Earlier this week I had lunch with a new friend here in Woodstock who just happens to be from Annapolis. She and her husband moved to Vermont over ten years ago. It was surprising the way that we “met” them.
Bob was at the health club one afternoon and when he goes about mid-afternoon, there is hardly anyone there. One day, there was another couple there and they just started chatting with each other. Come to find out, this couple had moved to Vermont from Maryland, and at one time, the guy had lived just around the corner from us in Lutherville. Small world.
Bob was so excited when he came home that day. First of all, he was the one to make contact – not me. He always says that I could make friends with a door and that just about all of our friends have come from my connections. But here he was, in a new place and reaching out to others and making friends. Score one for Bob!
But back to the lunch the other day… it was a very cold day and Jenny from Annapolis and I got together for a bowl of lentil soup, some hot tea and homemade cookies – and, lots of talking. The conversation of meeting new people and being able to make connections came up, and I was surprised that she had encountered the same thing I have, and that is… nobody cares who are you were in a former life or what you did. They are more interested in who you are now.
Maybe after several conversations, you may get around to talking about what you “do” or “did” – but, it’s the “connection” on a different level that determines whether you’ll meet up again and possibly, develop a friendship. The questions that come up are more along the lines of… what do you like to do for fun?, what made you decide to move up here?, have you tried such and such restaurant?, are you interested in walking/running/riding in this upcoming race?, etc.
Down the road, the “what I do/did” comes up and sparks another level of conversation – flushing out further common interests. But, interesting to both Jenny and me, is the fact that it’s been an entirely different way of initially connecting with someone. Actually, more than refreshing.
Before we moved up here, I wrote about the dreaded question… “What do you doooo?” and how uncomfortable it can feel when you lose your identity. I was afraid that “exploring” wouldn’t suffice as an answer during this getting settled in time. But, it has sufficed and it’s been encouraged, and whether I was a radio host, investment banker or professional cat herder doesn’t really make a difference anymore. So, exploring what comes next is what’s on the agenda. And, it’s the answer I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with.
What about you? If you’ve gone or are going through a transition period, what’s your identity? What’s your comfort level with exploring? I’ve felt the entire spectrum of feelings, so I’ll “get” it.Painting – Chair Two Women Talking by Fred Bell
Five provocative questions answered by an inspiring and fabulous woman – a woman with something to say.
Meet Joyce Kramer
Joyce A. Kramer has reinvented herself a few times. She started her career path as a high school English teacher in inner-city Baltimore. After 25 years, she then became Volunteer Director followed by Public Relations and Development Director of a local HIV/AIDS organization and later held the same position with the National Association of People with AIDS. She has owned several businesses, including a plant store in the Fells Point area of Baltimore City, and a consulting business in communications, which led to work with many organizations, including the Voice of America and UNICEF in East Africa. With co-authors Renee Fisher and Jean Peelen, Joyce wrote two books about the challenges and joys of aging: Invisible No More: The Secret Lives of Women Over 50 and Saving the Best for Last: Creating Our Lives After 50. Joyce has always loved her work and enjoyed many opportunities to be in service.
People would be surprised to know that: When circumstances demand change, I can adapt quickly. As my consulting business dried up in the 2009 recession, I downsized, moved to Florida, and discovered a new way to serve others. I became a personal cook. I always loved cooking for my family but never imagined it could earn me an income. I love trying two or three new recipes each week and testing them on friends. I have fun and I get to stay active.
The WTL 5:
What’s the conversation that changed your life?
Although I decided in second grade to become a teacher and held that vision for myself all my life, when I was a junior in college with student teaching looming, I had no confidence that I could be a good teacher. Then I took a child psychology class with a professor who became my greatest teacher and mentor. The course was set up to offer every student the opportunity to excel at some project or task. I selected the task of teaching my psych class a lesson because it was the thing I most feared. Afterwards my professor gave me his evaluation. He told me that I performed excellently and that I would make a good teacher. From my conversation with him, I learned that I was capable, but, more, I learned how to enable others to succeed.
What are you most conscious of today?
I am most conscious that my life is winding down and that I want to make the most of this time. I still enjoy working, as well as walking on the beach, reading, socializing, meditating, and savoring my solitude, and so I am grateful to have lived to this age and remained healthy. I’ve stopped judging myself and discovered my true nature. Accomplishments, which I thought were so important when I was younger, didn’t help me become more conscious. Paying attention to my inner life and doing the work on myself has made all the difference. As I am aging, I relish the peace that comes from my inner work.
What part of you have you yet to give voice to?
The part that I haven’t given voice to is my artist. Although I create through writing and cooking, I have been blocked as an artist for many years. I gave up painting and drawing when I married because I compared myself with my husband who I thought was a better artist. I wasn’t good enough. Now I think I have fears about painting again because I haven’t done it for over 50 years. My head says it is not too late to give this part of me a voice. Yet I know I need to do some more work with myself to let the artist speak.
What’s the conversation women need to be having collectively?
“Feminism” is not a dirty word. Feminists have fought for equal political, economic, legal, and social rights for all women for hundreds of years. We must stand together for all women to improve lives, and thus our children’s, by making our lives healthier, safer, and economically sustainable with or without men. Instead of criticizing or de-humanizing feminists, we could thank all the women who came before us and fought for us, giving us new ways to look at our repressive society and helping us see the choices we have. The conversation needs to be: How can we work together?
What needs to be said bigger, louder, stronger?
Everyone has a story. The story can define us by the way we tell it. We have a choice: We can be victims, or we can liberate ourselves. We can put the past in the past. In order to free ourselves from the stories which have defined us, we must see the story through new eyes. Perspective is everything.
Remembering that everyone has a story, told or untold, can help us to be more compassionate.
Thank you, Joyce, for sharing your powerful voice
with WomanTalk Live
Just when you think you can’t read another newspaper or listen to the broadcast news, something or someone comes along to restore your faith in the goodness of people. There are so many good people doing good things out in our world. Why aren’t we hearing more about them and their acts of kindness?
Last year as the holidays rolled around, the amazingly talented and compassionate old soul in a young man’s body, Josh Urban, came up with a great idea. He decided he wanted to help bring some light into the darkness of the holiday season. Now, many people don’t think of darkness at this time of year. You know, “Ho Ho Ho” and all that stuff. But for others, the holidays bring sadness, pressure and a host of turbulent feelings. That’s who Josh wants to touch and he wants us to help him.
The 2014 Kindness Exchange will run from November 20th thru January 1st, and here’s the idea: if you want to help spread some light, your mission is very simple. All you have to do is do something nice for someone or notice another kindness being done – no matter how tiny – and post about it on Facebook or Twitter using the hash-tag #KindnessExchange. Be sure to remember that hashtag!
Josh is on high alert and will be looking for those hash-tags. When he does, he’ll print out the act of kindness and put it on a holiday tree in his yard – a beacon tree lit with red lights. That tree will become a beacon of light full of shared kindness. The good news will spread to others and could be highly contagious and then, the kindness of friends and strangers will light up the night.
You may even want to start a tradition in your home, office, school or place of worship by creating your own #KindnessExchange tree – full of red lights and acts of kindness. What a beautiful way to spread the light.
Josh was blown away with the response to last year’s movement and the possibilities for 2014:
“Last year the first ever #KindnessExchange was a smashing success, involving people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Plus, it got some great press, too, with features in Positive Impact Magazine, The Daily Progress, The Kindness Blog, Kind Over Matter, Hypebot, Dotted Music, WomanTalk Live blog, and others.
Much to my surprise, the Kindness Exchange Facebook Group created for the 2013 project stayed active through the year with over 400 members, spotlighting good deeds, and getting ready for the 2014 launch.
From playing holiday tunes with patients in a psychiatric ward, in-person shows, and even an online concert for an assembly at an out-of-state elementary school, the music, and project went far and wide – and I was blown away by the enthusiasm of people wishing to do good things for the world. I can’t wait for this year’s project!
Want to get involved? Here’s a few ideas: Adopt the project as a organization-wide initiative to leverage the power of people to make a difference.
Do you have potential to host a beacon tree? Call me! Let’s talk. Perhaps you’d like to book a tour stop: part speaking engagement, part concert, and ALL fun.
Let’s light up the night, and inspire each other to greater and greater acts of kindness. It seems to me that the world is a blank canvas on which we can paint our vision of how we’d like it to be. Let’s paint some light in the darkness this season.”
And, I challenge that… let’s get it going and keep it going. What a way to finish up this year and bring in the new year.
Whose life will you change? Whose day will you save?
When I was little, Halloween was a big deal. We would plan our costumes – homemade, not store bought – for weeks. It was a time when we could still go trick or treating all over our small town and come home loaded down with enough candy to keep us wild and on a sugar high for several months. The sidewalks were full of dressed up kids running door to door.
My father even got into the act. He loved Halloween as much as we did. One year, he rigged up the doorbell to our home. When a kid rang the bell, a loud fog-horn of a noise would come out from the bushes right next to the front stoop and scare the you know what out of them, and then, my sister and I would coming running from the side porch with sheets over us as we screeched at the top of our lungs. Nice, huh? Trust me. It was fun.
Another year as our dad drove us around to the good trick or treating streets, if he saw some of the mature seventh grade boys (good kids, really), he would stop the car and tell them he had been deputized to check and make sure they had not gone over their quota of collecting candy for the evening. Because our dad was well known, these boys actually believed him – until he finally let them off the hook for over-collecting. I can remember, even year’s later, those guys laughing about that trick.
All in all, Halloween was a time of fun. Maybe there were times when some trees got wrapped in toilet paper, a pumpkin got smashed, or someone’s car windows got soaped. Mostly, it was good times.
That all changed forty years ago. Ronald Clark O’Bryan, aka “The Man Who Killed Halloween,” changed the fun of that time. I was living in Houston then and I will never forget how I felt as the story unfolded about the 8-year-old boy from Deer Park, TX, who died after eating Pixy Stix candy laced with cyanide.
Shortly thereafter, his father, later dubbed the “Candy Man” by his fellow prisoners, was accused of staging the crime for insurance money and in 1984, he was executed by lethal injection.
But Halloween was never the same. The following year, in Houston and spreading to other places all over the country, private parties took the place of the old way of trick or treating, and parents became vigilant about checking the goodies their children brought home.
I can remember after Bob and I got married, on our first Halloween, I loaded up on goodies and decorated for the event only to be disappointed that we had only four little goblins who showed up at our door. And, that was about it for our entire time in the Baltimore area. Four measly little goblins.
Well, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that Halloween here in our little Vermont town is a big deal. Parades for costumed kids and streets closed off for serious trick or treating. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a Halloween dinner and open house on one of those closed off streets, so not only were we able to eat, drink, be merry and meet some great people, we also were able to see some serious trick or treating going on. Our hosts have fun with this special day by hanging all sorts of ghouls from tree limbs and the house and creating a spooky graveyard in the side yard with special lighting and tombstones. Needless to say… this thrilled all of the visitors who came collecting. All eight hundred of them. Yep, you read that right. Thank goodness all of the guests had brought bags of Halloween candy to add to the goodie pile. They needed it!
So, forty years after the horror in Texas that changed everything, I am given hope that this fun tradition doesn’t have to go away. And, just like the private parties that happen, there are ways kids can still get to do that old fashioned door-to-door calling. Some innocence regained? I hope so.
What about you? Any vivid Halloween memories from childhood?
Dad’s giving their sons “The Talk” are often moments of extreme discomfort for both parties and can sometimes be a source of very funny stories – here is one such case.
One of the more interesting, and often humorous, rites of passage as a Dad is having the “talk” with their sons about “The Birds and the Bees”. The one I had with my son was so different than what my dad agonizingly stumbled through. I can just imagine a book that compiled all the various stories of how this most common, yet dreaded, passing of feral wisdom from father to son transpires. Kind of like a “Chicken Soup for the ‘Do I really have to do this?’ Dad’s Soul.
To get started, I will share here how my dad thought everything was covered with our talk only to be surprised I actually learned a great deal more in sex-ed class.
We Never Talk About “Down There”
For starters, we *never* talked about sex. Hell, I hadn’t even heard the word until my later grammar school years. We all knew that anything having to do with “down there” was bad, we just weren’t sure why. To say that we were sexually ignorant is putting it mildly. And my dad, well, apparently he had a strong libido (eight kids remember) that caused him a great deal of distress in that it’s a sin and all. He hated to even think about it.
I remember as a young adult in my 20’s asking my mom why dad was so uptight about sex. She said that “ignorance is bliss” and that they had sex “out of love!” so they could have us kids. The way she said it made it sound like it was the most painful, god-awful thing two people could do together –kind of like performing a mutual Brazilian wax job.
This was the sexually clueless context in which my siblings and I were raised. However, no matter how distasteful my dad looked upon his job to inform me about the ways of the world, he was never one to shirk his duty. Unfortunately…
“Let’s Go Hunting”
My dad loved hunting and fishing. It was his escape from the craziness of the family and the stress of running a business. Occasionally he would bring me along even though he knew it was not one of my favorite things to do. On one such trip, I must have been 13 or so, we were driving along this country road and somehow I just knew he was gearing up for “the talk”. I absolutely cringed at the thought and the deep embarrassment/dread he must have been feeling.
Sure enough, my dad starts talking – which in itself was unusual because he never talked much. In any case I was fully braced for what was to come next –or so I thought. He starts out by saying (and I swear this is true): “You know how guys kick other guys in the balls on the playground?” After a few seconds of numbed silence I return a long drawn out “Yea..h?” as much a question as it was an affirmation. He then goes on to say: “Well, there you go!” At this point my mind is going “WTF!?” (and I didn’t even know what the “F” stood for in “WTF”) yet also very relieved that this whole awkward mess was over and we could both just go back to staring straight ahead at the road in dead silence. The only problem was, I was just as clueless as ever and maybe even a bit more confused about sex.
So THAT’s How It’s Done
Several months after that joyful and highly enlightening ride into the country with my dad, I entered into a Catholic (naturally) high school. I broke a long family tradition by not going to the all-boys prep school my Dad and three other brothers attended. Instead I choose a brand new school that just opened, for no better reason than girls could attend as well.
One day during the first quarter of my freshman year I entered into what I thought was going to be just another religion class. However, once again I knew, not sure how, that this one was going to be about “that”! Oh God, how embarrassing. Especially when you have the share the experience with a roomful of other not-quite-as-clueless other schmucks and a couple of religious brothers who were about to teach us this stuff – how the hell did THEY learn about this? Wasn’t it against church law or something for them to even think, much less discuss this most forbidden of all topics?
As the filmstrip played (remember those? This was 1966 after all) my jaw dropped, my brain froze and my eyes bulged in horror. OMG! THAT’s how it’s done!?!?!? In the space of just 30 minutes I went from not having a clue how things worked sexually speaking to having a reasonable idea as to how babies were made. Though, to be honest, the way it was presented still didn’t look like the fun everyone seemed to infer.
For the next few months I basked in my new found secret knowledge of sex. I felt at least part of the human race that actually knew about such things, even though still had not the opportunity to experience it directly for myself. However, I kept this new awareness away from my dad, just waiting for the right time and place to share these new insights (hey, he might even learn something from me – one never knows…)
“Let’s Play Tennis”
Tennis was one of the activities we both genuinely enjoyed doing together. I had a fairly decent serve (very fast, not terribly consistent keeping it in bounds) for which my dad would praise me – something I hungered for much of the time growing up. So as the Upstate NY Spring came into full swing my dad and I set out to play a few sets.
While waiting for the court to open up I decided to risk casually mentioning to my dad that I learned what intercourse was. Continuing to look straight ahead at the other players finishing up he says: “I thought we already covered that.” Oh boy. I had nothing in terms of a come back to that one. Keep in mind that my dad was a big man and was not afraid to impose his size and strength to get a point across or pound some respect into you. So, I did the smart survival thing and simply kept my mouth shut and nodded slightly as I also looked straight ahead hoping those other players would hurry the fuck up so we can end this yet another awkward moment.
Sex, Sex, Sex Everywhere, Let’s Just Not Talk About It
We live in a very hyper-sexed up American culture where it is displayed, implied or shown nearly everywhere and in every media. Yet, when it comes to actually discussing it candidly and authentically, there is still a great deal of reluctance and more than just a hint of shame even today.
Fortunately I think this situation is beginning to change, if ever so slowly. And the best way to break this cycle is to simply talk about it and not make it such a big deal.
I Want to Hear Your Story
I’m beginning to compile “Birds and Bees” stories for a new book. I would love to hear your story of how your dad shared this most intimate of practical wisdom. You can share it here as comment or contact me directly at MJRusser@gmail.com. If I end up using your story in the book you of course will receive full acknowledgement and a signed copy of the book.
After all, getting your story in the book may end up being the best part of receiving “the talk”.
by Michael J. Russer, International Speaker, Author and Thought Leader
Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a shut down world!™
Originally posted on the GoodMenProject.com site
Image: Phil Spratt www.CaricaturesBySpratti.com.au