a man I’ve given a gold star to, another professor, an English professor, inserted himself. I didn’t mind. Our more personal discourse had turned to literature, to Charles Bukowski, whose work I was reading for the first time.

I was speaking of the book I had chosen as my intro to the prolific poet and novelist known mostly for his drinking and womanizing, a novel aptly named Women.

“My God it’s tough to read,” I said. "He just goes from woman to woman to woman! I was so grossed out I didn’t want my husband to touch me!”

The professor piped up then. “It was four a year,” he said.

I turned to him. I hadn’t realized he was listening, but of course. So would I have been, so had I the day previous.

“Really?” I said, shocked. “It seems like a lot more than that…”

He nodded. “I know,” he said, “but it’s a novel, it’s sped up. I counted. I actually wrote a book about Bukowski.”

I laughed. “Of course you did.”

I love this café. I love Brooklyn. The odds of meeting an expert on whatever topic you happen to be talking about are always good, scarily good.

We chatted a bit about Bukowski, about the best of his works (the prof suggested poetry compilation War All the Time and short story compilation Hot Water Music, “especially the story about phone sex…”) and then my friend and I left, off to our separate errands.

Once alone, I looked around closely for gold star giving opportunities. I hadn’t given the prof or my friend stars, though both deserved them for their interesting and interested chatting abilities. I feel weird about giving our repeat stars, though, don’t know how often is too often, how many would render their affect useless. But I think sometimes that not giving them to those closest to me, those I see often is a sad metaphor for the way in which we often fail to validate the efforts of those we interact with regularly so I have to be cognizant of that.

I’m thinking this as a man walks by. He is smokin’. I laugh to myself thinking, ‘could I give out stars to people simply for being hot?’ I suppose if I were single it might be a great pick-up tactic. As it is, I didn’t try it. I kept my stars in my bag and moved on. My hubby would be proud.

I read Bukowski on the train with a renewed thoughtfulness, imagining it as a scholarly enterprise. I was engrossed. As I got up to get off the train at Rockefeller Center, I noticed a man who had been sitting just across from me.

“Hello Stranger,” I said, “you never write you never call…” It was a friend I never see from my hometown, Tucson, my best friend from growing up’s younger brother. It was so good to see his face, however strange it always is to see him as a man when I think of him as a boy, the one we made fetch water for our dinner parties, whose room we raided if we needed change.

I got out a big gold star and gave it to him.

“Why do I deserve this?” he asked.

I laughed, remembering the ways we tortured him. “For growing up with me!” It was a great way back in to gold star giving, offering one up to an old friend, a friendly face to be sure on an otherwise stranger-filled train platform. The rest of the day, at the dentist and beyond, the stars flew out of my hands easily. The one to the woman on her second of five oral surgeries was certainly deserving. Hiatus officially over.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Resolve

Happy New Year! There is so much trying to be done in 2010, a new hopeful decade. The gym was full of resolution-makers yesterday, those bound and determined to lose the weight gained over the indulgent holiday season. Carts at the grocery store were full of produce and whole grains. I imagine today, the first Monday back from the break, kids ensconced once again at school, offices and roadways back to full, there is a lot of pondering on what to do, how to do it better. So much opportunity for reward, for validation of such efforts. I am back to work in that way, loaded up with gold stars, just looking for a glimpse of efforts expended.

So far this morning, I have had interactions with a variety of people, many past gold-star receivers who might be due for a new star, people who are pushing forward on their respective missions. A friend who is spearheading efforts for a new excercise center is full of ideas, open to others' thoughts, about what to do to maximize the enormous space. There are so many ways to inspire children, to instill confidence in them that we ourselves wish we had, then and now. We can, any of us, do anything, it is just, mostly, mind over matter.

I quote often the Brooklyn-born twin who owns the appliance store with his brother on the corner. His homespun, heavily accented wisdom is always dead on. Most recently, when I wondered aloud if I needed to spend the $65 to have him clean out my vacuum cleaner, if I couldn't have just done it myself, he looked at me quizzically, confused.

"Well," he said, "yous can do anythin' yaself..."

I had laughed. "I suppose that's true," I said.

I have thought about that so many times since. Of course it is true, but we learn well how to offload those things we don't want to do ourselves, things that are too difficult to figure, that we figure it would be more efficient to eschew. That is what our service economy counts on. Consultants can charge big bucks simply to look at things we ourselves have already seen but don't want to face. We think maybe others might be able to create another reality, an easier way. I have worked for a lot of companies who pay consultants top dollar to tell them things only to ignore the information. As before they were told what was what, the things they already knew somewhere in their heart of hearts, they choose to continue going down the wrong path because staying the course is, of course, simpler.

I am resolved this year to quiet the external voices, stop looking for outside consultants for everything and trust my inner self as the Temperance-Reversed card that came up on my Facebook tarot today suggests, to trust that I can do far more than I sometimes care to admit. That admission, of course, means I might be forced to do things that are hard. Gold stars to everyone that takes the course of the coming year into their own hands, that decides to acknowledge what they know or what they could learn, and does it.