Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Fun: Emily McDowell Studio

You know how I feel about finding the perfect words. So, it will come as no surprise that I was delighted to find Emily McDowell Studio -- with empathy cards like this:

Given the current political environment, I'm also liking this magnet:

There are a zillion other cool, creative things on her site. Check it out. And, FYI, this is not a paid advertisement. Emily McDowell did not approve this message. (But let's get real. I think she'd like it.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Fun: Sharknado!

I count seven grammatical errors in that sign. How about you? And, yes. It's sad but true: Proofreading is my idea of fun.

Grammar and punctuation aside, it's the weekend. Watch a silly movie with friends. Party on!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Creativity Tips: Edit!

Thank you all for the lovely reactions to my post on Monday. The public and private feedback, the shares, the comments on Facebook -- all the responses made me glad I took two creative steps I all-too-often skip.

  1. I thought about the post -- a lot -- before I wrote it. 
  2. I edited the post -- a lot -- after I wrote it. 

First of all, thinking. Whoa. And you have to "whoa," because we're all moving so fast we don't have time to think. In this case, I mulled over: What's the strategy behind the copy? What am I trying to accomplish? Who am I talking to and what do they want/need to know?

I thought about writing a "strong women don't cry" post -- and listing all the reasons women have gotten sucked into the negative narrative men have fallen victim to for years. I might have gone that route, but I didn't want to alienate all the good-hearted men who read the blog and could also use a good-hearted cry. So, after thinking it through, I changed my mind and the copy direction.

Next, after I wrote the post, I gave myself plenty of time to edit. And I edited heavily. I cut extraneous words. I made verbs active, rather than passive. I deleted personal information that might have made the post more about me (Whoa again! You mean it's not all about me?) -- and less relevant to you.

I'm glad I did, and that the resulting post resonated with so many of you.

And now, because it is all about me, I'll share one of the deleted tidbits. I didn't just find the Muhammad Ali quote for Monday's post. I had this version of it in my dorm room, 40 years ago.

And, yes. That's the actual poster from my days at MU. 
There's a note on the back from a friend.
I'm a writer. Editing is one thing. Deleting? That's something else. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Creativity Tips: Find the Time

One of the most common anti-creativity comments is, "I don't have time to ..."  You don't have time to write. To paint. To exercise. To read a book. Whatever.

I saw reports this week that Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was in the hospital, recovering from an infection -- and I thought back to the glorious day 26 years ago, when he and his wife visited UMKC and I had the honor of spending time with both of them.

Archbishop Tutu glowed; his presence felt holy. His wife Leah radiated love. I have never before and never again been in the presence of anyone like them.

Why am I telling you this now? Because right after his visit, Archbishop Tutu found time to write personal notes to the UMKC team, thanking us for our assistance.

You want to write, paint, exercise, read, whatever? We all have 24 hours a day. It's just a question of how we prioritize them.

Dear Jan,
Thank you very much for all you did to look after us during
our lovely visit to your university. We enjoyed ourselves hugely.
God bless, Desmond Cape

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Creativity Tips: Share Great Stories

There's nothing better than a story well told, unless it's a true story well told, complete with happy ending. Here's one of my favorites. Enjoy!

I still need to see the movie ...

Monday, September 19, 2016

It's Not OK to Cry

I thought a lot about whether I wanted to write this column or not. Then, I wondered if I should post it on Monday, when I like to do a "rally the troops, get out there and have a great week" blog.

But, in the end, I saw yet another Facebook post from a friend in crisis, and decided that T. S. Eliot is wrong. April is not the cruelest month. September is.

So, here in the midst of September, we all need this reminder: It's not OK to cry. 

Now, if tears were flames, I burst into spontaneous combustion at least 10 times last Tuesday. Don't worry -- there's nothing horrible going on. It wasn't a crisis. It was the sucker punch of life, the combination of countless hurts and frustrations and losses and irritations and worries and failures, those moments we push down and ignore so we can make it through the day.

On Tuesday, I went to Village Shalom. I gave flowers to the wonderful nurse who has taken such good care of mom and is leaving to go back to school. I told mom who I was, something I do repeatedly these days.

Then I went out to the parking lot, got into my car, sat there and sobbed. And I continued to burst into spontaneous tears throughout the day.

You know what happened? I woke up Wednesday and felt lighter. I felt happier. I felt like myself again. And that's when I remembered ...

It's not OK to cry. It's essential. It's life-affirming. It's cleansing. Crying is visceral proof that we are feeling, caring, emotional beings. Crying is human.

And I rarely do it, because I'm pretty damn busy being strong and stoic, when I ought to just be.

So if you, like far too many of my friends, are going through a tough month, here's my Monday morning, rally the troop advice: Find a sanctuary. Maybe it's your home. Your car. A quiet stretch on a familiar path. Then, if you need to cry, let the waterfall flow.

I often find sanctuary in solitude. You may prefer to cry on someone's shoulder. Either way, when hearts are heavy and eyes are full, we're not alone. Ancients sages are right beside us, quietly whispering:

"This too shall pass."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Fun: You get to be a mensch!

So, I've been promising you a Mensch Manifesto to wrap up this week's series. I'm not going to deliver.

That means you get to be mensch and forgive me!

On the bright side, I'm not completely bailing on you. Rather than writing a manifesto, I'm sharing a mensch meditation:

Lend us the wit, O God,
to speak the lean and simple word;
give us the strength to speak
the found word, the meant word;
grant us the humility to speak
the friendly word, the answering word.

And make us sensitive, God,
sensitive to the sound of the words
which others speak --
sensitive to the sound of their words --
and to the silence between.

-- from Mishkan T'Filah, adapted from Chaim Stern

Shabbat shalom, my friends! Thanks for traveling along on this week's journey.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Creativity Tips: 18 Ways to be a Mensch

Here's a completely radical concept in these days of social media and instant communication: You don't have to say everything that pops into your head.

Whoa. Think about that for a moment. And, as you do, consider this:

18 Ways to be a Mensch

  1. Be nice to the waiter.
  2. Follow the advice from Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual master: "Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true? Does it improve upon the silence?"
  3. Hold doors open, especially for the elderly or people with arms full of packages or babies. Smile as you let them go through.
  4. When you make a mistake, apologize. Graciously. Face-to-face, if possible, and with no excuses. 
  5. Put your phone away. Pay attention to the person right in front of you.
  6. Look for the lonely people. Let them know you're there, if they want to talk. 
  7. Say, "Thank you!" Say, "You're welcome!"
  8. Let someone else win -- let them have the worst day, or the best cookies. 
  9. Don't go for the easy joke, if it might hurt someone's feelings. 
  10. Think about the other person's feelings. 
  11. Remember that everyone -- everyone -- is struggling with something. (Since this is a series on being a mensch, I'll continue with the Yiddish. We all have tsurris (troubles, disasters, heartache). We all have mishegas (craziness). 
  12. Offer help to someone who is struggling, without waiting to be asked.* 
  13. Let the other driver cut in front of you during rush hour. Don't flip him off. 
  14. Visit someone who is ill. 
  15. Surprise a neighbor with homemade goodies. 
  16. Show up. Attend the weddings. Attend the funerals. 
  17. Listen to the answer -- or the silence -- when you ask someone how they're doing. Respond appropriately. 
  18. Put decency, human dignity and respect first.*

    *Thanks to Carol and Mark for their contributions from Monday's post! We'll wrap up this series tomorrow with our Mensch Manifesto. I hope. I haven't written it yet ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Are Mensches an Endangered Species?

On Monday, as we launched this series, Hedy offered a definition of mensch:

An endangered species of human. But with care and nurturing and best set examples in daily life, it is predicted that their numbers shall increase.

I'm delighted to offer a case in point: Jackson, my friend Cheri's son. Cheri, a fine example of a mensch, has raised Jackson with care and nurturing, and this young man gives me hope for the future. On this, his 12th birthday, Jackson is already a true mensch. He's a role model for the kids in middle school -- and for all of us. We can do what Jackson does:

  • Be respectful.
    Listen when people talk. Make eye contact. Respond.
  • Be kind.
    Take care of other people. Pay attention to those around you. Notice who needs help or encouragement -- and offer it.
  • Be grateful. 
    Realize that your life, with all its challenges, is also filled with so many wonderful reasons for gratitude -- from a roof over your head to birthday cake! 

Gratitude didn't show up in any of the mensch definitions CI readers offered on Monday, but I've been mulling it over, and I think it's an attribute mensches share. Gratitude opens our hearts. And that's a key to letting other people in.

Jackson, it goes against etiquette to thank someone for a thank you note, so I won't thank you for the note below. I will thank you for expressing your gratitude in such a fun, creative way and for making me laugh when I got the card. I'm delighted to be your mom's Jewish mom. Happy birthday!

P.S. Are thank you notes an endangered species? Oy. That's a whole other blog post ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Creativity Tips: Show, Don't Tell

Yesterday, as we started this week-long series, I told you to be a mensch. My bad. A good writer should show, not tell. So, as we move forward, I will show you mensches in action.

Let's start with the story that sparked this series:

When our daughter Kate turned 17, Tom and I bought her a used VW Passat. Kate's 26 now, a real estate agent with a house of her own and two dogs. The Passat was old and had over 100,000 miles on it. She wanted something bigger, newer, better.

She went online and found a great deal on an Audi SUV. So, earlier this month, she sold the Passat. A used car transaction -- it happens every day. What makes this one special?

The day before she sold her Passat, Kate took it to a car wash and spent about $25 to have the attendants clean it and polish it -- inside and out. Then, she drove to a gas station and filled up the tank.

She didn't have to do that. She'd been offered her selling price for the car, sight unseen.

Kate is a mensch. And the young man who bought the VW? He was thrilled. He didn't have a lot of money. He was buying a 12-year-old car. The polished wheels? The full tank of gas? They mattered to him. They mattered a lot.

A mensch thinks about other people -- even strangers -- and is willing to put their needs first. How can you do that that? What can you do, today, to make someone else feel cared for -- to feel special?

P.S. There's nothing more satisfying than raising a mensch. Unless it's raising two mensches! Kate and Mary both inspire me to be a better person by their words and their deeds. They make a momma proud. Tomorrow, I'll share the story of another young mensch -- not related to me! -- who gives me hope for the future.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Creativity Tips: Be a Mensch

Do you ever glance at a newspaper or Facebook or Twitter and just think, "How did we get here?" 

When did it become acceptable -- heck, admirable -- for people to shout hateful, ugly words at other people, simply because they disagree on politics, or religion, or love, or ... well, you name it. 

Whatever happened to manners? We don't have to agree, but can't we get along? Can't we at least be civil?

In my ever-optimistic hope that we can, I'm devoting this week's CI blogs to one piece of Jewish momma advice: Be a mensch. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a mensch is a person of integrity and honor

According to the Urban Dictionary, a mensch is an upstanding, worthy, honorable adult person of either sex.

According to My Jewish Learning, a mensch is literally "man," an honorable, decent, stand-up person, as in, "I don't care who you marry, as long as he's a mensch."

Let's start the week by agreeing on our own definition. I'll start the discussion -- I hope you'll share your ideas/definitions. I'm going to say: A mensch is a decent, honorable, thoughtful human being who demonstrates care and concern about other human beings.

Throughout the week, I'll give you examples of mensches -- along with easy ways you can be a mensch. And, if all goes as planned, we'll wrap it up with a Mensch Manifesto on Friday. 

Now, go have a great week! Be a trendsetter. Be a mensch. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Fun: Finish Every Day and Be Done With It

You know what's fun? Reaching the end of a long week. And why do the weeks with holidays often seem longer than regular weeks?

This week, I sent my revised book proposal back to the agent. Whoo hoo! I'll keep you posted. For now, I'm going to share one of my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes -- it's included in one of the sample chapters I've written for the book:

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. Begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Happy weekend! Go make new nonsense.
Looks like trouble, doesn't he?