Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dealing with Change

Like most people, I don’t like change. Yes, change is inevitable. Yes, change is the only way to improve and grow. Life is like a soiled diaper, if you don't change it, it stinks. Blah, blah, blah. I know it, I accept it, and as a self-improvement writer, I even write about it. 

But it doesn’t mean I like it.

Recently, when something DIDN’T change I performed a little happy dance.  I work as a public relations specialist at Royal Neighbors of America, one of the largest women-led life insurers in the U.S.  I am constantly creating a number of articles, press releases, web content, and blogs.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my job and the people I work with. But like most workplaces, especially one that is as highly regulated as life insurance, there is a chain of command. Many eyes see my work, comment on it, change it, and send it back to me for revisions. 

However, once in a while something wonderful happens – nothing. My article comes back unscathed. It's sheer ecstasy when a bit of my copy emerges unsullied from the strike-throughs on the track-changes tool on Word. Or better yet, it comes back with a happy, little bubble comment that says something like “great” or “we loved this”. It makes the whole process seem worthwhile. An unaltered document is like a victory to me.  On the rare occasion my work is accepted as is (rare), or praised (less rare), I raise my fist in exalted victory, mutter a happy “yes!”, spin in my chair, take a second to regain my balance, and get back to work.

I don’t think this is an unusual reaction for a writer – especially a public relations specialist, journalist, or screenwriter.  For instance, a popular expression in the screenwriting world is you don’t get paid for what you do, but rather what they do to you. It isn’t that bad in PR. We are trained to see the bright side of things. Many of us are like cocker spaniels. We live for a smile, a pat on the head, and occasional byline. Of course the biggest motivator comes from knowing something you write or do created value in the world. I must confess, for me, that is the greatest joy of all. In those moments of helping others I would gladly work for free. But a gal has to eat and live, so even on a good day I’m still cashing my paycheck. 

While I would never discourage anyone from these celebratory moments of bliss, as a Buddhist I know personal glory is a double-edged sword. That type of joy (rapture) is not true happiness. It is a transitory emotion. It’s like a hit of cocaine. It’s a momentary high. And what comes up must come down. The problem is when we base our happiness on external factors such as praise, wealth, fame, status etc. it is an unsustainable happiness. Even the greatest transitory joys in life are temporary. Even if we are extremely fortunate and enjoy wonderful circumstances for many years, all things come to an end. After all, we can’t take our possessions, our wealth, our achievements, our families, or our status with us when we die.

However, from a Buddhist perspective, there is one thing continues sticks with us – our karma. The good and bad causes we make do not fade away. It may take eons for past thoughts, speech and actions to manifest into an appropriate and correlating effect, but it does. Of course it would be nice if we could see immediate results from our good efforts. But then it would mean we would have to see instantaneous results from the bad causes too and who wants that? 

There is a reason for the delay.  As time elapses we have the opportunity to (hopefully) grow and gain better insight into our past behavior and learn from it.

But we are human. We will make mistakes. And I am not advocating we live a life without pleasure. I, for one, will continue to enjoy joyous interactions with my family and friends, laugh at jokes, smile when I know I have helped another, and yes, do a little jig when one of my unedited articles gets picked up by the media. 

But I have changed.

As I have practiced Buddhism over the years, my perspective about being a writer has evolved. I can revel in a little personal glory now and again, and I can grumble a bit when things don’t turn out the way I would like. The bottom line is deep down I know these little incidents aren’t as important as I would like to think they are. 

If I want to be happy, I need to concentrate less on glory and more on prayer. In my case that prayer is chanting the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. When I chant it sparks an internal human revolution in me.  As a result of my prayer I can see that many of the “edits” I face help me grow. It can also serve as an opportunity to change for the better – and sometimes that applies to my copy as well.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pressing Matters

It’s one of those rare weekends when I’m home alone. CB is off camping. I have plans with the grand kids, but that is hours away. I start a load of laundry and pull out the ironing board. 

Ironing used to be a chore I detested, but as I have gotten older I find it can be relaxing.

My mom never seemed to mind ironing either. There is something therapeutic about getting rid of wrinkles without a facelift.

But I remember mom seemed to enjoy pressing clothes even when she was younger. I can still imagine her in the kitchen sprinkling water on a mountain of laundry. These were the days before steam irons. She filled an empty 7-up bottle with water, placed a little gizmo on the top, shook the bottle, and dampened the clothes with it. But rather than ironing right then and there, she would put the clothes in a bag and stick them in the refrigerator. Later she would pull them out and iron away. I remember wondering why she did this. It always seemed a little odd to me, but I knew if I challenged her wisdom, or complained that my blouses smelled like cauliflower, I would be pressing my own clothing. So I kept my mouth shut. 

But I was still cynical. I thought ironing was a big waste of time. Who cared about a few wrinkles, or whether or not your pleated skirt had perfect creases? But when I complained about it, my friend Maria was unsympathetic. She was the youngest of six kids and her job was to iron the clothing for all the family members who still lived at home. That included Maria, her mom, dad and brother, Joey. Mrs. Hernandez thought everything should be pressed – from doilies to sheets. Imagine my horror when I learned Maria was even expected to iron her brother’s blue jeans. Now mind you, this was decades before designer jeans, and Joey worked in construction. But that didn’t matter. Maria ironed his jeans and Joey went off to his job looking clean, fresh and pressed. 

My disdain of ironing was shared by a cousin in the Hernandez family, who ironically, was also named Sally. She would hang out her clothes (few people had clothes dryers in those days – at least in sunny Arizona). But Sally laundered with a twist. After the clothes were on the line she would get out the hose,  squirt the wrinkles out of the clothing, and let them dry (and stiffen) in the sun. I think this story was relayed to me as a cautionary tale, but I thought the idea was ingenious. 

The next time I took my clothes out to hang on the line, I gave them a hose bath. The water is so hard in Arizona that it also acted as a type of starch. When the clothes dried, they were so rigid they could practically stand on their own. I did this for a year. But all good things must come to an end.

After high school I married a Navy sailor. When he reported for work, even in dungarees, he had to report looking spiffy. An improperly pressed pair of dungarees could result in ramifications in the wrinkle-free Navy, so I did my best to make sure John would pass inspection. He always did. But when the Navy introduced cotton/polyester blend clothing that resisted wrinkles – let’s just say that was a happy day for a lot of sailors and their spouses.

After John was honorably discharged, my iron got a well-earned rest. Clothes were easier to care for. More people (myself included) had a clothes dryer. And as long as you didn’t leave your clothes in the washer or dryer overnight (oops) chances were good your clothing would not be a big crumpled mess. Three cheers for polyester!

Fast forward a few decades. I divorced, held a few different jobs, and then started my own company, Marks Public Relations. In an effort to save money and be more environmentally responsible, I went back to hanging my clothes out to dry. I admit it, if you hang your clothes on a clothesline, chances are they are going to look more crumpled. But that didn’t matter to me. Except when I had to go to a meeting or needed to accompany a client for an appearance at the TV station, I didn’t have to look nice and crisp. In fact, I mostly sat barefoot in front of my home computer churning out press releases, media pitches, and scripts looking a bit rumpled. But things changed. 

I learned of a great public relations position at Royal Neighbors of America. I wrote a good cover letter, successfully made it past the pre-screening process and three additional interviews, and was offered the position!  I was (and am) very happy.

But working in a professional environment again means I had to make a wardrobe adjustment. I have traded my craggy attire for a more professional look. Even on business casual days (Thursday and Friday) I make sure my shirts – and yes even my blue jeans – are pressed. A little ironing is a small price to pay to work at a job I love. I don’t regret my decision one iota. And I bet Maria and Mrs. Hernandez would be happy to know I launder without the hose. It took more than 40 years, but I’ve finally mended my wrinkled ways.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving with the Ex In-Laws

I’m not quite sure how to feel. My ex husband, John, recently remarried. I learned about the upcoming nuptials from my granddaughters. They were excited about the prospect of being flower girls. They incorrectly assumed I would be attending the affair. Shortly after hearing the news I saw facebook posts from my ex’s fiancĂ© (now wife) who I will call N. 

N is a sociable person (she friended me after all) and I have discovered more about them via social media than I would ever have heard from John. My ex is a former engineer and a man of few words. In fact his quiet demeanor was a contributing factor in our divorce. I come from a talkative family and the silence felt like solitude. 

However, through facebook I see the newlyweds are an active couple with a lot in common. They renovate the house, go on motorcycle rides, drag a big RV to Sturgis, and attend classic car shows.In retrospect, I see that John and I were not well suited for one another. He came into the marriage with a muscle car (a 1971 Rambler Scrambler) that I didn’t appreciate. I thought the car looked like a striped box with a scoop on the hood.

I’m sure I asked him to sell it on numerous occasions. He not only kept the red, white and blue dragster, it has been meticulously restored. The Scrambler is the recipient of numerous awards. I, on the other hand, am driving my second Toyota Prius and plan to buy a third when the time is right. I gave both cars names (Sparky and Goldie) but other than that their hybrid lives have been unremarkable. 

John and N prepare mountains of food in a smoker. My daughters, Alicia and Brittany, always tell me how delicious the meals are. I am not the greatest cook. Food is not my highest priority. I spent seven years of my first marriage as a vegetarian. The closest I came to smoking anything (edible anyway) was nuking a veggie burger in the microwave oven. I do eat meat now, but sparingly. 

The differences continue. I hate motorcycles. My best friend was killed while riding his Kawasaki. I can appreciate the beauty of a bike and the sense of freedom riders must enjoy, but motorcycles scare me. When my oldest daughter mentioned she was considering purchasing one I told her I would rather cash in my 401K and buy her a car than to worry every day that she would get run over. The good news is my 401K is intact and Alicia drives a Nissan LEAF.

One thing I do share in common with the ex is I enjoy camping. At least in moderation. My spouse, CB, and I generally limit our excursions to a few days because our outings are in tandem with our two pet bunnies, Oscar and Jezebell. The furry (and constantly shedding) critters used to sleep with us in the camper on the back of our F-150 pickup truck. But we are in the big leagues now since we purchased a Little Guy trailer. 

The bunnies get the camper and we get the trailer. All is right in the camping world. In contrast, John and N travel for weeks at a time and tow a 28 foot trailer with a 1-ton Dodge Ram Dually. To my knowledge they do not have any pets with them.

Overall I would say there are more differences than similarities between my life with CB and John’s marriage to N.  John is retired. He and N not only travel to Sturgis and other getaways, they recently returned from a trip to Ireland. I do some traveling too, but it is work related. After 15 years of owning my own PR firm, I took a job as a PR specialist with Royal Neighbors of America. I recently returned from a multi-city tour where I had the privilege of helping award $10,000 grants to 10 women through Royal Neighbors’ Nation of Neighbors Program. You can read more about it at I’m not complaining. I love my job. After years of only scratching the surface of my creative skills – I’m glad to put my talents to work for an organization that does so much good in the community. 

Of course my former marriage also contributed to the good of the world through the birth of our wonderful daughters. 

These gals are not only beautiful human beings; they are true humanitarians who are committed to making the world a better place for humans, animals and the environment. I couldn’t be prouder of the women they have become. And I feel confident that my granddaughters, Rosannah and Briannah, will do the same. 

It has been nearly 20 years since John and I divorced.  We see each other at holidays and events that involve our daughters and grandchildren. Our interactions are polite more than friendly, but even that is changing. CB and I received an invitation to John’s and N’s house for Thanksgiving. Since my kids and grandkids would be there, and CB and I were not planning on preparing a turkey this year, it made sense to attend. 

It wound up to be a nice affair. In addition to my own family, N’s relatives, as well as John's brother attended. At first I thought it would be a little awkward, but it turned out to be enjoyable. I thought this meeting of different folks was probably reminiscent of when the Pilgrims and Indians came together in the spirit of friendship and new beginnings.

And speaking of new beginnings, after this holiday experience I had an epiphany. I know exactly how I feel about John getting remarried. I am thankful for the past I shared with my ex, but I'm relieved that our lives evolved so that we could enjoy new beginnings with spouses that are a better match for us. And now after breaking bread with my family and the ex in-laws I can truthfully say I am optimistic about upcoming holidays and the future in general.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Rooting for the Salmon

I recently traveled to Alaska. What a beautiful state! I gazed at glaciers, spied two caribou nibbling in a meadow, and marveled at the spectacular scenery. It was something like 110 degrees when I exited the Phoenix heat in search of fun and chilly adventure, and Alaska exceeded my expectations. 

Even at the hotel in Anchorage I could look out the window at thick groves of trees and dense foliage. With the exception of golf courses, I don’t see a lot of water and greenery outside my desert home. 

Another thing that took me by surprise was how our 49th state is considered a world-renown angler’s paradise. Fishing is a very big deal in Alaska – particularly salmon fishing. It is one of the few places (perhaps the only one) where every type of salmon lives.  I am not interested in fishing, but I developed a different hobby while on holiday. One of my favorite activities was watching the salmon make their way upstream to spawn. The mighty fish swim against the current, jump up waterfalls and make their way to the place of their birth. It’s a bummer they die after they succeed in their quest.  

As I watched the salmon making their way to their final destination I found myself cheering for their success. Yes, it’s true they were fighting their way to their inevitable death, but you really had to hand it to the scaled critters for their tenacity and verve. I squealed with delight each time each time one successfully made their “leap of faith.”

This behavior is not unusual to anyone who knows me. I have always been known to cheer for the underdog. It probably explains my affection for the Chicago Cubs. If they ever win a pennant or World Series I might have to entertain the thought of switching my allegiance to another losing team, but something tells me I will die a Cubs fan. If nothing else, I am a loyal fan and friend.

As I have mentioned in other blogs, I have been very fortunate to have many good friends. Several have been my comrades since my awkward days in junior high. This trio of ladies has helped see me through some good and dark days. I’ve also had my fair of acquaintances. Ironically, something I noticed is that some of the people I thought were my pals deserted me when things got tough, such as during and after my divorce. The opposite was also true. When things turned around and I became more successful, there were a few who must have felt threatened when my so-called station in life did not match their own. This made me sad, but it helped me in my understanding of human behavior. This eventually led me to co-writing a book with my friend, Jacqueline Howard.

After our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within was published I was a guest on several television and radio shows. One of the topics that came up was the importance of good friends. I describe it in more detail in Chapter 3 – Anything for Acceptance. It chronicles the life of Maria who was sexually abused as a child and because of her lack of self esteem, made poor choices. She hung out with kids who introduced her to drugs and she became hooked on meth. After her boyfriend nearly killed her, she was able to leave town and live with her aunt and uncle in another part of the state. The good news is she became involved with a better group of friends who helped her overcome her addiction.  

Maria found it odd when she was surrounded by people who sincerely cared about her happiness. But we shouldn’t be.  We should take care to allow people into our lives who can make an impact on our behavior. This is especially true from the time we are 13-25. People will do research before purchasing a new television or smart phone, but will accept people into their circle of friends without much thought. Here are a few tips on choosing good friends from my book.

Erase Negativity
·         Erase negativity by stating your desires in a positive way. Instead of saying, “I don’t want to be sick” say “I enjoy vibrant health.” Don’t just say “I want friends.” Say, “I want good friends who care about me and want the best for my life.”
·         Illegal drugs, as well as drugs that are not prescribed to you by your physician pollute your mind, body and soul. Don’t take a chance. Stay away from drugs. Find healthier ways to make friends and enjoy your life.

Embrace the Magic Within
·         Pay attention to your intuition when making new friends. An uncomfortable feeling in the gut is usually a warning. A warm feeling in the heart is generally a good sign.
Another question to ask yourself is whether that person is encouraging good or bad behavior. The buddy who suggests “one more hit” or another drink, is not someone interested in your well being. The same is true of individuals who put down your successes.
Personally, I am a cheerleader of sorts. This is a harder concept for some than others. The way I look at it is happy people who are accomplishing their dreams are less likely to think, say and do bad things. More happy people will improve society as a whole. It creates a ripple effect toward a happier planet.
I know this bit of advice may seem foreign to some. If so, fake a more altruistic outlook until you can genuinely own it.  Challenge yourself to enjoy the successes of others.  In time you will feel better yourself, and once you focus on happiness rather than anger or envy, you might just get hooked on the feeling.