Thursday, December 12, 2013

Choose Yourself. Love Yourself.

Recently I've had some beloved friends experience heartache and sadness. People they cared for deeply had broken their hearts, or treated them badly. And yet, there is much more to what they are going through than just a relationship on the rocks or ending.  My heart is troubled because I see a deeper issue, one with which I have personally struggled. The issue of self-worth.

I've dated men who did not treat me well. I've put up with emotional unavailability or infidelity or outright disrespect. I'd make excuses for them, explain it all away, look at my phone anxiously hoping they'd call or text. I put up with less than what I deserved because, I'm ashamed to say, I did not feel I deserved better. Now, this isn't a conscious thing. You don't go around saying that you deserve to be treated like crap. But when this is how you feel inside, it colors everything you do. You don't love yourself and so you're desperate to be loved by someone. It's a hole you try to fill with other people, until you realize the only person who can fill it…is you.

I see this happen to so many amazing women (and men, too). They're smart, funny, caring, successful, and yet they shortchange themselves when it comes to the potential partners they meet. They are willing to overlook red flags and behavior that is inconsistent with what the other person says. They settle for crumbs and scraps instead of the full, authentic experience of love. And then it all goes to pieces and they're heartbroken once again.

I was that woman. Until I finally learned my lesson. That Prince Charming ain't coming. We have to save ourselves. And it starts with loving ourselves AS WE ARE. Not when we lose 10 pounds. Not when we find the right job. Not when we make X amount of money. I continue to struggle with this, at least the appearance stuff, but I know now that I really do love and value myself. That is progress and it's reflected in the life I lead today.

A beautiful thing happens when you begin to not only accept yourself the way you are, but love yourself. You attract a much higher quality pool of potential partners. The more selective you are, the more likely you are to find a person who actually deserves you. And you are willing to take your time getting there.

I look back sometimes at the people I dated in the past (and not so distant past), and realize if I'd met them today, most would never have made it past the first or second date. I did have at least one wonderful relationship in my late twenties and I still respect, love and value him for the good man he is. However, most of the other guys? I just wouldn't be interested today because I know who I am, I love who I am and I know what I deserve.

I want the women in my life to feel this, too. I want them to see themselves through my eyes, to see how lovely and intelligent and interesting they are, how much they are loved and deserve to be loved. That any person who does not treat them well does not deserve their affection or loyalty.

That they should choose themselves.

It took me a while, but I finally got it. That single realization has added richness and joy and sparkle to my life that it did not have before. I am happy. As I am. Some days are easier than others to feel that way, and on the yuckier days, I just think of all the things that make me grateful.

I don't *need* to be with someone. I can choose to share my life with someone, and that is infinitely more powerful for both of us.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Who is your Daily Saint?

Mikaela is second from left
The idea was brilliant in its simplicity: 

Stake out a spot in one of the most popular shopping areas in the Los Angeles area and give people the opportunity to write down the things that make them thankful. 

The event was created by my beautiful, big hearted friend Mikaela. She and I met at ABC News. We bonded over our love of literature, writing and our shared tendency to tear up easily and often over things that made us happy or sad. We are both optimists and believe people are mostly good, despite the news we used to report on a daily basis. 

Thankfully, Mikaela took her convictions to the next level, and created a place online, The Daily Saint, that feeds your soul and restores your faith in humanity. Good deeds. Good people. Good news. 

A fervent Vonnegut fan, Mikaela chose a beautiful quote to help her name the site: "By saints I mean people who behaved decently and honorably in societies which were so often obscene. Perhaps some of you are or will be saints for her child to meet."

Those saints people the online community of the Daily Saint:

The vet who created a tiny wheelchair for a piglet born without use of his hind legs.
The Division 1 athlete who gave up the rest of his season to donate his bone marrow to a leukemia patient.
The little girl who asked to give roses to strangers to celebrate her 5th birthday.   

Young, old, furry, 2 feet, 4 feet, these daily saints are all perpetrators of random acts of kindness that range from the smallest good deed to saving lives. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

There are hundreds of stories on her site. HUNDREDS. Stories that will give you a lump in the throat
Our Daily Saint Mikaela!
and that warm, full feeling in your heart. It's a great reminder of the power we all hold within us, the power to make a difference in someone's life. It's also a wonderful way of cultivating gratitude for the daily saints that make our lives worth living. 

With 3,400+ likes on her accompanying Facebook page, it's clear Mikaela has tapped into a universal hunger, a hunger for stories that connect us. So she decided to take that need for connection offline and made them grateful. Fittingly, it took place the day after Black Friday. 

Armed with markers and a large colorful paper board, we set out to ask passersby to participate. At first, many people were startled. It didn't make much sense, and I got the feeling they thought we were selling more than gratitude. But as we got bolder in our approach, more and more people took part and the board began to fill up.  
So many thanks!

Some were shy and had to be coaxed to take a marker. Others, especially kids, eagerly picked out a spot on the board and wrote their hearts out. One adorable girl told me she could not write yet so I suggested she draw a rainbow. She drew several. 

My nana wrote she was thankful for all of us and that she was here. I wrote that I was grateful for my nana because she loves me so much. 

One older man wrote, "I'm thankful for my wife of 55 years." A young man wrote, "I'm grateful for my boyfriend. He makes me laugh and is the best person in the world." 

Pito gave thanks for Pita

A boy wrote so much, his thanks stretched over two panels. His little brother just wrote his name. It's the only thing he knows how to write. 

Some young men wrote in Arabic, some wrote in Hebrew. Thanks were written in English, Spanish and French. One man told me he'd been very lonely and that it cheered him up to write down the things that make him happy. 

Entire families wrote on the board. Two curious police officers gave thanks for their families. Some witty guy said he was thankful for his brother who made sure he knew the scores to his favorite teams' games. One new mom wrote her toddler's favorite thing: pigeons. 

This little guy wrote,
"I'm thankful for my dog
 & my girlfriend."
When his dad said,
 "You have a girlfriend?",
the boy ran off laughing
and shrieking.
There were smiles, hugs, high fives. You could feel the energy, the LOVE in the air as people shared what or who made them happy. It was proof that gratitude and compassion are powerful things that connect us at the heart. It's what Mikaela shows us every day on the Daily Saint, that love brings us closer together, while fear and negativity drive us apart. 

We need each other. 

So forget cool and snarky. I'll take corny and kind any day. 

By the way, if you're curious, family topped the list of things most often written, closely followed by friends and pets. 

Not a single person gave thanks for their flat screen TV. 


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Get in the Ring

I've alway wanted to be a yoga girl. So gorgeous and serene with their long limbs and bendy bodies. Believe me, I've tried. I can never seem to stick with it, though. Instead, what I have found really speaks to me…is kickboxing. I've been training for almost a year now and I still get as giddy as a kid on Christmas when I nail a roundhouse kick or add height to my jump kick. I find I am never more fully present than when I am concentrating on my jabs and crosses, and never more pumped than when I pound an uppercut through the pad. 
It also helps that I work out at a women's kickboxing gym. We are all friends. No one wears Lulu Lemon. No one wears make up. We get sweaty, we laugh, we egg each other on, and we high five after a particularly grueling workout. 
And while I've never had to exercise my skills in a dangerous situation, I'm hoping muscle memory kicks in. And kicks the crap out of whomever chose the wrong person to mess with. 
I do get in the ring, though. 
Every day. 
Every day that I choose the life that makes me happy. 
Every day that I write. 
Every day that I show up to work out, whether I feel like it or not. 
The point is to show up. 
At the gym. 
In life. 
This is my zen. 
I'll never be a hapa goddess…but I'll settle for a happy warrior. 
- XO,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Diana's Super Awesome Guide to Getting Past Depression and Getting on with your Life

Recently I went through a tough time. The kind where you question everything, you cry a lot, you feel incredibly sad and lost. It lasted about a week, which when you are depressed, feels like forever. Fortunately, I have incredible family and friends that listened, offered advice, came over and made me tea (thank you Angela), and in general, sat with me in my pain, assuring me it would not last forever. And they were right. I remember when it lifted. I'd been writing and painting for days, letting the crap feelings wash over me and then wash away. Finally…all of that stopped. And I was still there. I was ok. Better than ok. I was calm. My mind was clear. 

That's when I initially wrote my guide to getting out of depression. It was sort of tongue in cheek and yet every single thing I listed, I credited with helping lift me out of my sad state. And then...I chickened out. How could I possibly post that? Then everyone would know I'd been depressed. That I'd been sad. Falling apart emotionally. No no no. That's just too scary, too vulnerable. But…it bothered me that I was taking the easy way out, maintaining the facade that everything was fine, when in reality, it had not been fine. I was perpetuating the lie that depression was something to be ashamed of, to hide. 

The reality is, we all go through tough times. We all get depressed. The lucky ones have people to turn to, with whom to share their pain. Others have to soldier through it all by themselves. This is not right. This stigma attached to vulnerability and sadness and depression is wrong and we need to change it. I know from experience, I have resisted asking for help because I thought it would make me look like a loser. And yet when someone has enough courage to come to me and tell me that they feel crappy, I jump at the chance to support them. 

The reality is, sadness and pain are part of the authentic human experience. It's how we deal with them that determines how they affect us. If we avoid or deny these feelings or self-medicate them away, they may go underground temporarily but they're still there. Eventually you will have to deal with them. However, if you allow yourself to feel them fully, explore them, and then resolve them, you'll find these feelings, this pain is liberating. I know that sounds crazy (but it should be obvious by now, I've stopped fearing being thought of as crazy), but they may mean you are letting go of and mourning old thought patterns or ideas about yourself that don't suit you. You are rewriting your life. You are moving on to a life that actually fits. 

That's why I felt calm after the storm clouds lifted. I'd dealt with the feelings that were plaguing me and dragging me down. I'd slayed the dragon. Onto the next level. 

So without further ado, here are my silly guidelines. I present them to you because I want you to know that it's okay to feel sad, to deal with depression. You're not a loser. You are not a failure. On the contrary. You are a fighter. You are alive. You are human.

And you're going to win this fight. I'll help you. I've got your back. 

Diana's Super Awesome Guide to Getting Past Depression and Getting on with your Life

1. Wear pajamas. A lot. All day. I write in my pajamas. I read in my pajamas. I paint in my pajamas. I think I do that because I feel rebellious. I like flouting societal norms. And one of the most radical ways to flout societal norms is to choose to be happy and do the things that make you happy. Wearing pajamas means I'm comfortable and living my life on my own terms. If you think that's stupid, that's cool. It works for me. 

2. Walk. Walk everywhere. Walk around the park, up the hill, to the library. Walk walk walk. Getting in motion gets you out of the hole of depression. When you have to put one foot in front of the other, it forces you to stop dwelling on the sad shit. No time for that because you're walking, people!

3. Recognize that no matter how awful it feels to be depressed, it's actually stripping away the bullshit and drama and crap and loads and loads of unnecessary expectations and obligations we force upon ourselves. A brush fire burns away the old, the dead and the useless, creating fertile ground for new growth. When you're at your lowest, you're at your most raw and the old stories just won't work. That's when your truth emerges. You can't cover it up anymore. You are free. 

4. Listen to Nina Simone. 

5. Write. Write everything you're thinking and feeling. Without rules or grammar or fear. Write wild. Write raw. Write your most ridiculous thoughts without judgment. Once it's all on paper or in your computer, it ceases to hold any power. They're just words. You can put them on permanent time out by shutting the journal or shutting down your laptop. 

6. Drink lots of water. Seriously, this one habit has helped me more than I every expected. By drinking water, you hydrate your body - you look better, you feel better, and you're less likely to feel lethargic or unmotivated or sad, which is absolutely crucial when you are depressed. Plus you don't eat as much which is great because the last thing you need when you are depressed is to feel like you're getting fatter as well. How many times did I tell myself not only am I a loser, I'm also fat. Yeah, that does wonders for easing your pain. So drink up and drink often. 

After doing all of these, you should begin to feel a little less like shit. When that time comes, it's time to write a new story. Your biography. Begin with the end. You know, where you win at life. And then work backwards. 

-XO, D

Monday, November 4, 2013

Do what you Love. Who cares if you suck?

When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I remember my sister screaming and running back into the house from the garage. She'd seen a rat, a most amazing thing for me at that age.

What did it look like, I asked. What did it do? Did it squeak? I was fascinated, obsessed even.

It was angry, she said. Angry??

To placate me, she drew the rat. Round ears, pointy snout, paws, and long, thin tail. Definitely angry.

I memorized that drawing and replicated it. Over and over and over. I constantly drew angry rats, that same rat, on every paper I could find. Rats rats rats.

A few months later, I finally branched out and began drawing other things. And I never stopped. For years, I drew on anything I could get my hands on. Paper, newspaper, brown paper bags from Publix. My mom would bring home reams of used dot matrix printer paper for me.

If there was bare space, it became a canvas.

I drew cats, dogs, horses, whales, all sorts of animals. There was a unicorn and pegasus period. I drew people. I became addicted to Archie comics and drew the redhead and his waffle hairdo, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, the whole gang.

I won my school's t-shirt design contest in elementary school. I participated in the zoo's art competition, drawing giraffe and zebras. To this day, it remains one of my all time favorite memories of being with my mom, running to make the deadline for submitting my art, flying by emus and gibbons, laughing breathlessly the whole way back.

I created floor plans for the house I eventually wanted that included a grand spiral staircase and about 10 bedrooms (I've since downsized my tastes).

I painted. I sculpted. I worked with thread, yarn, paper mache and glitter. Damn, I loved glitter.

Throughout those years, I believed I was an artist. I was an artist because I loved to create. I never doubted my talent because it brought me joy and that was enough.

The drawing and creating dropped off around high school, a little more in college. An uptick in my early twenties as I discovered photography and the meditation of working in a darkroom, the anticipation I felt as I slipped the white photo paper into the solution, and images appeared, as if by magic, images I'd shot days or even weeks ago, hoping I hadn't totally screwed them up.

As more and more of my attention and energy went to building my career, little was leftover for creative pursuits. I had no time, I lacked inspiration. There were late nights and early mornings at work. Groceries to be bought. Homes to be cleaned. Laundry, litterboxes, errands.

My creativity was reduced to those nights that, after a couple of glasses of wine, I'd draw elephants on placemats or any available friend's arm. Or dolphins. Depends on the friend's taste. I take requests.

I'd wander into art supply stores, lingering by the paints, examining brushes. It made me happy just to be around those things.

My need to create was still there. But my serious side had snuffed it out. Who do you think are, those mean voices would ask. You seriously think you're an artist? It's not like you're Picasso. You're not a real artist. You just doodle. And your paintings are so basic. You suck.

I'm sad to say I listened to them for a long time. I never mentioned my doodles and drawings, because I thought, who cares? I was afraid of being judged. It's not like I'm good at it or anything. I just do it for fun.

As if that's not enough of a reason. As if that should not be the ENTIRE reason that we create. I've finally come to my senses and realized that the things that bring us joy are the most important things we should be doing. Yes, we need to pay the rent and buy groceries and all of that other stuff, but what are the things we do that delight us? That bring us back to ourselves?

Recently I had the desire to paint again. When I took inventory of the supplies I had, I was startled to realize I had a box full of different sized brushes, acrylic paints in every color. Stencils, markers, and…GLITTER! All of these things, all sitting in a box that's been untouched for months, maybe even a year or two.

I bought a few canvases, an easel, and began sketching and painting. And there I went, right back into that amazing place where time ceases to exist, and the only thing that matters is what shade of brown to use, or which brush will give you the precise feather stroke needed to make the fur look right (Shocker: I'm painting animals). Hours later, I realized my arms and fingers were covered in paint, my canvas no longer white, and I was happy. Actually, no, I was joyful. I was so joyful, I didn't even want to go to bed. This was exactly where I wanted to be.

I was learning to play again. To find joy in creating. It mattered nothing whether it was "good" - just whether it made me happy. That's it. If others like it, cool. But this…this is for me.

Writing, drawing, painting, these things feed me in a way nothing else does. How long have I been starving?

What are the things that belong solely to ourselves? Is it our poems? Our photography? The piano, the guitar, the saxophone? Riding horses? How long have we neglected our secret gardens? Whatever we love to do, it may not be some BIG IMPORTANT THING…but it's ours.

If we nurture the seeds of creativity within us, we bloom.

-XO, D

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Everyday Hero, An Overdue Thank You

I had two tasks to do: replace my cell phone and pick up a second hand shirt for my Halloween costume. I parked on Vine and began walking toward the Goodwill shop when I saw an elderly man sitting on a bus bench. It was his cap that caught my attention: World War II Veteran. 
Every time I see a veteran, I take the time to thank him or her for their service. Some were drafted, but most, like my brother Javier, enlisted to serve their country, a sacrifice I don't take lightly.

"Thank you sir for your service," I said. He nodded and said, "You're welcome, young lady."

I went into the store but as I began looking through the racks, I realized I needed to know more about this man. He was living history, but not for long. According to the US Veterans Administration, approximately every two minutes a WWII veteran passes away, around 600 a day. Our time to hear about their experiences in the trenches, and to thank them for their service will end too soon.

I decided to head back out to get to know this veteran. I asked if I could sit down and chat with him for a while. He said sure. I learned his name is Elijah Walker and he's 89 years old. Born and raised in Arkansas, he enlisted in the Army because he didn't have much family and wanted a better life for himself. The year was 1944 and he was sent to work the supply lines in France and Germany, as were most African American service members. The military was still segregated, Mr. Walker told me, "Blacks over here, whites over there. But we was both getting shot at."

A little research yielded the probability that Mr. Walker may have been part of the famed Redball Express, a supply convoy that stretched across France to the frontline. Historian David Colley writes inThe Road to Victory, "Although three-fourths of Red Ball drivers were black...African American troops represented less than 10 percent of all military personnel in World War II...African American troops, in large measure, kept the supply lines rolling."

Eisenhower has credited them with helping to win the war.

While Mr. Walker said he didn't directly see combat, he said he faced danger every time he worked the supply line. Were you scared, I asked him? 

"Oh yeah, we knew the Germans were aiming right at us. We had everything the soldiers needed. Gunshots, bombs, it was an everyday thing. But we had to keep going. We had orders," he said. 

Mr. Walker said he was still working the lines when the Germans surrendered in 1945, "I remember everyone saying it was over, everyone hugging. They put down their weapons and that was it."

When I asked about the mood, "oh you know we were happy. They were tired. That's about all I remember."

But Mr. Walker's time at war was not yet over. 

"I was transferred to the Pacific theater, to the Phillippines. The war was still going there," he told me. 

He stayed until the Japanese surrendered, and finally came home in 1947 to an America that was still very much segregated, regardless of his service. 

"That must have been so hard for you," I said. He replied, "Well, I grew up in Arkansas, I didn't know anything else different at those times."

Mr. Walker crisscrossed the country, looking for work, and started a family, fathering two daughters and two sons, before ending up in California.

"I ran out of money, so I guess I just stayed," he laughed. 

That was 30 years ago. Today, as we sat on that bus bench, teenagers walked by playing with their phones, cars passed blaring the latest hits, oblivious to the man who'd fought for their freedom so many years ago. 

"That's the sad part," he said. "The young ones, they don't seem to care. They don't know what it was like. You tell me, what would have happened if we hadn't won?" 

I told him I didn't want to think about the outcome. "We'd have been slaves. Germany's slaves," he replied. "That's why we knew, we HAD to win. It was about freedom."

He gestured at the people walking near us. "They live free because of what we did."

He enjoyed hearing my brother had served two tours of duty in Iraq. "That must make you proud," he said. Absolutely, I replied. So proud. 

I asked him what lessons he'd learned over time. He smiled and said he wasn't sure. "My brain's not working so well anymore, you see. Sometimes I remember things that happened 50 years ago, but this morning I couldn't tell you where I put my cane." 

We laughed and I admitted I often don't know where my keys are. I noticed Mr. Walker was wearing pajama bottoms under his trench coat. He said he was recovering from pneumonia and had trouble breathing, so he'd walked a block to his favorite bench to sit in the sun. 

Do you need anything? I asked. 

He smiled. "Oh no, no, I'm fine, just enjoying the sun and our conversation." 

I was, too. I was so thankful I'd met him, and heard his stories of being on the frontline. I was grateful I
could thank him for what he did so long ago that enabled me to live the life I do, one in which I don't have to worry about my freedom or my future. It wasn't too late to let him know his sacrifices were appreciated.

I wonder in a world where twerking takes up way too much space in the media and our conversations, where having a nice car and wearing designer clothes seem like something worth bragging about, are we failing each other? Are we forgetting too much? Are we honoring the generations that put service before self? 

I wish kids knew the name Elijah Walker the way they know Kim Kardashian. I think it's our duty to make sure they do. Mr. Walker and countless others, too soon forgotten, did their duty. Let's do ours. 

- XO, D

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm not that cool. Neither are you. And that's totally cool.

Tonight, I was catching up on what my friends and family are up to on Facebook. Reading tweets. And browsing Instagram pictures. And it suddenly occurred to me: it felt like everyone was at a party to which I was not invited. Perhaps that’s because I’m sitting on my couch, wearing pajamas and Uggs and watching tv. There is nothing fabulous about that previous sentence. Nothing.

I’ll admit, I am a prolific user of Facebook. Translation: I’m on the damned site way too much. It’s fun to share pictures of what you’re doing or where you are, fun times with family and friends. Or literally update everyone on what you’re doing at that very moment. However, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this culture of constant connection. For starters, it’s not real.

It’s not. Most of us usually only update when we are doing something cool. Or are visiting somewhere awesome. Or are meeting super cool people. What we don’t share are the mundane, not so cool things that occur much more regularly. Arguments with significant others. Stresses over job security or money. Worries that we aren’t following our dreams, we’re just working to pay the rent. Or times when life is kind of boring and not much happens. Take me for example. Lately I’ve spent several nights watching tv. Or reading online gossip. Or dying my roots (which I have to do way more often than I’d like). There I am, total rockstar, watching way too much OWN, wondering why I am not more productive or fun or accomplished. Like my family and friends. Or colleagues. Or acquaintances. Who are clearly, by the looks of their Instagram photos or tweets, busy being awesome.

Well, I’m not alone. FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. Apparently, it's an epidemic. And it’s all our fault. We are totally complicit in making each other feel like crap. Because all that stuff we’re posting is carefully curated to look like we are The Most Interesting Person in the World. Perfectly posed selfies, always taken from a high angle because we know that’s the most flattering. Checking into restaurants to show we are fabulous foodies. Don’t get me started on the endless pictures of Machu Picchu (although when I actually do travel there, I’m totally posting a picture of myself at Machu Picchu).

I’m calling myself out for this very behavior. Believe me, you’re never going to hear about my silly habit of hauling myself out of bed at 11 pm because I need one more spoonful of almond butter, my craving having totally hijacked my dietary good intentions. I’m not going to post status updates on days that I can’t shake my negative body image or my worries over money or what my future holds. Or days when I'm feeling just plain sad. I won’t share these things because they make me feel too vulnerable or exposed. Frankly, sharing these things would make me feel like a loser. Although I guess I just did. Oops. Hello world, meet me: unvarnished and terribly uncool. Who eats almond butter straight from the jar?! (It’s just so tasty!)

I save that stuff for my close family and friends because I know they won’t judge me. One of my biggest hang ups is worrying about what people think about me. It’s silly, I know, because I know everyone’s too worried about their own lives to care about what I’m doing. So my personal challenge lately has been to be as authentic as possible. If things aren’t great, then I actually tell people. And I actually let them help me, something I never could allow before. I was so afraid of asking for help - I thought it was better to tough things out because I could not bear the idea of anyone thinking I was actually scared or feeling small or weak or ashamed. And yet, I would never ever judge anyone for asking for help. I want to help! If I want to give, than I must be willing to receive.

So I think I’m going to try something different. I think I’m going to make a few more calls, and catch up with the people I miss. Or make plans and spend time with faces I love - phones IN the damned purses, people! I would like to make an effort to truly CONNECT, and not just post.

I’m not knocking social media. I think it’s one of the greatest things to happen to society. It’s revolutionary in the truest definition of the term. And it’s so cool to see what happened to the people you grew up with or worked with or met along your travels. However, real connection comes from one on one interaction. There’s nothing better than sitting around a table with your beloveds and laughing your asses off. No status update could ever connect your hearts the way looking into someone’s eyes can. And on difficult days, a hug from someone who cares about you beats any number of "likes".

It’s corny, I know, and guess what? That’s one more quality that makes me uncool. I am one of the corniest people you’ll ever meet. But I promise, I’m only corny when I care about you. I’ll prove it to you...over coffee.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Good Man

This morning, I found out some terrible news. A former colleague of mine passed away suddenly. He was 43. It just doesn't sound right, does it? But I suppose it never does. Death's finality has a way of cutting through everything else, forcing you to confront the fact that our lives are finite, our days with family and friends and colleagues won't last forever.
My colleague was a good man in the truest sense of that statement. Decent, kind, compassionate, hardworking. We worked together at ABC News and I felt relieved every time I heard Michael Scott was managing that day or night. I knew that we would be in good hands. He was always ready with helpful suggestions, always the first to volunteer to grab a much needed piece of video or track down a soundbite we needed for our stories. We'd often share chuckles over the phone about the dysfunction of our industry and I always felt better after hanging up with him.
I once went on a shoot with him and we chatted the entire cab ride to the location. He was a boxer and he told me about his training. His quiet demeanor belied his incredible intelligence and depth of knowledge. I'm sorry I did not get to know him better.
His passing has prompted me to think about how in our society the simple man often gets short shrift. We are urged to do big things, get our name in the marquee or in the credits, "be" somebody. These days, young people see others become famous for the most banal of reasons: being on a reality show, getting repeatedly drunk on television, or worse yet, for making a tape of their intimate activities.
The truth is, what actually makes you great is showing up. Doing the work. Being authentic. Establishing trust. Helping others. Being the kind of man or woman others can rely on and count as a friend.
THIS is what matters. Nothing else.
Fame fades, you're only as good as your last big story/role/project. Money is just money. That fancy car will be outdated in a few years. And looks? Those don't last.
Character, integrity, compassion - these are the things that last long after we are gone. The people we help will remember. The colleagues we worked alongside in the trenches will appreciate it. The children we love and nurture will thrive.
Michael Scott was one of these good people. He was a hell of a nice guy. And he will be missed.
- XO, D

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let's Talk About the P-word

The following words are helping to define the next steps in my life. They keep
me going when I worry that my efforts are pedestrian or pointless. They inspire me to nurture the seeds of ideas for new stories and new adventures. And they help me slay the most persistent obstacle to my happiness: the need to be perfect. 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit
belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

- President Teddy Roosevelt, 1910 
(the full speech is pretty darned awesome but it will take time to read and fully digest:

Here's the thing with perfection. It will kill your soul. I say that as someone who allowed the need for perfection to drive me for most of my life. If I don't get straight As, I'm a failure. If I don't get elected to student government, I'm a loser. If I don't have a perfect body, no boys will ever like me. One false move...and everyone will figure out I don't know what I'm doing/I'm a fraud/I don't belong here.

The longer you buy into that, the less likely you are to pick up a paint brush or write a poem or write a blog post (ha). What's the point if it's not perfect? You stop taking risks, you worry incessantly about what people think about you, and you can't truly live in the moment because you're so concerned about whether you're doing "it" right.

Or you buy into the idea that if only you had the right car/perfect hairstyle/(insert brand name here) jeans or shoes, if only you made X amount of money or had such-and-such title on your business card, THEN you'd be successful, and therefore happy. 

I'll admit it. I've had these thoughts way too often. I've let them squat rent-free in my mind, negative energy that kept me stuck in a holding pattern. 

So how do you break free? You break free by doing a few things. First, you let go of any expectation of ever being perfect. It's the most irrational, unrealistic goal you could ever set for yourself. And once you truly embrace that, it's easier to be gentle with yourself.

And if you're gentle with yourself, you'll realize that your harshest YOU. The people who matter in this world already love you. The thoughts in your head are just thoughts. And the people who gossip or speak critically of others will never matter. They're not in the arena. 

Georgia O'Keefe. Jim Henson. Miles Davis. Ted Turner. Madonna. Oprah. Ellen Degeneres. Hillary Clinton. Richard Branson. They climbed into the arena. They dared greatly. They said, "To hell with the critics. I'm doing it my way." 

We can all get in the arena. Every time we take a step toward our passions, we fight back against the BS of perfection. The more steps you take, the more the critics (especially those in your own head) cease to matter. This is something I am attempting to do every day. Some days, it's easier. Some days, I have doubts, but I am determined to keep going. 

So, (sorry Mom) EFF perfection. Try new things. Go solo. Risk more. Love harder. Be kind. Fall down...again and again and again. Laugh at yourself. Above all, choose to live juicy. Your flaws are what give you your flavor.
- XO, D

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Down on the Farm

I'm bending over to grab two perfect, reddish green heirloom tomatoes when it happens...

CRACK! I'm a second too late to remember I have a freshly laid egg in my jacket pocket...or what remains of it anyway. It's beginning to coat my iphone. And I can't stop laughing. 

A city girl mucking around on a trout farm. Walking around in the rare steady drizzle that is soaking the Durango valley, transforming the landscape into a lush, verdant vista. There's nowhere I'd rather be. 

A couple months ago, I left my career in network news. A couple of weeks ago, I realized I don't have a "plan" anymore. No next steps, no rungs on the corporate ladder. I'm doing work I find interesting and satisfying but the reality is, I'm getting reacquainted with my life. I actually have the time...I just don't have a roadmap anymore. 

What's my inner compass. My gut. That thing we all know we should rely on but rarely do. But now it's the only thing I have that's never steered me wrong. My ego? Well meaning but...hey, egos rarely make the right decision. They choose status or security or safety, things that rarely lead to real joy. 

After several days of feeling rudderless and strangely uncomfortable with my free time (free time?! What the heck is THAT?? I'm supposed to be BUSY!), I was thinking about how all the greats always say to choose what makes your heart sing, makes you lose track of time, and most importantly what you would do even if no one paid you to do it. 

And it hits me. Animals. That's it. I could spend hours in the company of animals. Lately, that's where I find much of my joy, just hanging out with my kitties Wynnie and Charlotte on the balcony as I read or garden or do paperwork. I'm volunteering with a group that delivers pet supplies to the homebound, either terminally ill or elderly. I've never met a dog that didn't deserve a belly rub or a kitty that didn't earn a chin scratch. Heck I like snakes and pigs and rats and everything in between. 

And...I've actually been working on a project close to my heart. A series of children's books about my late, beloved kitty, Sal. 

Sal, Everybody's Pal. 

I decided to write the books after he passed away. I wanted kids to love him as much as everyone who knew him did, along the way teaching them that adopting from shelters is best, that animals deserve respect and unconditional love and that disabilities don't make an animal or a person any less loveable. 

I've worked sporadically on the project, enlisting the help of a talented friend to illustrate the books. She loves animals just as much as I do, and her art reflects that care and compassion. But we were nowhere near as far along as I liked. 

So during those days where I reflected on my future, I realized my gut was telling me to finish the Sal books. Days later, here I am in Durango, writing this on a farm with a very insistent kitten nipping my knee. My friend and I have made so much progress, we actually have a plan in place and I think we really are going to do this. In between our work sessions, we've gone for a muddy hike with two dirty dogs; we've cored apples (which we will can later); we've visited with baby trout, and hung out with some very vocal young goats. 

So much life. So much vitality. So far from traffic and talk shows and happy hour and shopping and calorie counting. 

It's exactly where I need to be. We have high hopes and big dreams for our project. But for now, the joy comes simply from creating, from seeing Sal and his friends take shape in our words and sketches. 

I'm only here for a few more days. We will fit in a trip to Mesa Verde, we will feed the trout, and perhaps visit the Arches National Park in Utah. 

Soon enough, I'll be back in LA.

But I'll head back happy with a clear head and an inspired heart. 

Most of us live such rushed lives, scheduling joy wherever it fits into our calendars. Perhaps in between the oil change and the spinning class. Or late at night, after the dishes have been put away. 

Being here on the farm has shown me busy is no substitute for true joy. 

I suggest we listen to our gut and choose joy. As often and as much as possible. 

It's our bread crumb trail back to ourselves. 

- XO, D