Daymaker - a person who performs acts of kindness with the intention of making the world a better place.
~ David Wagner
, author of Life as a Daymaker; how to change the world by making someone's day ~

DayMaker - any thought, word, or deed that spreads happiness, compassion, or fruitful ideas.
~ Annis Cassells ~

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Wait?

One month to go in 2011. One month to get done what we’ve wanted to accomplish this year, to tie up loose ends. Or, one month to make a good start on something that remains on our “lists.”

This week I met a new woman in the dressing room after yoga class at Body XChange Fitness Spa. She was asking about different classes that are offered. Having spent this year working on my goal of keeping fit and maintaining my 35-lb. weight loss, I could tell her about the variety of classes in which I’d participated.

She had joined last week, right before Thanksgiving, and told me, “I need to do something, and I’m not waiting until the first of the year and New Year’s resolutions. I’m starting now.”

As I reflected on our conversation, I realized that many people normally think about starting something at a beginning mark like January 1st or Monday morning or the first day of the new month. What that does for me is to prolong the limbo period -- the in-between time. I am thinking about an action I want or need to take, but I haven’t committed to it yet. It’s a nagging, uncomfortable time in which I am treading water-- or I’m in denial.

I’m better off getting going on it. Like that afternoon I got up off the couch, put on my sneakers, and went for a walk after hearing Dr. Oz talk about the effects of Type 2 diabetes. That 45-minute walk was the start of my journey toward better health. Waiting wasn’t an option.

What’s still on your 2011 “to do” list? There’s one month left in this year. Why wait?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When Friends Become Family

Families are like potlucks. We partake of whatever’s there. Some dishes we love and want more helpings, and others we take with a grain of salt or test a spoonful at a time. A few dishes, we may have sampled before and know that they are not to our particular taste so we leave them alone.

Gene & Elaine
The Women of Substance

Friends are different. Circumstances or the Universe bring us together, and before we know it, those folks have a home in our hearts. Often it happens when we’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, like I was when I ran into Elaine and Gene in Rooster’s, a little coffee shop in Medford, Oregon. Or, when I met those seven extraordinary women by merely walking into Counseling 101 at Cal State Bakersfield back in 1995.

After the initial contact, some of those friends draw even closer; they become like family. Unlike the days when people stayed put, biological families are often spread out across the country or the globe.  We’ve begun to enfold the folks whose lives intersect with ours on a regular basis, and regard them as family.
They become our “Family of Choice.”

The mutual love, respect, and caring that bind families of choice are every bit as present and strong as our best relationships with the family into which we were born. We are there to support and help in times of trouble and to celebrate the moments of joy. 

Sometimes it’s day-to-day contact. We’re helping each other with child-care, making a dinner to share, running an errand, working together on a project, or otherwise checking in. When miles separate us, the warm feeling we have from understanding our special relationship as part of each others’ family of choice lifts our spirits.

These past few years, I’ve been proud and grateful to witness and take part in countless examples of families of choice in action. I’ve seen friends take on the roles of sisters, brothers, parents, and kids, many handling responsibilities that had traditionally been up to family members.

It was the set of friends, the family of choice, who sat with one of my former colleagues in the hospital as she transitioned during her last hour of life when there was no way that her out-of-state siblings could get there.
Karen, Marilyn, Mary, and Annie
My Coos Bay, Oregon, family of choice cheered and celebrated with me and for me when my story in Chicken Soup for the Soul was published last summer. Two of them, Karen and Marilyn, were the catalysts for the gratifying book signing event that occurred there.

And, I can never adequately express my appreciation to “Mom Jane,” a retired nurse in Chapel Hill, NC, who accompanied my daughter Asila to numerous medical appointments. When we talk about Asila, we refer to her as “our daughter.”
As human beings, we have an innate need for love and belonging. Being part of a family unit is a prime factor in fulfilling that need, no matter the unit’s origin. Blood may be thicker than water, but it’s also friends who’ve become family who add depth, happiness, and richness to our lives.
Who are some of the people who are part of your family of choice?
~ xoA ~

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Art for MY Sake

Art uplifts me; it refreshes, heals, and inspires. Art makes me laugh, cry, and think. Sometimes it frightens me. It makes me see things with new eyes. I may be seated in the audience, immersed in making art, turning the pages of a novel, or traipsing through galleries or museums, but no matter my level of involvement, art changes me.

I marvel at the talented performers at our local Spotlight Theatre, where I saw the most recent offering, Sweeney Todd. It was amazing to watch as the actors brought their characters to life with mannerisms and body language that transformed them.  With a few changes in her posture and, I’m sure, attitude, a young actress became an aged bird vendor in one scene and a pregnant woman soon after.

A few days later, I was weaving my way through the crowd of fans to see the Bakersfield stop of the “So You Think You Can Dance” tour. Brother John had arranged for our tickets, and we found ourselves a mere six rows back on the floor level at Rabobank Arena. We could feel the music and see the dancers’ faces, able to note their expressions and subtle changes.  The troupe’s intricate precision moves, coupled with the pulsing rhythms of high-energy music, thrilled and enlivened the audience. We danced in our seats.

I’m no artist. But, my occasional forays into the world of creating visual art have been satisfying. One Saturday morning last spring, my friend Madeline and I tried out one of the many workshops offered by Mercy Hospital’s Art for Healing program, “Your Creative Muse.”  The facilitator helped us tap into our creativity in a relaxed, nonchalant atmosphere. As we scribbled color on a page, stress faded and thoughts just came and went, much akin to meditation.  Guided to close inspection of our finished pieces, we began to see shapes and patterns in the scribbles. That was just the warm-up. Soon, we were making abstract art greeting cards using the same method, proudly showing off our designs and complimenting classmates’ creations.

In October 2010, Judy and I gathered some scrapbooking supplies from home and drove down to Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles to take part their “Home, Sweet Home”  interactive art installation.  Their concept of creating a neighborhood from scratch encouraged  creativity and vision in constructing a miniature neighborhood in Los Angeles with participant-made buildings -- houses, apartments, and businesses of all kinds. Just as fascinating was how the visual art led to performance art as we got into character, playing the part of the fitness center owners and community members. We did a “radio interview”, gave a Zumba demo, talked with the “mail carrier” and got right into the game. Adults at play.

Art brings joy, beauty, ideas, fun, and sometimes a respite. Participating in the arts is something I do to help keep art available for everyone in our community, especially our youth. But, when I think about it, I realize, I’m doing it for me.

~ xoA ~