Vandalism

Barely a day goes by without some young fool putting graffiti on my drawbridge. I’ve also noticed that if something is breakable and it’s accessible to the public, it will be broken. Signs are defaced. Stickers appear everywhere. Human beings seem to love to trash things.

I’ve never understood this instinct to demolish and destroy. It makes me angry. I don’t see the point of it.

When discussing it with a wise friend of mine recently, he said that he thought it was people’s way of making their mark. Everyone wants to be able to say, “I was here.” “I existed.”

Okay, I can understand having that instinct. It’s why I blog. It’s why people have children. It’s why we create art. Everyone wants to have a legacy. We want to have something to show for having lived on this planet.

When it comes to youth, I suspect they feel as though they will never have an impact, and therefore this petty destruction is their only outlet. They don’t realize that they’ll grow up. They don’t comprehend that there will be other opportunities, but that some of those opportunities will take hard work and sacrifice. Graffiti, on the other hand, happens right here, right now.

I think it’s really important that we teach young people to be positively creative. We should give them projects and outlets for their energy. They should be taught to build their communities. They need to learn to problem solve, not problem create. And dare I say it? The worst, absolute worst educational trend is that of defunding art and music programs in schools.

Producing beauty is essential for everyone who wants to make a mark on this world. Otherwise, ugliness will prevail.

vandalism

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The Dark Side of Festivals

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I really enjoy festivals. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve attended several a year. The Tulip Festival. The Folklife Festival. The International Film Festival. Dragonfest. The Solstice Parade. Pride. Seafair. Salmon Days. Viking Days. The Wooden Boat Festival, Fourth of July Fireworks. Julefest. The Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition. The Parade of Lights.

I love soaking up culture, eating unusual food, hearing unique music, and checking out the amazing crafts. I never fail to have fun at these events. It’s also a great way to hook up with friends who live in other parts of town.

But something has been eating at me ever since I saw this article after the last Fourth of July Fireworks here in Seattle. The day after the fireworks, which are launched from a barge in Lake Union, a cadre of volunteers used kayaks to clean up the toxic debris floating in the water. They apparently clean up 200-400 pounds of trash every year from that one event alone. Much of that is chemically treated fireworks casings. This last time around they also found an unexploded ordinance that the bomb squad had to deal with.

Salmon run through Lake Union. Peregrine Falcons nest there. There are a wide variety of birds that transit this lake. Canada Geese. Osprey. Eagles. Polluting their habitat so that we humans can have a few hours of fun seems kind of extreme to me.

Ever since reading that article, I’m looking at festivals not just in terms of enjoyment, but also in terms of impact. We need to learn to celebrate more responsibly. We need to stop acting like this planet is disposable.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is that I came across another article that made me cringe. It’s entitled What Happens to All Those Beads After Mardi Gras?  It’s lead sentence is, “The city of New Orleans pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from just five blocks of storm drains in 2018”

That is horrifying. It goes on to say that 45 million pounds of plastics come to New Orleans every year for that festival alone, and that the beads in particular contain trace elements of lead. Oh, joy! That’s just what we need. Lead leeching into the Gulf of Mexico.

There are some limited attempts at recycling, and this one guy invented biodegradable beads. These efforts are a step in the right direction, but they’ve barely made a dent in the problem. And let’s face it. Mardi Gras is a money maker for this city. It’s not like this celebration of debauchery, gluttony and environmental selfishness is going anywhere. We need to start thinking out of the box for more earth-friendly revelry.

For example, in lieu of fireworks, how about a laser light show? Several cities have considered this, but have gotten a lot of blowback from citizens who want the traditions to remain unchanged. Well, lest we forget, bloodletting used to be a tradition. Slave auctions were a tradition. Human sacrifice was a tradition. Killing millions of birds each year to adorn ladies hats was a tradition. But we’ve matured and evolved since then. It’s time to take more steps forward.

Will I stop attending festivals? No. Probably not. But I’ll forever look at them differently. And I certainly won’t be dropping beads in the street. But then, I never did that before, either.

For heaven’s sake, how hard is it to clean up after yourself?

Laser Light Show

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The Source of Ripples

I have no idea why I’m remembering this now, but when I was little, maybe 7 or 8, we got a long-term substitute teacher in my classroom. I was young enough to where that confused me a great deal. Teachers, to me, were like monoliths. They shouldn’t budge in any way. I didn’t think they could be substituted, one for another. Teachers were the school, for me. And the school is made of bricks.

And yet here she was. She was nothing like our other teacher. She had impossibly long, straight hair. That made me think she was too young. But she was nice, and it was exciting to see that there was more than one way of doing things.

What fascinated me most about her was that she only had one hand. I don’t remember why. I think she told us about it. She didn’t try to pretend it wasn’t a thing. But she also didn’t act as though it was such a thing that she lived her life differently.

There’s this image of her frozen in my mind, drawing out and cutting two foot lengths of yarn for a project we were doing, and she used the crook of her elbow to do so. I remember that she also had a hook that she could use, but she said she didn’t like it very much. The hook kind of gave me the creeps. She was a kind and gentle person, and the hook was so cold and hard and industrial. It looked like a weapon. I tried not to stare. But I’m sure I did, quite a bit.

And then, one day, just like that, she was gone, and our old, much less exotic teacher was back. I don’t even think we got to say goodbye. I’ve wondered, over the years, what happened to her. I don’t even remember her name. She’d be in her 70’s now. I think that was the first time I remembered someone disappearing out of my life without a trace. It was very strange. (I had no memory of my father ever being there in the first place, so I never thought of him as having disappeared.)

Before she left, she had us do a project where we chose a children’s book to read, and then sent a letter to the author. I can’t remember what book I chose, or what I said to the author, but I got a really nice letter back. It wasn’t from the author, though. It was from the editor, telling me that she was sorry to say that the author had passed away, but that he would have really liked my letter a lot, and she thanked me for taking the time to write it.

It made me sad. It confused me. I didn’t know what “passed away” meant. It had to be explained to me. And then there was the whole… “but… but… I just read the book. How could he be dead?” concept to get past.

How do you explain to a small child that even though someone has died, they can still have an impact on you after the fact? You can still read their words, or see their good or bad deeds, or benefit from their inventions, or even see them walking and talking on your television, and yet they’re gone. Gone. How is that possible?

Even though I understand the science behind it now, it still feels strange to me. Ripples emanate from the stones we cast into the pond of life. They might be cast by those who are no longer living or, at the very least, are no longer present. And yet they are still rocking our boats. The energy lives on, even when the generator thereof is long gone.

What a concept.

Ripples

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Clicking Your Way to a Better World

I must admit that I spend entirely too much time on the internet. You do, too. Don’t believe me? What are you doing right now? Tiptoeing through the tulips? I think not.

(Not that I’m not happy to see you. I’d miss you if you weren’t here. I really would.)

Sometimes I think I really should make a permanent, all-encompassing change in my life and reduce my screen time to, say, an hour a day. But gimme a break. I’m as likely to do that as I am to give up pizza, and I have the thighs to prove it.

I do try to do the next best thing, though. There are quite a few sites out there that allow you to have a positive impact on the world simply by clicking a button. That’s amazing. I can save the world while staying comfortably potatoed on my couch. (Yup. Potato is now a verb. Because I say so.)

What follows are some of my favorite “positive click” sites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  • Ecosia. This is a search engine, similar to Google, with an important difference. For every 45 searches you do on Ecosia, they will plant a tree. They’ve planted more than 20 million trees so far. That makes me incredibly happy. So Ecosia is now my default search engine.

  • Free Rice. This is a fun site. You can feed the world while learning things. Basically, you choose a topic, such as English Vocabulary, or World Landmarks, or Language Learning, or SAT Test Preparation, or Human Anatomy, and you’ll then be asked a series of questions. For every question you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program. 10 grains of rice doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quickly. So learn stuff and feed people. It’s the ultimate win/win situation!

  • The GreaterGood. I cannot say enough about this site. Everything you do there will have a positive impact. They have various categories, such as Hunger, Breast Cancer, Animals, and Veterans, and if you go to those sections of the site once a day and click, you will be helping these causes, and it won’t cost you a penny. But beware. They also have a store, and it has the coolest clothes and shoes and jewelry that you have ever seen in your life. And when you buy an item, more donations kick in. For example, I bought an awesome jacket, and because of that, they donated 50 bowls of dogfood to an animal shelter. I think about that every time I wear that jacket, and it makes me feel even warmer.

There are all kinds of websites out there that have positive side effects. You just have to look. If you can suggest any other sites of this type, by all means, include them in the comments section, below! And keep on clicking!

make a difference

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On Having an Impact

On the day I wrote this, I was told by one friend that he learned about Kiva.org because of me, and that he and his daughter have been making microloans through them ever since. Another friend chimed in and said it was the same for her. This gave me a lump in my throat, because it means that I played a small part in improving the lives of people in other parts of the world without even realizing it. And some day those people whose lives have improved will go on to improve other people’s lives, and so on, and so on. In its own quiet way, it’s immortality. We are all so interconnected in ways we don’t even realize. It’s miraculous when you think about it. What a gift!

And then, less than an hour later, I was contacted by Mariah, one of my favorite readers, who told me that not only has she read my book, but she also printed out the blog post that I wrote about her several months back, and it hangs on her wall. Okay. Happy tears. Somewhere in South Carolina hangs one of my blog posts. Wow. Just… wow.

Learning that I’ve had an impact on people means so much to me. It’s more precious than gold. It tells me that my life is worth living, and that all the challenges and all the potholes in my path have been worthwhile. It’s validation. It’s uplifting.

If someone in your life has had a positive impact on you, dear reader, I strongly encourage you to tell them so. They may not realize it. And hearing it, I guarantee, will have a positive impact upon them.

See? It’s easier than you think.

impact

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Oh, Happy Day!

One of my favorite sayings is that a fish doesn’t realize it’s in water until it jumps out of it. I can totally relate to that. I just jumped out of something myself. Epic revelation!

I just got some really, really, really good news, which unfortunately I can’t share with you, dear readers. Just think about the best news you’ve ever heard in your life, and it’s on that level. The news is so good, in fact, that I’m feeling a little nauseous from sheer relief.

And therein lies the situation I just jumped from. Yes, I knew I had been under an incredible amount of stress. Yes, I knew it was making me miserable. But having the problem whisked out from under me like a tablecloth yanked out from under my mother’s best china, with nary a break, is, well, life-changing. There’s adrenaline involved, for sure. I don’t think I realized just how much the situation was impacting me on the most fundamental of levels.

I. Am. Free!!!!!!!!!

That’s an odd feeling. Because up to this moment I didn’t realize I hadn’t been free. I didn’t truly get how shackled I was to my stress and anxiety.

I feel like jumping in puddles! I feel like kissing someone! I feel like a new person. What a gift!

It’s moments like this that make life truly worthwhile. I hope that you get to have a similar experience at least once in your life. And when you do, I hope you recognize it for what it is: a leap out of your personal pond. Revel in it!

Joy

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Vicarious Trauma

You know shit is getting real when your doctor actually prescribes that you don’t watch the news for a week. Between North Korea and Puerto Rico, my blood pressure is higher than it ought to be. So let the news blackout begin.

For those of you in the helping professions in particular, vicarious trauma is a problem that should be taken very seriously. Counselors, health professionals, firemen, police officers, social workers, soldiers, even journalists get exposed to other people’s trauma on a daily basis, and unless they have hearts of stone, these experiences, albeit secondhand, impact them as well. More and more, as all of us have greater access to disasters on a global scale, I’m beginning to believe that every single one of us is exposed to vicarious trauma.

Do you ever feel like you just can’t listen to one more news item without losing your mind? Are you convinced that one more presidential tweet just might send you over the edge? Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, forest fires… the overwhelming number of Youtube videos showing animal abuse and neglect… it is just too much to take in.

Think of trauma like a pebble thrown into a pond. The ripples that flow outward from that pebble effect all of us. It feels like we can never do enough. It’s exhausting. It makes you feel guilty, or afraid, or angry, or cynical. Sometimes it makes you feel numb, or helpless, or hopeless.

All of these are natural responses to vicarious trauma, but they’re not particularly helpful. It’s important that you learn to practice compassion for yourself as well as for other people. Give yourself a break. Be kind to you. Be sure to give yourself opportunities to engage in things outside your work, or outside the news. Set the burden down every now and then. Center yourself with family and friends. Get local. Allow yourself to have limits.

Most of all, talk to people. You are not alone. We are all getting a bit burned out. We need each other to weather the storms.

hang in

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