April 8, 2015

Trivia question: what’s the best-known word in human speech?

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Tags: , — Ann @ 7:06 am
So be it.

Aka, you said it, sister!

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that one of my friends had commented on a post, “Amen!” Later, driving to work, I started giving serious thought to the word. First of all, there’s the pronunciation. Growing up, I mainly attended Protestant churches where everyone chimed in with “ay-men” or “ah-men.” Later, attending services with a Jewish partner, I noted that the congregants all said “Ah-main,” the Hebrew pronunciation.

According to myjewishlearning.com, the word is a liturgical response common to all three of the Abrahamic faiths. Bouncing around on Google, I discovered that there’s no real agreement as to its origins and it pretty much depends on who you ask. I saw references to the word being of Greek, Christian, Hebrew, Hindu, and Pagan origin. If you want to read more about its roots, head over to Wikipedia and scroll down to “Etymology.” Most Jewish sources agree that “amen” has the same Hebrew root as emunah (faith) and is also connected with the word emet meaning “truth.” But there’s not even real agreement as to how it should be translated. Depending on where you go on the Internet, it means “so be it,” “truly,” “in truth, “affirmed,” or “trust in the Lord.” Some say it’s the best-known word in human speech; others say that “okay” gets that distinction. (If you really want to delve into murky etymological waters, check out the word “selah” on Wikipedia. In Judaism, it’s like “amen” but even more so — a sort of industrial-strength version. However, no one knows what it means or where it came from. And whereas “amen” appears in the Bible a mere 30 times, “selah” appears a whopping 74 times. Selah is the last word in Anita Diamant’s book “The Red Tent. It’s even heard in some reggae songs.)

So, some say ah-men, some say ay-men, some say ah-main, and some even say selah. However, many years ago when I was attending Jewish services regularly with my partner, I found that my years of exposure to Christian liturgy made me uncomfortable with “Ah-main,” so I created my own response. Which is why, if you ever go to services with me and listen very carefully at the end of prayers, you’ll hear me softly intoning this: “I’m in.”

Nobody’s the wiser, and it works for me.

April 3, 2015

Praise asterisk, from whom all blessings flow

Praise Star

Is that you, God?

Yesterday I attended a Juvenile Probation training on adolescent trauma, facilitated by an excellent speaker who filled her presentation with amusing and/or intriguing anecdotes, no doubt in an attempt to keep us all riveted for 8 hours in a stuffy, fluorescent-lit room. She did a great job.

One story in particular will stay with me, probably forever. In the context of discussing gratitude-and-mindfulness research, she talked about being at an ascension meditation retreat some years ago and, one morning when the attendees were preparing to spend a good chunk of time in focused meditation and chanting, their teacher wrote on the board the phrase she wanted her students to recite out loud: PRAISE [*] FOR MY LIFE. The asterisk, of course, was meant to be a placeholder for whatever ‘higher power’ was relevant to each participant: God, Goddess, the Divine, the Source, Allah, the Universe, the One — whatever.

But as the group began to chant out loud, she became aware that quite a few of the participants were reciting, ‘Praise Star…,’ because they’d interpreted the asterisk as “Star” — a name for the One. She was so enchanted by the idea that she adopted it as her name for God and still uses the full mantra as part of her meditation-gratitude practice.

Praise Star For My Life. It has a lovely shine to it.

March 23, 2014

About life, leaving, and Candy Crush Saga.

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Tags: , , , , , — Ann @ 8:15 am
He knew a bad hand when he saw it.

He knew a bad hand when he saw it.

A wonderful thing happened to me yesterday: I encountered a Candy Crush Saga level that I simply couldn’t beat (Level 92, for any Crushers who may be reading this). And the realization gave me the freedom to walk away because I’d arrived at the point of diminishing returns – when the precious time, energy and focus I was devoting to the endeavor was failing to provide me with the fun, fulfillment and appropriate neurotransmitter releases to make it worthwhile.

And of course, that got me thinking about the times in my life when I failed to recognize that magic moment – that sweet packet of ultra-important information — when it dropped into my awareness. As the man sang, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. And sometimes I held ‘em until the unthinkable happened: time and life were frittered away.

For example: I stayed in the law game far too long. I was afraid to leave it for two of the usual can’t-quit reasons: money and security. And I stayed in some relationships way beyond their expiration date, long past the day when all of my instincts screamed “Now!” but my fear-tenacity centers answered, “Maybe something will change….”

Here’s a secret: At that point in the game, things seldom change. I’ve heard people say, “I’ve devoted too much time to this relationship/job/endeavor to end it.” In most cases, the minute you think or say that, it’s a year or more past time to get out.

I am not saying that there is no room for steadfastness, for better or worse, employee loyalty, and all those fine moral guideposts. What I’m saying is that you will probably know when it’s over. And what I’m asking you to do is listen to your instincts. Staying for the sake of staying? That way lies madness. Or, to come full blog-circle: at that point, you’re not mastering the art of the game. You’re not crushing candies. You’re crushing your own spirit.

UPDATED APRIL 12, 2014: After a fashion, I went back to Level 92. I played once or twice a day, and always for the fun of it. I played to relax, and I played to match candies and enjoy the pretty colors. I didn’t get upset if I lost, because I expected to lose. And one night, to my amazement, I beat the Level. I’m now on Level 102. So I’m back on Candy Crush, but with a difference: I’m playing it, it’s not playing me. I no longer get frustrated, no longer beg Friends for extra lives. I only play when I need to relax. And the metaphor still works: sometimes you don’t need to give something up; sometimes you only need to do it better. And again, you will probably know what’s best for you. Happy crushing!

September 15, 2013

What I’ve Learned About Posting on Facebook

Filed under: MiscellAnnia,Rants! — Ann @ 11:07 am

Just a thought

When I first started using Facebook, I was the worst. Giddy with newcomer’s joy and accustomed to the relative “privacy” of the Faire yahoogroups community to which I’d been posting for years, I chatted about personal problems, talked about financial woes, delved into health issues (facepalm), and posted game apps like they were horserace scores. I was out of control. I confess, it’s taken me longer than it should have to get even a little bit Facebook savvy — and still sometimes I slip.

With that said, here are tidbits I’ve gleaned as to what makes a good post on Facebook. These are lessons I’ve learned; your mileage may vary. In other words, I’m not trying to tell you what to do or how to post. Okay, maybe I am, just a little. And there’s the thing: Even though I know better, I’m still guilty of violating my own guidelines at times. But I’m better than I used to be. And I haven’t posted a cat photo in days.

1. Keep posts brief. Long narratives are okay sometimes, if there’s a payoff, but otherwise get a blog.

2. Be entertaining, if possible. Not everyone has the comedic skills of Steve Martin or the writing skills of Stephen King, but do strive to bring a smile.

3. But don’t try too hard. This comes off on Facebook as, well, desperate.

4. Try not to post your Scrabble Bingos or other point scores reached on games. Even those who love you more than life itself really don’t care. Really.

5. You get to post one Petition per year. Choose wisely.

6. Unless you have a very “interesting” group of friends, know that if you routinely post cat photos and videos, the audience for those will be very small.

7. Life vignettes of the “you’ll never believe what happened to me!” variety are great. Refer to guidelines in #1 and #2 above.

8. As in Real Life, politics and religion are dicey. Understand that you may be starting something you didn’t want to start, and you’re not going to change anyone’s mind. But if your inner activist is nevertheless called to Facebook, preach away, children. However, the caution of #6 applies here.

9. You don’t really need to be warned about ads or spam, right? Or personal posts about money, health, personal relationships, your job, your boss, etc.? Sometimes people like to post in ways that bring them support for their troubles; who am I to scold? Just tread carefully in these very choppy, very dark waters.

10. Sharing articles that move, inspire, inform and blow the socks right off is wonderful – probably not very many Friends will read them, however.

11. Try to be positive. In general, posting hair-raising news of the day for no good reason (and, arguably, Amber Alerts may be a good reason) isn’t really Facebook-Friendly. Other good reasons include important updates about encroaching fires and horrible traffic jams. A good rule of thumb is the old “before you speak, THINK: is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind’?

12. No guilt-tripping. “Like and Post This On Your Status for One Hour or You Hate Jesus and a Puppy Will be Drowned” is no fair. Not all of us like to re-post.

13. A personal request: please no photos of Gruesome Things. I don’t want to have to scroll past you.

14. Funny always wins. Not necessarily Insulting Funny, but funny in the way that hilarious kid in 11th grade was, always making people laugh effortlessly and easily. Fortunately, I have several Friends who are like this and their posts are pure gold.

And, finally:

15. Snopes. Snopes. Snopes. Please God, Snopes.

July 24, 2013

Kate Middleton and The Bump Seen ‘Round the World

She could have hidden this. Her choice speaks volumes - courageous volumes.

I’m not much of a Royals Watcher. Frankly, I don’t understand a lot of the fuss, but I acknowledge that millions of Americans derive pleasure from tuning in to palace happenings, especially the ones which feature plenty of pomp, horse-drawn carriages, and elegantly-uniformed heralds making “hear ye” proclamations. I didn’t pay much attention to the fairy-tale rise and tragic death of Diana Spencer and I haven’t been paying much attention to the next generation: William and Kate, their wedding, her subsequent pregnancy or, most recently, the birth of their baby. (I just had to double-check the name of her husband because I wasn’t sure which of Diana’s kids he was. That’s how out of the loop I’ve been.)

But something happened yesterday that made me sit straight up and take notice of this woman named Kate Middleton. Tom Sykes of The Royalist summed it up nicely:

“As [she] stood proudly on the steps of the Lindo Wing yesterday with her new baby, she chose to wear a cornflower blue polka dot dress – remarkably similar to the one William’s mother, Diana had worn when she appeared from the same hospital carrying her first son. But whereas Diana had stepped out of the hospital in a dress that would have been more use on a camping trip than at a cocktail party – a huge, figure-shrouding gown that hid her post-pregnancy body – Kate…emerged in a light Jenny Packham dress…with a gathered empire waist that actually belted above her tummy, making no effort to hide her changed body shape. This thoroughly modern royal was apparently determined to lend a helping hand to women everywhere who have just give birth, and shatter one of the last taboos of pregnancy – the post-baby belly.”

In response to the photos of Kate with a prominent belly bulge, I’ve read comments from people wondering why she still “looks pregnant” and wondering whether something was amiss. Because, unfortunately, many of the models we have in the States for post-pregnancy body shapes come directly from Hollywood/celebrity culture which would have us believe that a woman who is too thin to throw a shadow when she conceives will be just as pencil-slender the day after labor and delivery. If memory serves, People has historically devoted large chunks of their shiny fantasy-mag to articles (with photos) that boast how quickly so-and-so got her body back post-baby. In America, this is the gold standard of motherhood — to very quickly look like you are NOT in fact a mother and get back to your sexy, sexy self the minute the cord is cut. What baby?

How powerful was Kate’s choice to be seen in all of her post-delivery glory? In the same Royalist article, Siobhan Freegard said that “In a couple of minutes on the steps of the Lindo Wing, Kate has done more for new mums’ self esteem than any other role model.
 Sadly too many celebrities often have ultra fast tummy tucks or strap themselves down to emerge in tiny size 6 jeans, leaving everyone else feeling inadequate. Kate shows what a real mum looks like – and natural is beautiful.

Kate could have done any number of things to hide the fact that she still looks six months pregnant (which is normal, and known by every new mother trying to squeeze into the same clothes she wore to the hospital for the trip home). She could have gone the Diana route and lost herself in a tent dress. She could have girdled it up and dressed it down to minimize it as much as possible. She could have refused to be photographed until after she was seated in the car. She could have held the car seat/baby in front of her. She could have chosen to cast and maintain an illusion of perfection. Instead, she chose to show the realities of childbirth and demonstrate the truth that even duchesses who live in palaces have real post-baby bodies, bulges and all. That’s confidence — utter, complete, this-is-what-I-look-like confidence. And nothing makes a woman more beautiful and interesting than confidence.

It’s also incredibly positive and powerful role-modeling for women everywhere. Kate Middleton, I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to you. I like you.

June 29, 2013

Of Mad Men and Unique-Looking Women: Why Megan Draper Will Succeed

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 3:24 pm

Megan Draper Has All the Right Stuff

Do not read this if you have not watched all of “Mad Men” Season Six – spoilers ensue.

I’ve just finished watching the season finale of “Mad Men.” Among all of the other moves and changes in the air, actress Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) — the “child bride” of our antihero, Don Draper — is poised to move to L.A. to investigate “all these opportunities in Hollywood.” Thinking about the timing of this, and what Hollywood was cranking out in the late 60s and 70s, I predict that the Divine Ms. Megan is going to be a smash hit in tinsel town. Why? Apparently she’s got the acting chops — she’s holding her own on a hit soap opera — and (speaking of chops) I predict that her interesting-looking mouth is going to win her all the grittiest roles. It was right about the late 60s and early 70s that Hollywood started recognizing the value of the imperfect face, and 1970s actresses were notoriously quirky in this regard. Karen Black, who was glorious in the very dark “Nashville” (1975), had a crossed eye. The effect added an authentic note to her strange-girl characters and epitomized the off-set feel of the era.

Karen's Eyes

Films of the 70s were all about the unconventional, the antihero. As one writer put it, “films began to reflect the disenfranchisement brought by the excesses of the past twenty years.” Post-Vietnam, directors of the time were willing to take an unflattering look at America as they had never done before, and their honest look into the face of a country gone mad was reflected in their casting choices. Sure, Catherine Deneuve was still around to reflect mid-century’s infatuation with the perfect, cool, icy blonde, but many of the major award-winning films of the 70s starred actresses who might not have had a chance in an earlier era. In the 1970s, Glenda Jackson was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two. She was mighty in talent, but no classical beauty.

Acting Goddess Glenda

Sally Field, who won every award under the sun for 1979′s “Norma Rae,” was more cute than glamorous (and we saw her sweat on screen!), as was Diane Keaton, who took home all the awards in 1977′s “Annie Hall.”

Guts Not Glamour

Boyish Good Looks

Marsha Mason, another plain powerhouse, was nominated for several Oscars in the 1970s and “Cinderella Liberty” earned her a Best Actress Golden Globes statuette.

No Cinderella She

I predict that Megan Draper — or Megan Calvet, if she wants to see her birth name in lights — is going to be a casting director’s dream as she crosses the threshold into this newer, darker Hollywood. I can see her cast opposite Al Pacino, John Cazale, Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda or any of the other Bad Boys of the time. That is, of course, unless she finds herself competing for roles against Lauren Hutton

We Love Lauren's Gap

or Ali McGraw — two “dentally different” actresses who drew some juicy roles at the time AND garnered admiration for owning their uniqueness.

The Crossed Tooth Was Her Mark of Beauty

1970s Hollywood was all about relentless honesty, and Megan Calvet Draper is going to fit right in. Don Draper, however, should stay in New York.

December 25, 2012

Extracting the Essence

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 12:06 pm

I Don't Know How to Love You

When I first met my partner, Neal, back in 1988, during one of our marathon talks he described his goal of not simply “eating the hamburger,” but “eating the hell out of the hamburger” — in other words, not just enjoying, but enjoying to the fullest. It puts me in mind of bumper-sticker advice that was popular a few years back: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘WOW . . . What a ride!’” Used up. Maximum enjoyment. Years later, Neal and I splurged on a pricey dinner while taking a riverboat cruise. As the waiter served our meals, Neal and I made a pact to eat as slowly as possible, not only savoring each bite but taking turns describing the flavors and textures to each other. Looking back, I realize that was our attempt to totally immerse ourselves, extracting the essence of the Experience.

I’ve thought about this concept a lot over the years. How does one go about fully appreciating something? I think our unspoken quest to do this underlies our obsession with cameras. There have been times when I have been looking at something of exquisite beauty — a cloud formation, an intensely-colored rainbow streaking across a pewter-gray sky — and I have actually caught myself in the process of yearning for ways to fully capture and embrace everything I was seeing. Sometimes that yearning manifests in the wish that I could take a photo, but even that would not preserve the perfect aching moment of raw, lived experience.

As I write this, my family has gathered in the East Bay from several corners of the United States in order to carry out two tasks: to mourn the death of my sister, who was taken from us suddenly eight days ago, and to celebrate Christmas as enthusiastically as mourners can. Last night we were all at my parents’ house in Pinole and I as I looked from face to face — my son, my grandson, my nephews, my nieces, my Mom and Dad, my brother — that old feeling came to visit: How can I fully appreciate the wonder of this experience, that we are all together, that I can actually reach out and touch my niece who lives in Tennessee, someone I can normally only keyboard with? What would that look like, that deep appreciation? Walking around the room and holding each family member, gazing into their eyes for long minutes? They’d think I lost my mind.

I don’t have an answer. The result is that every time I am in a moment of Grave Importance — beholding beauty in nature or sitting in a room full of loved ones — I always feel a spine-scratching anxiety, something like the inner voice whispering, “Remember this, this is important, soak it up, take it in.” But I’m never sure I’ve enjoyed it enough, certainly not in proportion to its monumental import.

I believe that our inability to express our love as fully as we feel it manifests not only in our desire to capture our feelings on camera (or, as artists and poets know, on canvas or in verse) but also in our desire to merge with the object of our adoring gaze. And I’m not referring to intimate merging (although loving partners will know that yearning). Many times I’ve been out in nature and have felt such a surge of gratitude for the beauty around me that I wanted to become one with the landscape. You think tree-huggers are weird? I think they’re just acting out that primal dilemma: “I don’t know how to love you enough but that’s not going to stop me from trying.”

This morning there are photos of Christmas Eve pasted all over Facebook, attempts at capturing last night’s gathering. And I’m glad we have the photos. I’m glad we have the memories. It’s just that I’m still working on a way of extracting the essence of all that love and beauty in the moment that it surrounds me. I still don’t know how to do it. What’s worse, looking back over this blog piece, I realize I don’t even know how to write about it.

May 20, 2012

Laws for a good life

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 10:09 am

The Eight Laws

As a young girl I was involved with both Camp Fire Girls (now the more inclusively named “Camp Fire”) and Job’s Daughters. Although neither was strictly a religious organization, both had strong overtones along those lines, which probably accounts for the deeply felt spiritual connection I hold to this day.

Lately, because of Facebook, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my Camp Fire days. Someone created a Camp Seabow page — Camp Seabow was Camp Fire’s summer camp and my annual playground near Laytonville, California — and those of us who shared early memories of camping and Camp Fire in general have gathered there to post photos, remembrances, and updates. Recently, someone posted the eight “Laws of Camp Fire.” As a young girl I dutifully recited these (and even sang them, because a truncated version became our anthem) without giving them much deep thought. But this morning I took the time to examine each one:

Worship God – We’re free to interpret this one, and I hear it as a call to have some sort of spiritual practice, even if that means sitting on a beach contemplating the wonder of it all.

Seek Beauty – This law encourages us to “look for the good in all people, places, things and nature” — a wisdom I can’t argue with.

Give Service – This one reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers: “Get involved. The world is run by those who show up.”

Pursue Knowledge – The law in full reads: “Try new things. Experiment with a new skill. Learn more about something you already know.” Excellent, and I would add, “Pursue higher education,” because I believe in its power.

Be Trustworthy – It would be difficult to have a good life without abiding by this.

Hold onto Health – I had a major revelation about ten years ago: “Life is energy.” Put not-so-simply, without good, lively energy to see us through the day, life can be hellish. Maximize your chances by doing all the things They tell us to do and avoiding the enemies of vitality. You know the list.

Glorify Work – This law reads “Do the best you can with everything you do. Be proud of your work. Finish what you start.” I would modify it somewhat with an encouragement to “prepare yourself for and then seek work you feel passionate about.” A hated job is a one-way path to misery and despair.

And, lastly:

Be Happy – A lot of people get confused about this one, wondering how they can be happy when there is so much to be miserable about. If you’re still unsure, with an open heart and a willingness to entertain a different point of view, Google “happiness quotes” and start reading. Here’s a good resource. Many wise and learned men and women have had much to say over the centuries about the wisdom of choosing happiness. Acknowledging that it can be a choice is the first step to achieving joy.

I learned quite a bit about quite a lot when I was a Camp Fire Girl: how to lay a fire, how to swim, how not to rush the process of toasting marshmallows (useful as metaphor), and how to work towards something I find meaningful: in those days, achievement patches. Along the way, and especially as I grew older, I wish I’d given more attention to the eight Laws. Anyone seeking a brief guide to a good life would find these a step in the right direction. Nicely done, Camp Fire.

March 16, 2012

Women in Dreams

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 8:28 am

Last night I dreamed of a community of women, all supporting each other.

It seemed like every woman I’ve ever met was in the dream. In it, I drifted through a series of vignettes.

In one “scene,” one of my counseling program classmates was on the phone interviewing for an internship while a group of supporters stood around her offering encouragement and advice.

In other scene, a woman running an employment agency announced to all of us present that 80% of the women she had hired were moving away from husbands to start their new lives (all the women applauded).

In another snapshot, something bad had happened to me and some women-friends were writing affirmations and healing prayers on a whiteboard to give me protection.

It was the strangest, most wonderful dream I’ve ever had.

July 17, 2011

Camp Seabow Songbook

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 8:01 am

The Eel, The Eel, What a Rotten Deal

Camp Seabow Songbook
A Work in Progress by Ann Clark [formerly Patty Clark]
From my memories at Camp Seabow, @1962 – 1967

Some of the following songs were sang only on the bus or in the dining hall (Noble Duke of York), some were exclusive to Camp Seabow, some were simply old folk songs, and I suspect that some of them came from Mrs. Armand’s childhood. How many do YOU remember?


She sat on the veranda and ate chocolates, ate chocolates, ate chocolates,
she sat on the veranda and ate chocolates, ate chocolates.
He sat down beside her and smoked his cigar [repeat etc.]
She sat there beside him and played her guitar…
He told her he loved her but oh how he lied…
She told him she loved him, but she did not lie…
They went to be married, but she up and dies…
He went to the funeral, but just for the ride…
She went up to heaven and flip flop she flied…
He went down below her and sizzled and fried…
The moral of this tale is never to lie…
Or you, too, may perish and sizzle and fry…


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