Before the Play is Done

Attitude of Gratitude, leaving a legacy, self improvement, The creative urge, The Inspired Life

Epigram

MY soul, sit thou a patient looker-on;
Judge not the play before the play is done:
Her plot hath many changes; every day
Speaks a new day; the last act crowns the play.

Frances Quarles

 

From the first moment that I met Margaret, I was blown away. It was my first day of watercolor class in college and I was anxious, frightened and fidgeting with all of my shiny new supplies while waiting for students and the teacher to arrive. One glance around the room had already told me that I was in over my head, that there was much more talent surrounding me than I had bargained for. The class was a combination class. Newbies like me jumped in at the beginning and tried to keep up as more accomplished artists painted around them. The theory was that by observing others, there would be more growth. Yeah right, I was going to look like a preschooler with finger-paint.

I began re-packing my things. With five minutes to spare, I figured I could withdraw from the class, no harm done and go sign up at the local park district, where I belonged, before anyone had even realized I was in the room.

Then she burst in.

She was tall, and rim-rod straight, with perfect posture that a soldier would pay good money for. She pulled behind her a cart with three large cases filled, presumably, with art supplies and canvases. “Good MORNING everybody,” she boomed in a huge strong voice. “IT is a BeaUTiful day.” she marched over to a table and bustling about in a flurry of energy, began unpacking everything from the cases.

I sat.

I tried to keep my mouth from hanging open.

Margaret’s hair was silver-gray, piled on to the very top of her head, wound in a long braided bun. Her face wore the road map of many years and many troubles, with lines upon lines intersecting with each other. My brain struggled to keep up with the information it was receiving. The hair, the wrinkles, the thin blue skin with whispers of veins running through it, all spoke of a woman at the end of her life. She had to be in her nineties. But the voice, the posture, the energy, the vibrancy which radiated out of her being screamed No way. This is youth, not age, she can’t be as old as she looks.

I was wrong. She was 93 years old.

The story of Margaret unfolded bit by bit that semester. I learned more about the illusion of age then I did about how to be a great painter in those 16 weeks. And I was grateful for the lesson.  Margaret was an amazing artist. What she could do with a little brush and pots of paint was astounding. Her paintings were hanging in galleries and selling for $4000.00 each for an original. She came to paint in class with us just for the fun of being around people. She had never even picked up a paintbrush until her late 70’s after her beloved husband had passed away. Then with her children grown and no one at home, she decided to go to college and get a degree. A random art class had led to painting and she never stopped.

I asked her what her secret to long life was.

“Never stop learning” she said. “Keep trying something new. You have to make mistakes and figure things out. Oh, and be stubborn. I’m very stubborn. Oh..and don’t forget to walk. I walk every day.” Margaret was big on walking. Every day, she hauled in twice as much stuff as the rest of us. She parked at the far end of the parking lot and walked briskly to the room. She had two big dogs at home that she claimed to walk every day after her morning meditations.

If you asked her if she wanted help with something, you could expect to get glared at. She may have been a sweet, old lady, but she was unwaveringly independent. She didn’t believe in being beholden to anyone, for anything. She was proud, strong and fiercely young at heart.

I lost contact with Margaret after that semester. I finished the class and moved on with my life. Margaret stayed in school for another 4 years, painting in that same room and making a decent living from selling her art. I was saddened to open the local newspaper one morning to see the headline begin with “Oldest College Student has Died…” with a picture of Margaret and one of my personal favorite paintings on the front page.  She had still been in school at 97 years old.

Next week, I will turn 48. As I begin the march up the “Over the Hill”, and the second act of my life’s “play,” I am starting to get very excited. The teasing about fifty looming in the near future has begun, but it means nothing to me. When I think of Margaret, I feel like a baby bird barely sprouting wings. There is a very long list written down on my “things I want to do while I’m still breathing” list and I’m adding new ones all the time. Before the final curtian comes down in my final act, there is much I want to do, much I want to see.

I feel like a kid at the Baskin and Robbins Ice cream store and I want to try all 31 flavors.  I don’t want to miss anything. I want to know that I have tasted every drop, inhaled every fragrance, and touched every soft and wooly item. Lord, let me experience all that Life has to offer and not miss it in my daily round. Don’t let me wander through life unaware.

Never Stop Learning… Margaret’s secret to a long life. Good advice, and I haven’t forgotten it. All the world is a beautiful school with classrooms in every corner, just waiting to teach anything we are willing to learn, as long as we are willing to listen, down to the last day. We can start over at any time, re-write our scripts, begin a new scene, maybe even come up with a surprise ending.

It’s never too late if you’re breathing. What do you want to know? What do you want to do?  How are you going to get there?

Advertisements

The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Mad

self improvement, The Inspired Life

I’m not in a good mood today.

There are reasons for that, and they are not worth going in to; they are no different than everyone else’s reasons for not being in good moods all over the place.

Things have irritated me. Things are out of my control. I don’t seem to be in charge at the moment. I’m not getting my way. I am feeling like a brat.

I am mad.

I am an Italian/Irish woman. I don’t mean to generalize, and I am sure it isn’t true of all Italian /Irish women, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that once in awhile I get mad. I seem to have inherited all the typical stubborn, obstinate pig-headed genes available from both groups. Oh, and the temper ones too.

Over the course of my lifetime, I have had many “opportunities” to work on this life lesson. There is a saying that until you have mastered a life lesson it keeps returning to you.

Well…I guess I’m not done with this one yet. Put it in the “work in progress” category.

Yet, I will say that I have made significant improvement. (OK, that snickering you are hearing in the background is coming from my children, ignore them please,) The journey has been arduous and at times, I will admit to set-backs, but compared to the temper of my youth and the way I used to react to it, I swear, I am getting better.

For example, what would have set me off in my youth to become a door-slamming screaming monster with a rage-filled face, progressed to a yelling, slamming things down and walk out of the room person of my twenties and thirties.

I like to think that in my forties, I am becoming more mature. Sometimes. I don’t recall slamming anything for years and years. Yelling has been reduced to very short outbursts here and there more to make a point then in actual anger. It’s more what I like to think of as “animated speaking”. But real angry, mad outbursts are much, much better.

It helped that I chose to align myself with a very peaceful mate. His almost Zen-like ability to stay calm at all times and never raise his voice is a mystery to me, (and oh by the way, he is Irish too,)and one I am trying to emulate. It turns out, if you want to have a calm life, hang out with calm people.

Over the years, I have worked out some ways to curb my temper that have proven to be more successful than waving my arms wildly in the air and screeching like a lunatic. Most of them I have stumbled on by trial and error, having found some not so successful ones and then narrowing down the list to a workable handful.

For any of you out there who may be suffering the fate of temper with me, I thought I’d share my do’s and don’ts of getting mad. (Honest disclosure: having figured out the list doesn’t mean I am always in 100% compliance. Think of it more as a goal list.)

Wendi’s Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Mad

1. DO: Pour yourself a nice glass of wine, or tea, or water, go find a nice comfy couch and go sit quietly for a little while. Reflect on what is really making you mad. My experience is that it usually isn’t the first thing you thought it was. That might have been the trigger, but there is something underneath. Better go scratch it for awhile and see what comes up.

DON’T: Drink the whole bottle of wine and give yourself a hangover or a crying jag. Too much alcohol has rarely made a bad temper feel any better.

DO: Write your feelings in a journal to help you explore and get to the real deal. Explore your part in the experience and do some-soul-searching. What can you learn? How can you grow?  What can you change and do differently? Where is your measure of personal responsibility?

DON’T:Fire off a nasty e-mail or write out your darkest secrets on the Internet unless you are willing to have a future employer tack that on to your resume some day. As my mother always said “Don’t put anything in writing that you aren’t willing to see in the newspaper.” If you have journaled out stuff that can get you in trouble, shred it or burn it as soon as you are done. It’s your therapy, not your confession.

Do: Call a trusted friend for an uplifting, happy conversation on any other topic. Plan something fun, listen to all the things going on in their life, see if there is anything you can do to be a help to them. Get inspired. Go for a walk. Get distracted.

DON’T: Call a friend and regurgitate a boatload of garbage on to them. Especially don’t do it over and over and over. All this does is keep you mad and cost you friends. Whatever gossip you feel compelled to drop on them will spread like fire and leave them doubting your integrity and trust when they have something important to share.

Do: Look for the win-win solution. In almost every circumstance, if you look hard enough, there is a win-win solution to the problem. Focusing on the solution defuses the anger by helping you to look at both sides of the issue objectively. It is hard to stay angry when you are actively helping someone win. Ever try to cheer for someone you are mad at? Once you are cheering for them, you can’t stay mad. They become your team-mate and you are on the same side.

DON’T: Look for revenge. Revenge is the lighter fluid of mad. Revenge turns everything nasty, bitter and ugly. Once revenge has entered the game, nobody wins. Especially you. It might seem sweet in the imagination, but it is vile what it does to the body, mind and spirit. The second it enters you mind, shut it out, not for their good, do it for your own good.

DO: Sit down calmly and quietly and share your enlightened thoughts and feelings at a later time. Express your concerns, offer ideas for solutions. Imagine that you are in a very professional business setting with the highest level executive. Use language that you would use with the most respected person you know. Be honest. Be authentic, don’t say what you think they want to hear, make sure the solutions are solutions you can actually abide by so that you don’t get mad all over again later.

DON’T: Sit and stew about it. Don’t give the cold shoulder and hope that someone notices that you are mad and comes to rescue you out of your madness. Don’t whine and don’t sigh. No one likes a martyr. No one wants to play fifty questions guessing why you might not be happy today.

DO: Forgive and forget. Move on. We are learning and living at our own pace and we all make mistakes. I’ve made my fair share…probably more…I have no right to sit in judgment about anyone else’s mistakes.

DON’T: Hold a grudge. Don’t Hate. Both of these emotions will hurt you more than they will ever hurt the target of those emotions. I personally hate snow (can’t help it) but the snow could care less. Until I find a way to change my attitude, the only one being harmed by my hatred is me. The snow certainly hasn’t changed its behavior! Human targets are no different!

I don’t think any of these Do’s and Don’t are naturally easy. Except maybe to my Zen-like husband. The rest of us have to work on various aspects of them. We are “works in progress” that can improve with focus and desire.

Oh…did I forget the most important one?

DO: Speak in a calm and peaceful tone.

DON’T: ……….YELL!!!!!

As Lucky as a Four-Leaf Clover

self improvement, The Inspired Life, Uncategorized

My oldest daughter has had the nickname of Lucky for as far back as I can remember. Even as a little girl. She is one of those people that seem to have all the luck. There is one in everyone’s life, who seems to jump to the head of the line effortlessly, while the rest of us toil and sweat just to make ends meet.

“Geezzz…” mumble, mumble, “Why does she get all the luck?”

“Gosh, darn, guess she was just born under a lucky star…”

And the nickname was born.

Being her mother, I have had a close opportunity to observe this Lucky Star Girl for all of her years now, childhood to adult. Through the years, it became clear that there were some consistent elements at work that had a strong impact on her ability to receive this so called luck. During the times that she followed these habits, her percentage of luck was very high. During other times, (after all, she was once a teenager too) when her habits were less in play, she would sometimes say, “Maybe my nickname should be Un-lucky instead.”

There are several traits that successful “lucky” people have in common. Often these traits go unnoticed by others, who can’t seem to understand why their ship is taking so long to sail in, and all the lucky people get boat after boat.

After seeing first hand how this luck works, I have observed the following “good-luck” principles.

1. Lucky People know what they want and believe they can achieve it.

They have a clear-cut goal in mind and they can visualize the outcome. They rehearse the end result often in their mind, seeing themselves as already having achieved victory.

This has been written about in several ways by several authors. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lists this as Habit #2, Begin with the end in Mind. Zig Zigler, author and motivational speaker, sums it up in three easy to remember words. Plan, Prepare and Expect.

2. Lucky People are focused, driven and passionate.

Since it is St. Patrick’s Day, I suppose it’s only fair to admit that my daughter has a lot of the good Irish blood running through her veins. In her case, we can add good old-fashioned stubborn to the mix and I think that’s true of most other “Lucky” successful people as well. Once the target has been fixed in their mind, they are on a one-track train to get there. It is virtually impossible to move them off their goal. Naysayers, who enjoy telling them just how impossible their goal will be, are often frustrated to find that their words are falling on deft ears. Their negativity will not sink in.

3. Lucky People refuse to quit, but are willing to fail.

No matter how difficult the challenge becomes, lucky people don’t give in and they don’t give up. They realize that just when you think you have hit the end, that victory is often right in front of you. They also realize that along the way, failure is going to happen. They are willing to jump out of their comfort zone and take a chance. They don’t operate out of a fear of failure, but from a love of learning. They use failure as means to gain new experiences and lessons and come back to the goal, smarter and wiser.

4. Lucky People are willing to do the dirty work.

They are the ones that say YES to the nasty jobs that no one else wants to do. They aren’t afraid to start out at the bottom and work their way up. They are hard working and energetic and seem to have their fingers in more pies than everyone else. They see the work that needs to be done as opportunities and are often the one doing all the extra little things and tying up the loose ends. This puts them in a perfect position to just “happen to be there” when opportunity is knocking on the door.

5. Lucky People are nice to themselves and others.

One of the reasons my daughter has the nickname of “lucky” is because of her happy-go-lucky nature. In fact, her happy, smiling, bubbly personality masks the focused, driven side of her personality so much that often people who have known her for a good while don’t notice that it’s there. She isn’t one of those Type A-waiting for a heart- attack-get out of my way- type of goal-driven people. She might work too hard, and not get enough sleep, (something a mother is good for nagging her about) but she has a great sense of humor, can laugh at her mistakes, a positive self-esteem and positive self-talk.  She isn’t always putting herself down or beating herself up over every little mistake. She has many great friends and is a team player who is always looking for ways to help others succeed. Because people love to be around her and genuinely like her, it’s a common thing for fun, interesting ideas or lucky things to happen when they all get together.

My daughter was over this weekend for our annual St. Patrick’s Day party. She was wearing her four-leaf clover necklace, which she never takes off. She says it’s her Good Luck Charm. I asked her what her secrets of good luck were. She answered me in one sentence, spoken in her best Forrest Gump sounding voice.

Lucky is, as Lucky does.

I thought that just about summed it up. Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Good Luck.