Tag Archives: challenges

My Election Reflection

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This is not going to be my most popular post.

Like most things I write about, I expect some people will totally get where I’m coming from, while others won’t get me at all. That’s one of the beautiful things about life–we’re not all cut from the same cloth. How terribly boring and stagnant it would be if we were.

I once wrote that this never was nor will be a blog about politics. I hope you’ll forgive me for making an exception during this tumultuous time.

For well over a year, I’ve followed the course of events that led up to this most recent presidential election. I watched the debates, read countless articles and took in the some of the sound bytes shared on television and social media. My family, friends and I discussed our thoughts, beliefs and reactions when it came to the various candidates. I voted in my party’s primary. And I voted in the general election, as I have done every year since I turned eighteen.

My candidate for president lost. Actually, she was my second choice. She might have even fallen to third or fourth place if any of the parties had put up more candidates worth considering.

But it’s hardly the first time I’ve voted for the losing candidate. Hell, my presidential choices have lost more elections than won, which makes me think, maybe it’s me, maybe I jinx them. But whatever, I digress.

My vote was primarily based on the positivity, and on what I believed to be the more down to earth and inclusive platform, of one candidate, versus what I saw as the childish, petty, mean-spirited–sometimes even vicious–and uninformed positions voiced by the other candidate. I voted with both my head and my heart. And I voted for the person I thought would be the better leader for all of us, not just me personally.

So my candidate lost, and frankly, I’m not happy about it (OK, that’s an understatement). Like anyone who feels justified in her beliefs and feelings, and like anyone who has suffered a loss, I need a little time to process and heal.

But I’m not being given that time. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with gloating posts (ha ha, go ahead and move to Canada, see if we care) and lectures on how “the nation has spoken” and how I need to grow up, unite and sing kumbaya for the president-elect–the very man who has spent nearly a year and a half pitting us against one another.

I’m just not prepared to do that just yet. And, depending on what he does going forward, I may never get behind him.

That is my choice and my right as an American.

Look, for eight years I’ve watched, read and listened to hate-filled, anti-Obama rhetoric, including the place of birth falsehoods repeatedly voiced by our current president-elect. Their hostility, animosity and loathing bothered me, but frankly the Obama-haters were entitled to their opinion, and I am a firm believer in our First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Never once did I even anonymously jump into one of those online discussions and tell them to shut the f**k up. I just took the high road and didn’t engage with them.

Why can’t I, and the rest of the pro-Hillary and/or anti-Trump voters, be afforded the same leeway?

No, we’re being told that election protesters should be jailed (which, for those who are destroying property or engaging in physical violence, I would agree) and that we need to get over it or be viewed as unpatriotic (as if the vile name calling and rants done during the Obama administration was patriotic?). We are being told to put our rights on hold for at least the next four years.

Not only am I not prepared to do that, I refuse.

Sure, I am terribly unhappy with the candidate who won this election. I have been repulsed by his foul attitude towards women, his intolerance towards non-Caucasians, his mockery of those with physical challenges, and his flippant references promoting violence to those who didn’t agree with him throughout his campaign. I am actually embarrassed that he won.

But I’m not going to pin blanket, puerile labels on our president-elect either. And I’m not going to engage in pointless discussions where ideals and facts dissolve into hostile accusations and derisive put downs.

Just don’t count on me to simply fall in line with where this administration might lead us. Or tell me that my only other alternative is to move to Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Mexico City. While you won’t find me standing in the streets shouting slogans, you also won’t find me passively accepting policy decisions that go against my values.  

Like I said in the beginning, it’s a beautiful thing that we’re not all cut from the same cloth. I simply won’t stand for policies that will rip us apart, either.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Yeah, It Happens

So you may have wondered–or maybe not–why haven’t  I written a blog post in over a month?

I was wondering the same thing.

First, I ruled out causes and excuses. I haven’t been any busier during the past several weeks than usual. In fact if anything, now that business at the marina has slowed down to a mere trickle, I’ve actually had more free time than I had during the summer months.

I briefly considered attributing my creative inertia to writer’s block, but that just sounded so lame,  and in fact was not true. I have thought about lots of things I could write about, as life certainly provides a never-ending stream of raw material. Nope, I haven’t felt blocked at all.

And it’s not like I don’t crack open my notebook or laptop at least several times a day. I certainly found time to scroll through Facebook, read my email, play Words with Friends, look up articles and blog posts on all sorts of topics, print off Betty Crocker and Pillsbury recipes, troll YouTube and frequent Netflix–anything to avoid going to Google docs, the tool I now use for my writing. I just couldn’t get my brain to get my fingers to go there.

I haven’t been ill either. In fact, I’ve been feeling pretty good. A little tired sometimes, but I chalk that up to the change of seasons and the shrinking hours of daylight. Certainly I had enough energy to put in at least a few minutes a day at the keyboard. I just didn’t.

Then I started tuning into that nonstop chatter in my head. You know, that mental cacophony I wrote about a couple of months ago that so many of us live with. And here’s what’s been going on there…

Need to balance my checkbook haven’t cleaned the upstairs bathroom in weeks really should be exercising every day my house is a mess why don’t I make time to meditate in the morning I really should get rid of those clothes I never wear but what if I lose 30 pounds and can wear them again the property taxes are due this month gotta stop putting off filling out my healthcare proxy and living will speaking of wills I don’t have one yet I’m tired of all the clutter in my house but don’t know where to start getting low on toilet paper have to get up earlier for a work meeting tomorrow really need to clean out the refrigerator make sure I get my bills paid on time my house is a mess and I need to balance my checkbook man the upstairs bathroom really needs cleaning…

In other words, I had succumbed to a full-blown, paralytic state of overwhelm. Small wonder all I wanted to do was play, watch music videos, read, and sleep. Writing a blog post just seemed like one more thing to add to my overflowing, never-ending to do list.

Once I realized what the problem was,  I suddenly felt so much better. I hadn’t morphed into a lazy slug after all, or had begun to “feel my age”; I’d simply been like a deer in the headlights, trapped and mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of things clamoring for my attention and demanding action, most of which I found completely uninspiring.

Oh, I could do things I absolutely had to do. Laundry. Getting myself to work each day and actually getting work done once I got there. Putting gas in the car. Grocery shopping. But the house remained messy, I didn’t exercise or meditate, my checkbook remained unbalanced…and I didn’t write one single, solitary word for my blog.

Overwhelm had literally sucked the life out of me.

And really, who doesn’t get overwhelmed at least once in awhile these days? We are continuously bombarded with incoming data that floods our senses, and it comes at us from all directions. From television to social media, from billboards to email, from phone calls to text and instant messages, we are besieged by messaging in ways and at a frequency no other generation before us has had to deal with. And most of us don’t know when or how to turn that barrage off. We bring our work home and our home lives to work.

Plus, we’ve held onto many of the traditions and obligations we inherited from previous generations. Remembering birthdays and observing holidays. Celebrating some of the milestones in each other’s lives, and mourning others. Spring cleaning and fall raking.

Not to mention trying to carve out time for family and friends, setting up doctor and dentist visits, getting the car inspected (by the way, it’s due for an oil change) and maybe, just maybe, grabbing some sleep every night.

So sure, a lot of us surrender to it all sometimes. We just don’t have enough energy left to raise the white flag.

As with so many things, simply recognizing the source of my lethargy turned out to be the first step in treating it. Not that the same treatment works every time, though. You just have to pick something and go with it.

I decided to pick something simple and mindless to disperse this most recent bout of inertia. I began to dust the furniture in my dining room…then in my living room…then I mopped the kitchen floor…

I sorted through a pile of mail like a postal worker on steroids. I shelved books like a hopped up librarian, bagged up some old clothes for the Rescue Mission, and cleared what my mother used to call Irish lace from a few ceiling corners.

And then–totally invigorated–I sat down at my keyboard and began to write.

It’s physics, pure and simple. A body in motion stays in motion.

Have I gotten to everything on my overwhelm list? Good heavens, no. First of all, that list never ends anyway. It’s like plucking gray hairs–get one task accomplished and five more spring up in its place

But my house looks a little cleaner, I feel a tad more accomplished, and I’m writing again. So yay.

My point here, now that I’m actually blogging again, is that we need to cut ourselves some slack during those times when our energy levels run low. The onslaught of things we could, should, want and have to do can understandably overpower even the most hardy of souls. When we can’t get to all of them or don’t know where to start, it’s not that we’re weak. Or lazy. Or making excuses.

We’re human. And even when we think we’re not, we’re actually doing the best we can.

I have other remedies for the sluggishness that accompanies having too much to do, think about and remember, besides picking up a Swiffer and going to town on end tables and TV screens. But most of those prescriptions do involve some sort of physical activity. I’d be open to other anti-overwhelm suggestions if you have any you’d like to share.

In the meantime, I plan to keep the duster handy.


Writer, serial blogger and small business marketing consultant Mary Anne Hahn believes that there’s a reason old dreams don’t want to die. They want you to pursue them…make them real. They are what you are here to do. Mary Anne resides in Syracuse, New York and maintains websites at http://writesuccess.com , http://thewordgenie.com andhttp://boomerswhomeanbusiness.com .

Golf Ball Season

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Our house in Syracuse is across the street and down a hill from a municipal nine-hole golf course. You can’t actually see the golf course from my house, but you can’t help but know it’s there because, every spring and early summer, it’s golf ball season.

See, there’s a certain hole in that course where, if you slice them just right, you send golf balls over the fence, down the hill and onto our property. I find them nestled against the curb in front of our house, on my front lawn, or in the flower beds on either side of my front porch. One memorable time, while I was weeding my backyard garden, I witnessed one in action, bouncing down our driveway and coming to a stop at our garage door.

Finding golf balls is as much a part of my spring as the blossoming of early perennials, packing away my winter sweaters, and medicating my reaction to tree pollen.

The one waiting for me at the foot of our driveway when I got home from work today happened to be a nice, pretty new Titleist. I generally feel a little badly for the golfer when he or she sends a new one over the fence, as those things aren’t exactly cheap. But the majority of the balls that land in our yard are obviously practice balls, the more expendable, practical choice for the beginning golfer.

I never learned to play golf. Oh, I took some lessons and tried playing it on the very course I live near today, but it didn’t come naturally to me, so I quit.

I quit because, for too many years, I prided myself on being a perfectionist. And I used this desire to be perfect as a compass for my life; if I was good at something (and/or received praise for it) I stuck with it. If not, I dropped it.

Besides, what’s wrong with wanting to be perfect, I’d wonder? Isn’t “perfect” a wonderful word, a positive one? Don’t people remember Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci for her perfect ten? Why settle for B’s when you can get A’s, for “good” when you could be “best”?

And that perfectionism served me in many ways. I did very well in school. Loved reading because I was good at it, and writing because of the grades and accolades it brought me.

Then there was art. From the time I could hold a crayon, I loved to make pictures. Although I had no formal art training, I experimented with watercolor, chalk, pencil, ink, charcoal and acrylic paints. My mother didn’t just put my pictures on the refrigerator–she framed some of them. I believed I was destined to design greeting cards and illustrate children’s books…that was until, my sophomore year in high school, I got a C in art.

I never took art in school art again. Nor pursued a career as a commercial artist.

Writing, on the other hand, consistently brought me the grades, praise and awards I craved. Long before I graduated from high school, I had my mind set on being a writer.

Little did I know that the perfectionism that drove me to write would also turn out to be my biggest roadblock to a successful writing career. Far from being a “positive’ trait, it held me back, taunted me, scolded me. I’d get a rejection slip and quit writing for months at a time. I’d start a novel and, compared it to the work of my favorite authors, then abandon it, embarrassed, disgusted. Without teachers to stoke my ego and provide me with the encouragement I so needed, I floundered and procrastinated, struggled and avoided.

Yeah, perfectionism does that. So much for being a positive trait.

What I didn’t understand for the longest time…well, actually there were three things:

First, Nadia didn’t achieve her stunning level of performance naturally. She practiced. A lot. Yes, she possessed physical attributes that lent themselves to becoming a gymnast, but she also needed to spend countless hours honing them to accomplish what she did during those ‘76 games. Certainly she stumbled and fell and had imperfect dismounts during the years of practice leading up to her perfect scores.

Nadia exemplified the phrase practice makes perfect. If I had worked on my writing or art with even a tenth of the dedication Nadia put into her routines who’s to say what I could have accomplished.

Second, I’ve found that with any endeavor, the best lessons often come from one’s mistakes and failures. I think–I hope–that I am a better sister, friend, aunt, employee, writer and all around person based on the mistakes I have made over the years and what I eventually learned from them. In fact, I have come to believe that we’re all here to learn. Life is one unending series of lessons. And we’re not going to excel at each and every one of them–what’s the challenge in that?

And third, whether it’s pursuing hobbies or vocations or better mental and physical health, it’s important to have fun with the journey. When I finally stopped expecting myself to write epic prose and just began writing more regularly, I began enjoying both the process and the outcomes more. Sure, I still wince a little when I catch a typo or grammatical mistake I’ve made, and I still sometimes really envy the brilliance in other writers. But I know that my time at the keyboard is cathartic for me and, I hope, beneficial to others. Plus I learn from those other writers. And truly, that’s enough.

So as I retrieve the golf balls that come to my yard each year, I hope that the people who sent them my way don’t give up too soon. If they’re having fun, getting exercise, and spending time with friends, I hope that can be enough for now.

My only advice would be not to invest in new Titleist balls from the get go. Learning something might come at a cost, but it doesn’t have to be so expensive.

 

Peas and Corn

Frozen-Peas-and-Corn Do you consider yourself to be a fairly mature, rational person–that is, until something you do or say proves completely otherwise?

I’ve had to face this realization about myself in the frozen food aisle. Twice.

And also behind the wheel of my car. All too frequently.

But first let’s talk about frozen foods.

For a number of years, my sister and I have taken annual vacations together, bringing along various friends and family members who are able and willing to come with us. When her sons were younger, we rented summer camps, first on nearby Oneida Lake and then at Brennan Beach on Lake Ontario. Later we took a few trips to different parts of Florida, and for the past several years we’ve rented oceanfront beach houses in North Carolina.

We have always been very close, my sister and I. Although like many siblings, we fought like cats when we were younger, our adult vacations have been pretty much drama-free; in fact, these trips give us time to bond that we don’t often get during the rest of the year.

Once settled into our beach house, we make a trip to the nearby Food Lion for groceries. Now when I say I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to food, that’s a monumental understatement. Oh. there are things I don’t like, but I’m far from being a fussy eater, so I’m usually like, “That sounds good,” or “That works for me” when my sister or others make menu suggestions.

Until, it seems, we get to frozen vegetables.

Now, to give you some perspective, my four siblings and I grew up in a household where pretty much the only vegetables we ate were peas and corn, probably because my mother knew they were the only veggies the five of us could agree on. Occasionally we had spinach, wax beans or green beans. But mostly it was peas and corn.

Once I was on my own, I discovered the wide and wonderful world of yummy vegetables outside of my limited realm of experience–carrots, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, etc., etc., etc.–and that garden salads could consist of so much more than iceberg lettuce.

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I happily sampled a wide variety and, except for my long-term reluctance to try Brussels sprouts {which I’ve since overcome) and a continued aversion to beets and lima beans (eww–OK, I can deal with lima beans in a bag of mixed vegetables), I crave variety in my veggie intake. I love them steamed, grilled, stir-fried and sauteed, or in baked dishes like stuffed peppers and ratatouille, and I always buy them fresh or frozen, never canned.

I continue to eat spinach and wax or green beans now and then. But I’ve left peas and corn off my personal menu unless they are part of a veggie mix, or the occasional corn on the cob.

So there we are, on vacation, in the frozen food aisle–my sister B.J., my brother Jim, and I–and it was time to pick out some vegetables to include with our upcoming meals. Now my brother is a tad (understatement) more fussy when it comes to food in general and, I quickly learned, vegetables in particular, as he wrinkled his nose or voiced reluctance over each one I suggested.

Eventually my sister stepped in. “Do you like peas?” Jim said yes. “Do you like corn?” Again he nodded, so she tossed a bag of each into the cart.

“How about this?” I said hopefully, grabbing a bag of mixed vegetables that contained peas, corn and then some.

He shook his head. “I don’t like carrots.”

“Well for crying out loud, I want some real vegetables!” I fumed, tossing the peas and corn mixture back into the freezer and grabbing the first veggie mix I saw that contained absolutely no peas or corn. I threw that into the shopping cart, then turned on heel and stomped off to get something we’d forgotten in an aisle we’d already passed.

It was during those moments alone that I realized what I had done. I was establishing a pattern, and not a pretty one at that.

See, a year ago, in the same supermarket, same aisle, I reached for a bag of the same mixed vegetables my brother had just nixed, figuring they’d be a crowd pleaser (Jim wasn’t with us on the trip last year). When he saw me place them in the cart, my sister’s fiance Joe shook his head. “I won’t eat those. They’re store brand.”

“What’s wrong with store brand?” I asked.

“I won’t eat ‘em. Only name brands.”

“Well, that’s silly. They’re the same.”

“No they’re not.”

“For crying out loud, yes they are!”

My sister didn’t try to mediate that one. She just took off for another aisle.

When I realized that I’d made a frozen vegetable aisle scene two years in a row, I felt sheepish. I rejoined my brother and sister in the dairy section, and apologized to my sister, who’d witnessed both outbursts. And although I explained to both of them where my disdain for peas and corn came from, I still squirmed at the thought of my over-reaction.

Who knew I felt so inordinately passionate about vegetables? As I said to them later, you have to acknowledge you have a problem before you begin to address it.

So much for being the wise and rational person I’d like to think that I am. But I guess we all have our triggers. Mine just happen to be peas and corn, I guess.

And people who tailgate, or don’t use their directional signals, or cut me off in traffic…

OK, so clearly, at 60 years old, I’m still a work in progress.

What about you? Are you totally self-actualized, or do you have specific things that reduce you to your five year-old self?

Remember, (I’m smiling as I write) you have to acknowledge you have a problem before you begin to address it, right?

Why I Bleed Orange

F14217-tI love college basketball. More specifically, I have been a Syracuse University basketball fan since I first saw two of their players, Jimmy Lee and Denny DuVal, give a free throw shooting exhibition in my high school gym during my senior year. They were beyond amazing, compared with the level of my classmates’ talent, as well as most of the players on teams we competed against.

And I suppose the fact that I found Jimmy Lee hot had something to do with my becoming a forever S.U. fan. Come on, I was 17.

So to say that I am proud that for the first time ever, both Syracuse teams—men’s and women’s—made it into the Sweet 16* of the NCAA Championship this year is a bit of an understatement.

I love the sport for many reasons. It’s fast-paced. Unpredictable. Often exciting, sometimes heart-wrenching. And because the players are college kids, some solely looking for a ticket into the NBA and others working as hard on their majors as they do on their sport, there’s a new team make-up every year.

This presents college basketball coaches with an array of challenges all leading to one goal—teaching this year’s line-up how to play together in order to win games.

That’s probably what I love best about the sport: watching Coach Jim Boeheim and his assistants deal with and frequently overcome those challenges. From managing the inflated egos of former high school stars new to Division I basketball, to teaching the rudiments of the game to players for whom English is a second language, every season presents a unique composite of dilemmas to overcome, hurdles to jump and issues to work through.

Some of those issues include the homesickness of a kid who has traveled thousands of miles to play for Syracuse…the lure of college party life…the threat of being benched due to poor grades…a season-ending injury…the breakdown of a team when one player allegedly steals the girlfriend of another. A key player loses a parent. Another, a best friend to gang violence.

And yet, despite the adversities, teams that win games emerge year after year. Under their coaches’ guidance, players learn what their roles are, and how to capitalize on their strengths as well as on the strengths of their teammates.  Passes connect. Missed shots get rebounded. Key players remain poised at clutch moments. And there are moments, games and even entire seasons when the whole truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I sometimes joke that I want to be a Division I basketball coach in my next life. I want to bring out the best in my players, not only in terms of their athletic performance, but in their personal development. My goal would be to motivate them to do their very best—physically, mentally and emotionally—and then meld those players into teams that inspire and win. Then, I want to see my young protégés go on to live successful, extraordinary lives.

That would be cool.

Not that I underestimate the stress of that job, the politics of working for a major university, the stinging disappointment when players full of promise fail to live up to their potential. Heartbreaking losses. Worse yet, the expression on the players’ faces when they realize they are about to succumb to a heartbreaking loss.

That would be awful. I have a hard enough time witnessing those defeated expressions as a fan, much less as their coach and mentor.

Besides, I still have things to accomplish in this life, with the path I’ve chosen, the skills I have and the gifts I’ve been given. When it comes to basketball, I’m okay with being a spectator. But not when it comes to life.

So as I don my orange S.U. sweatshirt and get ready for the next game, I am totally aware of and fine with my role on the team—that is, to send them positive energy, be proud of how far they’ve come, and to hope they end up victorious.

And continue to marvel at the kind of team and level of play that Coach Boeheim and his assistants have been able to mold again this year.

Go ‘Cuse.

*Late breaking: both teams have advanced to the Elite Eight. First. Time. Ever.