Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Ways We Get What We Need

Woke up this morning, as I have every day for a while now, with a dream fragment about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in my mind. I never can remember what the dream is about, just that much. Today I asked myself: if this dream was a form of guidance what does it say I need? What did the Loma Prieta earthquake provide for me? What did I learn from it? What do I need now?

Interestingly enough, I did not dwell on how frightening or bad that was. I was married then and my ex-husband's business literally slid down a hill, his partner's wife insisted on leaving town the very next day, and a government contract which had involved almost a year of work was lost and never paid. The foundation of our house cracked and crumbled and we lived in the only liveable room with all our belongings piled up around us for years after that before we got other jobs and earned enough money (in addition to the minimal FEMA relief we qualified for) to rebuild and start again.

But I don't remember that when I wake up in the morning with these dreams. I think of the good things that eventually came of it instead.

So today when I asked "what came of it?" my first response was that I learned the value of hanging in and believing we'll get what we need, step by step over the long haul. As I said before, rebuilding took years! There was no overnight success on this path. And even when it looked bleakest and I had to give up on something I really wanted in order to get a regular job to help pay my way, I received skills and experiences so valuable Paul and I are actually depending on those things today.

Back then I was attempting to create a career as a fine artist/craftsperson. I made quilts out of very precisely cut tiny squares and triangles of decorated paper that I pasted to a backing board, framed and hung on the wall. This came out of my previous employment as a freelance paste-up artist, a career that had just become obsolete.

Back in the horse and buggy days, before Macintosh, graphic arts were done by hand. Imagine that! We ordered type set in large sheets from a typographer, printed photographs in a dark room, ran the sheets of type and photos through a waxing machine to get the backs sticky, and very carefully cut them out after lining everything up precisely with a T-square on a drawing table. The bits and pieces were then placed into exact position on a backing board to create ads, posters, magazine pages, whatever we were working on, and burnished into place with a glass roller. Then those pages were photographically transferred to printing plates of one kind or another and printed. The whole process from original concept to end result took weeks and certain effects we don't think twice about doing now were rarely if ever attempted at all. It required great skill and patience and I loved the meditative quality of it but in just a few short years after the Mac came on the scene that whole profession was gone.

I remember going to the brand new Computer Museum in Boston in 1984. My graphic design buddies and I came up to the "Wave of the Future" exhibit featuring the first tiny Mac and laughed! Yeah, like that was going to be how we did graphic design for now on. Tell us another one, ha, ha.

Less than a year later John and I moved to Santa Cruz and with Silicon Valley just a short distance away the graphic arts revolution wasn't just a pipe dream, it was already here! I couldn't face the idea of spending thousands of dollars for a computer and new software and spending months of my time to learn to do what I did already, so I was put out of work overnight and decided to pursue my deeper dream of doing my own thing as an artist, following wherever that might lead.

Just before the Loma Prieta earthquake hit I had hit a perceived limit on the art, too. I had a single quilt design that was a great success—a small blue and pink silly one with a heart in the center and tiny teddy bears in the corners—but, on my nonexistent budget, I couldn't figure out how to pay someone to reproduce them for me and I was going out of my mind doing it myself. I didn't go into the arts to work on an assembly line—boring!—and I didn't have enough of a profit margin to make it worthwhile. Looking back on it now I can see that had I gotten help to figure that piece out I could have made several of my products into a great success...but I didn't know then what I know now. That had to come as a result of our entire way of life crashing to a halt and waking up to the fact that I had to do something different.

Artisans Gallery, where I sold my work, lay in ruins after the quake, as were all the framed quilts I had been getting ready for a show. Shards of broken glass and twisted frames gouged holes into some of my favorite pieces. I salvaged what I could and kept selling what I had as long as I could but with our finances in shambles it just didn't make sense. So I mourned my losses, gathered up my courage and looked for a job doing disaster relief. The Downtown Association wanted a graphic designer. All the downtown businesses were operating out of tents and they needed someone to help create a paper newsletter and other old-fashioned devices to keep the flood of information merchants needed to carry on flowing. Apple had just donated a couple of brand new Macintosh computers to the cause and the staff they had didn't know how to turn them on or what to do with them once they did.

The interviewer said to me "If you can show us how to do the things we need these machines to do the job is yours." I thought I was doomed but I took a deep breath and asked what they needed to know. "Cut and Paste"! Unbelievably, a friend had only just shown me how to do that a couple of weeks before. It was the only thing I knew how to do. But I got the job—I knew more than they did—and got paid to teach myself everything else I needed to know.

Today I do all the ads Paul and I need, design and maintain our websites and helped him to start doing his own. Lately we've been using our computer skills to create products to sell using our photography and artwork. I even put an old quilt design on the gift shop we're creating through Cafepress and it was the first design we sold! (And the next and most popular design we've sold so far features a really simple idea with a heart in the middle.) So, I've come full circle on this. I now know several ways to do what I didn't know back then and the money from at least that one design is coming in faster than I would have expected.

So back to the original question: what do we need? What did that dream wake me up to tell? Well, it's very easy to get discouraged when the phone isn't ringing off the hook. It's hard to remember that we always get what we need in the time it takes and that sometimes what seems like a terrible delay actually allows this to happen. It gives us time to learn something new, for example. To expand our concept of who we are and what we can do. Time for the market to catch up to our innovations or time to develop new concepts and get them done.

I wouldn't be doing any of the things we're doing now—the spiritual practice, the perfume business, our cards and T-shirts, prints and what-have-you at Cafepress—without all the experiences that have come since that earthquake in 1989. I wouldn't have known how or even imagined it. You know the advice New Age people like to give—visualize what you want in every detail, let the dream go and allow what you dream to manifest for you? Ummm. What about those dreams that are way bigger than you can dream of? What about horrible occurrences that give you exactly the experiences you need to change and grow in ways you wouldn't be able to visualize now?

Sometimes it is as simple as "dream it, be it." But you also need to allow the time it takes to grow.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Save the Internet

Craig's List has a link to this organization so I read what was there and decided that it was an important enough issue to link to here. I don't like reading about large monopoly-inspiring industries deciding what we have access to and what we have to pay more money for -- especially since the internet is such an important resource for keeping people connected and informed on a global level.

Take a look at this website! Sign their petition and pass the information to your friends. You might not care about it now... but sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bubbe Koretsky

I woke up from dreams today I couldn't understand and found myself musing on my grandmother Bubbe Koretsky instead. Again, I don't understand the connection and why I'd be thinking about her so strongly after all this time. She died when I was in college.

My mother speaks of her mother as a traditionalist. She grew up an Orthodox Jew in a village named Vilna Guberniya in the Pale of Settlement region of western Russia until she was 13 years old. Then she immigrated to the United States to be with her arranged husband who immigrated before her to find work and establish a home. When I knew her she still spoke Yiddish and cooked traditional foods. Homemade kreplach and blintzes, sweet and sour stuffed cabbage and old-fashioned Russian chicken soup made with large chunks of onion, a whole uncut carrot and stalks of uncut celery in every dish. When I visited Russia on a senior class trip in high school we were served soup made this exact same way. My classmates were horrified because they didn't know how to eat the soft whole vegetables in their dish (you cut into them with your spoon, of course) but I reveled in knowing that I was in the vicinity of where my grandmother may have learned to cook.

Even so my grandmother seemed anything but traditional to me. She loved watching old Elvis movies and pro wrestling on TV. She played canasta and drank schnaps with my sister and kept old dolls in horrifying condition amongst the plants she grew in her sun parlor. She crocheted wonderful woolen scarves with metallic threads woven in which I wore up until a few years ago when they were in shreds. When we went out to eat or to her favorite place, Salem Willows (she pronounced it "Salem Villows"), she always wore a garishly colored head scarf along with bright red lipstick and all the costume jewelry she owned looped around her neck all at once.

At least that's how I remember it now. I don't actually remember much of anything else. Just that she had a jovial attitude and was pleasant to be around. I didn't speak her language and she barely spoke mine so we never had a lot of conversation. But I felt loved and watched out for in her home and I suppose that's all any child really needs to know.

I suppose some client of mine will show up speaking of her grandmother some time soon or I'll learn something that makes this set of memories and why they showed up now make more sense. My life seems to be like that a lot now. Mysterious thoughts and feelings that come out of thin air and only make sense in connection to other people I meet or events that occur later.

I woke up earlier this week with the half-dreaming idea that this would be a great day to go to Vermont, not very easy to accomplish in a few hours driving from the far edge of California. Instead a few hours later my ex-husband told me an old friend of his had died and he was already making arrangements to fly to Vermont later this week to be at the memorial.

Things like that happen but I always find it odd. The heads-up sometimes helps in the course of a session but John going to Vermont is another thing again. It must be the personal connection. Telepathic communication? I don't know if or when I'll ever know.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Blessed Unrest Video

Another inspirational video, this time with Paul Hawken who has been an influence on me.

What I loved about this was the importance of understanding that we're not in this world alone. That we're all in this together and more is being done by small community organizations than anyone might otherwise think.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

So You Want to be a Star?

When I was a kid I wanted to be up on stage singing, perhaps performing in musical comedy, maybe dancing, perhaps doing something else. I didn't know. All I knew is I loved music, went around the house with music in my head all day, happily singing whatever pop or musical comedy song I heard and loved that day.

I was turned away from that dream early and often. Not because I couldn't sing well but for other reasons beyond my control. Being different mostly and not knowing how to fit in.

Today I got a wonderful inspirational video sent to my email box. It's at and it shows a man auditioning for a British TV Show called "Britain's Got Talent." Very similar in many respects to "American Idol"— Simon Cowell is even one of the judges—but this was an instance that even blew Simon away.

A humble unassuming mobile phone salesman performed an operatic aria that moved the audience and judges to tears and had people on their feet roaring before he was halfway finished. In this video clip and a couple others available on You Tube this very quiet man talked about his lack of confidence, how he was always made fun of and made the outsider for being "different" in some way he really couldn't fathom, and how it was only when he was singing that he really felt okay. The audience and judges loved him now and he couldn't quite believe what was happening. It was inspiring and left me quite moved and not really quite sure what to do with the feelings this floodgate opened up for me.

I think what moved me most is that this man won such accolades for doing something he loved-- not for doing something that made sense, something he might be expected to do, something the masses respect. He chose a genre most Americans hate -- he sang an opera. And he was awe-inspiring.

The person who sent the link to me is a very sweet person named Ann Albers who makes a living partially by being an "angel communicator." She channels messages from the other side that are all about manifestation, trust and faith and sends them out via email once a week. I recommend getting on her mailing list. I like the messages but what really sells me on her is her personal commentary -- what she says about herself and how the messages address issues she has had in her own life.

This week she mentioned that she sometimes passes up opportunities that other people would give anything for. She turned down a radio show and has decided against finding a major publishing house for the book she is writing right now. After talking with other people in the business -- people who have become famous on the book promotion trail -- she realized she didn't want to pursue "success" like this. They complain about never being home, always needing to be on the road so much of the time, trying to do right by the publisher's agenda, they no longer feel able to set their own timetables and follow the dictates of their own hearts.

Hmmm. So many people get sucked into doing the expected thing, thinking this is their only chance for success. I wonder about that now. I wouldn't mind having a book contract for one of the projects I have in mind. But does becoming a "star" and attaining "success" really mean you no longer own your life? Or is that a phase on the road to true success -- setting limits for those who think they get to own your ass and insisting that you're the boss and doing right by yourself first, and then right by the people you're doing business with.

I seem to run into variations on this theme again and again. Be yourself. To your own self be true. Hard to do when your own way is so unexpected and different from the norm. But I'm starting to see the wisdom in it and I expect it will lead to a lot more rewards.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Home is Where the Heart Is ("I Want to Go Home")

I've been way too busy to write a blog these days—I'm working on a book! Three books, actually, but I just got a letter granting me full use of the articles I wrote when I was a family caregiving consultant for people taking care of a family member with Alzheimer's Disease and other mostly progressive dementing illnesses. I wrote an article a month for five years—starting a few months before I worked for that agency (I added the newsletter to my official duties there)—so, essentially, I have most of a book written already. All I have to do is edit it and lay out the pages. So that's what I'm doing. Here's one of my favorite pieces. It was in answer to numerous requests from caregivers to discuss the phenomena of their patient no longer recognizing where they are and begging over and over to "go home."

Home is Where the Heart Is
("I Want to Go Home")

"...Every day's an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me
The movies and the factories
And every stranger's face I see
Reminds me that I long to be

Homeward Bound
I wish I was
Homeward Bound
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me ...."
--From "Homeward Bound", song lyrics by Simon & Garfunkel, 1966

On my recent trip back east I had a megadose of "home." People always ask how California is different from New England and I talk about old houses and white church steeples, green green grass in the hottest summer, autumn leaves, and rolling hills. I talk about the way people talk and what they talk about, how they dress and how they act. It's a completely different culture in all kinds of subtle and not so subtle ways but what really makes New England home for me is harder to explain. It's a feeling of place—the absolutely solid conviction that this is a place that supports me, where I feel safe, where I can relax. I see those white colonial houses with their black shutters sitting peacefully around the town green with the white-steepled First Congregational Church at the corner (those classic New England churches are always "First Congregational", don't ask me why) and even though I’m Jewish and I've never stepped inside one of those structures in my life I feel right at home.

It's the touch of familiar—I know this. I know how to act here. I know what's expected of me. And I know what to expect. When my parents took me to a play and insisted that we arrive a FULL HOUR EARLY even though it was reserved seating and we had our tickets already I was surprised to see the parking lot filled with other elderly people waiting in their cars for the doors to open. However, when the performance scheduled for 8 o'clock started exactly on the dot of eight I breathed a sigh of relief. I haven't been to an event that started on time in 16 years, the entire time I've been in Santa Cruz. It's those little things that really don't matter that give you the reassurance that all is well. It's as it should be. I know this. I'm safe here.

Dementing illnesses strip this safety away. Little by little and sometimes in large chunks the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The little things a person unconsciously counts on to clue them in to where they are, who they are, how they should act and what they should expect disappears. The family starts to hear "I want to go home" over and over. What this really means is "I don't feel safe anymore." "Nothing is familiar." "I want to go where I don't have to worry, where I can rest, relax, breathe deeply and know everything is alright."

Unfortunately, when you are losing your mind everything is NOT alright no matter what anyone says to convince you otherwise.

Families resort to all kinds of tricks to deal with this and sometimes that works. Sometimes going for a drive around the block and going through the familiar action of walking up to and opening the front door to one's house is enough to trigger the feeling of "at homeness" for a confused patient. An old favorite dessert or a piece of music can do the same thing.

But when all else fails—the usual tricks, the false reassurance, the distractions—it's time to get honest. Things aren't the same anymore. Neither one of you is in familiar territory anymore and it does feel terrible.

But home isn't just where things feel familiar. "Home is where the heart is." "Home is where they have to take you in." "Home is where everyone knows your name." Home is where you know you are loved. So bank on that instead.

First acknowledge the pain and confusion outloud. "You're right. Everything has changed and there's nothing we can do about it. I'm so sorry. I wish I could make it different but I can't."

Then remind the patient (and yourself) that you still have love, the ability to show you care and the ability to receive it. Even the most demented patient is capable of holding your hand and vice versa. So hold hands together, be together, claim a moment of comfort together. The only thing any of us really have is the present moment because nobody knows what the future will bring and the past is over. So be in the present together. Remind your patient that they are safe, you love them and care about them. Say "We can't go back now—I wish we could!—I want to go home, too! But it's too late now. We'll just have to stay here for the night. But at least we're together. Working together there's nothing that we can't handle. Can you help me with that? Let's have some ice cream together and watch TV. We can cuddle up on the couch, look at old photo albums and reminisce about old times, maybe put on some music and dance." Tell your patient "I'm sure in the morning it will feel a lot better."

And it will.