Monthly Archives: January 2011


Listening to the hallowed thump of my father’s fingers on the wood, the tiny squeak of the tuning pegs pulling tension on the strings, my two brothers and I gazed like giddy, perfect Buddhas into the hollow bodies of our parents’ Martin guitars from our spot on the floor at their feet.

And we watched their fingers strum and pick—the steel and the nylon—as they fumbled with their capos, and belted out the pages, one soprano, one alto, of torn sheet music with their throats.

John Denver, Jerry Jeff, Emmy Lou, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Kris Kristofferson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band…

These folky jam sessions where my father sang into my mothers eyes and struggled to reach those higher notes never lasted all that long. The moments before someone was first to put down his or her guitar, to grab a cigarette, sounded best. The last notes hung sweetly like a tremolo, something mysterious and dark hovering overhead, a lumpy fog of calamitous death.

And it held us in place, for fear the slightest of our movements be the cause of this end. Except our voices, which rose above each plucked string along the fret, and danced, and knew we had no choice but to let go.

Donating and other feel good acts

In 2004, when my dad died, he left my brothers and I with a few bucks. Knowing nothing about money I put a bit aside, and then proceeded to spend like a mad woman for the next few years, ad nauseam. You know when the rich tell you that money makes them feel “empty” inside, and that it can’t buy happiness? Bullshit. I was deliriously happy. In fact, I was so happy and so self-focused that I didn’t once think to donate any of that cash to a worthy cause, to the homeless, to the environment. Nothing. Sadly, all my money went to Eli Tahari, Roberto Cavalli and Valentino. It went to a heated bathroom floor and a shower stall with talavera tiles. Two trips across country and one to Spain. It went to other more meaningful places too: lavish gifts for the family, dinners out, ridiculously expensive gifts for transient boyfriends.

But all that’s another story. Blah, blah, blah. Truth is, in a sense, I had no purpose, whether I realized it or not.

But then a miraculous thing happened when I lost it all– and I did lose it all, like one loses her breath breathing in anticipation of being told, “Just kidding! It’s all still there.”–when I really lost it all, except my pay check (and even that was cut in half!) something in me changed. I didn’t fall a part, or go into debt, or lose my sense of self. Instead, for the first time, I woke up and recognized the value of all that money. Oh! We only truly appreciate something until after it’s gone. I immediately paid off any balance on credit cards, I changed my lifestyle drastically and I tightened up my budget– I washed my own car, ate out less, cancelled my subscriptions, and said goodbye to the landscapers, handymen and cleaning ladies (OK, I admit, I kept the cleaning lady…but I worked her into the budget). But definitely no more Netflix, Weigh Watcher’s or monthly spa treatments. I even…dare I say it…got rid of the Audi.

In the wake of all this loss and financial restructuring, I added something to the budget for the first time, something that most people don’t add when they lose money: a budget for donating. Now that I had so little myself, I recognized the value in giving. Of course, I was clumsy at first. In the beginning, I donated frivolously: NPR, WHYY, Rutgers University. Then I donated foolishly: a light bulb company that claimed to help keep the blind in business (A gazillion light bulbs later I found out this was a scam). Finally, I made donations that made sense: I drove bags of winter coats, toiletries and money to a battered women’s shelter. I donated hundreds of self-help books to a halfway house for alcoholics, and I stuffed goody bags with fruits, raisins, juice boxes, chocolate and WaWa gift cards to be handed out to the homeless. It made me feel good. It made me feel privileged. What’s more, it made me feel as though I had a purpose.

Money is a strange bird. And only when you have it and then lose it do you recognize how important it is to share it, to do good with it. Then again, maybe that’s just me. Maybe I needed to be taught the value of money in a harsher way. Because honestly, there’s an amazing amount of donating that still goes on,despite this tough economy. The money raised during marathons, the gifts given to children with cancer, the bricks bought to save a life. People are inherently generous. And every day I see it, I am inspired to do more.

And so tomorrow, marks the first annual goody bag gift giving adventure in Philly. D and I will be taking these bags and handing them out to those in need. I was able to raise $220 this year. I got a late start. But maybe next year, we can do a little better.

Winter blues

"Beyond Repair"

Day two of severe mood flop. January dragging on too long…Need a distraction…Drowning in my own boredom….Help!

I’m not sure if this is the winter blues or the fact that I’m coming down from a one-month coffee high. Whatever the case, I’m miserable around this time of year. Any new and exciting stimuli is a ray of sunlight. Trouble is, I’m usually too depressed or unmotivated to actually go out and look for stuff to stimulate me. When I’m really withdrawn (hours of watching Cold Case Files and Dr. Phil) I tend to wait for someone to knock on the front door. That’s about the only thing I’ve got going for me from January until late March. Well, hello UPS guy! That package for me? No? Wrong address? But, I’m sure I ordered something online. Wait…come back..!

Of course there’s my perfect guy, and the kids, and a couple events coming up, and if I’m really in the mood, there’s always planning for a summer vacation. But I suppose it’s just my circadian hibernation rhythms taking over making all that seem, well, a little, dare I say it, bland. So while the seasonal affective disorder makes its yearly round, I’ve come up with a plan. Only read happy websites. Instead of letting the brain atrophy and the heart sink, I’ve found some interesting websites to help draw me back into the world of the living. Let’s hope these do the trick. If not, there’s always shopping online.

  • Jason Shen’s blog is, well, fun. Even though it’s a little media/corporate driven he’s come up with really inspiring blogs. One in particular is something called a “Rejection Challenge,” which, if I were single, might be a huge motivation for me to get off my arse and go ask someone out on a date. I’m a sucker for challenges, and for taking calculated risks.
  • The Happiness Project: “Happiness, many people assume, is boring – a complacent state of mind for self-absorbed, uninteresting people,” says Gretchen Rubin on her highly acclaimed website. And yet we all want it. Well, if this site doesn’t offer a nugget of how to be happy, I don’t know what else will. Peruse the site. See if you can’t find a dozen uplifting concepts. Either that, or be happy you don’t have to visit that site every day. Even for me, Gretchen can be a little too much.
  • Global Good News: This is one of my favorite sites, especially the Maharishi’s funkadelic fashion. And while it’s an India-based religious website, the designers have done a great job collecting positive news around the world.
  • TED: I was surprised to learn that not many people know about “TED,” (“Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”), so I’m posting it here as one of the greatest resources for learning ANYTHING. I could spend all day here.
  • Horse Pig Cow: Powerful woman, uplifting, inspiring, funny, brave. Subscribe. I did.
  • My Marrakesh: Simply beautiful website on Moroccan design and living. I waste time here every winter, dreaming about the desert.

Dream of the week: concept of Christianity

The Great Spirits Portrait - Robert Donaghey

Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.
– Arthur Schopenhauer

Last night I had a dream that I was invited to attend an annual symposium of Christians and non-Christians (non-Christians that is, whose belief in history, science and religion are not entirely Christian based). The argument from the Christians was, every year, that non-Christians are cold, scientific atheists who do not believe in God and therefore, are judged as faithless, empty heathens who aren’t going to heaven. The argument from the non-Christians, of which I was one, was one of defensiveness, that non-Christians are warm, loving, well-educated, spiritual people who are tired of constantly being judged falsely for not having the same beliefs as the Christians. We also contended that Christians are unrealistic thinkers who can’t exist outside the box of man-made religion and have no ability or will to redefine or reinterpret some of the old, outmoded verses of their bible that simply do not apply to life today or ever,and that faith is not fact and others should not be judged on their ability or inability to *believe* in one thing, when there are other things to believe in.

Everyone at the symposium was relatively friendly to one another, despite the black and white thinking. But sadly, the non-Christians only had about five tables to the Christians’ 15. Needless to say, I felt a little out-numbered.

As the symposium was about to begin, I ran to use the bathroom, which was rather dirty. As I waited in line, I saw one of the Christian boys stick his head down the toilet. I was horrified to see this. His mother, who was helping her youngest daughter in the stall next to the boy, yelled over to her son, “What the heck are you doing?” I then quickly jumped in and replied, “He’s sticking his head down a dirty toilet,” believing she’d jump up and grab him in outrage. But that didn’t happen. The mother, obviously exasperated by her situation and her son’s mindlessness, pulled both of her kids out of the stalls and simply said to her son, “Can you please behave?” And that was it. She dragged her kids out of the bathroom, her son’s head dripping wet, and they went to find their seats.

And then I woke up and thought this:

I used to believe that progress via technology and science was part of human evolution. That consumerism, capitalism and massive development was a natural human progression. I used to believe that anthropological societies like tribal peoples in Australia, Africa and South America who didn’t move forward and adopt new technology like “Westerners” were not evolving. That their growth was in some way, stunted. But after reading Vine Deloria’s God is Red I now recognize our progress is part of the trajectory of Christianity, not evolution. Progress, science, technology, manifest destiny, forcefully overtaking new lands from non-Christian peoples– many of these are Christian concepts.

I also thought, that just like the boy sticking his head in the toilet, people do crazy things that are interpreted in all kinds of ways. Even though I can be horrified over something seemingly horrifying, someone else may simply be agitated. Which response is correct? Which is the “true” response. Answer: there isn’t one. There never is. One-thousand Frenchmen can be wrong.

I think that it is so difficult for us to accept new ways of living and different cultural attitudes because we are so mired down in judging people for not being what we believe they should be. We believe, like I did, that there is only one truth, one way, one direction. I now know this not to be the case. There are many ways to live and progress. Christianity is not “the” way, it is “one” way. And yet, just like the mother in the dream, if I tried to convince a Christian of this, I’d probably be looked at like I had four heads.