Embracing the Dark Side

I was en route to the bank when had to pull over and send a tweet to the Kojo Namdi Show when I heard what today’s guest, Todd Kashdan, had to say.

At first I thought it was a strange show topic – a guy against positive thinking! But then I realized where he was going with it.  Kashdan is the Director of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University, was there to discuss his new book, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment.

The book takes on the pop culture trend of positivity and challenges the way it reinforces our habit of denying the truth of our painful experiences.

The key is in the title– be your whole self, not just your good self, and it brought to mind my remarkable journey through pop culture fandom that has done so much to help heal my creative blocks. (unfortunately it has not healed my tendency to tweet before spellchecking.)

I was socialized in the 50’s as a nicey-nice girl, a role where there was no room for loud or angry. The more life piled experiences on me, which of course included pain and anger, there was no outlet for that energy. If these experiences are always negative expressions, they have no way to exist without creating more shame and disappointment.

If we hide away more and more of our true experience of life, we inevitably become less and less authentic. Less real, even to ourselves. There are many versions of this in our mainstream culture – ‘John Wayne’ who can do everything on his own and never sheds a tear, that ‘Nicey-nice’ woman who never loses her temper, ‘Pollyanna’ who is always looking on the bright side.

I’m still very much a work in progress. It took until my 50s for me to truly embrace the inner Dark, to begin the dance with my Shadow and accept it as an integral and essential part of me.  I have become more prickly, less polite in recent years, it’s true. And the world has not ended. I have stood on my priorities, not someone else’s. I appreciate myself so much more as a result.

Do my friends? Hmmm, you’ll have to ask them. I might be a little more difficult to live with!

Big Questions, Simple (Not Easy) Answer

My Sunday ritual with the New York Times is edifying, and often gives me insight into weighty and troubling issues of our times. Good thing: if it were only the grim and terrible news, I couldn’t bear to read it. So this Sunday, these two seemingly unrelated articles entwined in a way that helped me see my own strong views more clearly:

1. Is there a ‘Bad’ Religion?

An ongoing debate launched by provocateur Bill Maher, whose guest Sam Harris, a widely published neuroscientist and atheist, challenged Liberals to uphold their principals of free speech and religion and equality for women and gays. He claims that by defending Islam as just another faith in the multi-cultural rainbow, Liberals are tolerating a hateful religion.

“We have to be able to criticize bad ideas,” said Harris “and Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.”

Reza Aslan defends multicultural tolerance

Reza Aslan wrote a beautiful rebuttal to this view, upholding the notion that extremism comes in many flavors, and many readers chimed in with their points of view.

2. One Woman’s Simple Plea

leymah gbowee
Click for Leymah’s TED talks

Three Short Films About Peace begins with a 15 video interview with 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. (I have yet to enjoy the other two films). Gbowee’s story is so riveting, so personal and so global in its relevance I was stunned. She has walked in the path of Ghandi and Dr. King before her and spoken a woman’s simple truth to power.

 “I wish for a better life. I wish for food for my children. I wish that sexual abuse and exploitation in schools would stop. This is the dream of the African girl.”

Isn’t It Obvious?

It is incomprehensible to me that a leader could ever lose sight of their responsibility to protect people from violence and mayhem. The overwhelming reaction I felt watching Leymah’s story was “Duh!”

Why isn’t it obvious that we need to feed and shelter our people and protect them from violence? Why does the ancient territorial violence override nurturing and creativity?

One simple answer is that women’s voices are not strong enough in public life.

The biggest critique I can level against Muslim culture and religion is the deletion of women’s voices from public life. Not that they are the only ones to blame for this. Orthodox Judaism and large swaths of Christianity limit women’s full participation.

In the ‘civilized’ West, we are still new to the idea of women as fully functioning members of society, being only one hundred years out from jailing and force-feeding Alice Paul for speaking up outside the White House. But we do have women in the public sphere, prime ministers, presidential candidates, and increasingly heads of business.

Half Blind

When all you hear are the views and desires of one half of your citizens, you are missing dimension of humanity necessary to survive. Compare it to monocular vision, or hearing from one ear: the amount of perspective and data missing is exponential.

We need the voices of our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, aunts, daughters and girls to be valued and heard in our culture. And that is my measure for a ‘Good’ religion. Or company, culture, neighborhood, committee, discussion group, governing body and more.

I don’t agree with Sam Harris – it does no good to brand an entire culture as ‘bad,’ but I do know that it’s Leymah who has the answer to creating the world that I want to live in.

Alive Inside, the Power of Music

When my father was in Hospice in has last three days of life, he relaxed, grateful that no one was forcing him to eat or go to appointments. He dozed, phasing in and out of awakening. He heard a wisp of something and asked me:

nanaGoldy“What is that beautiful song?”

I listened, and heard the strains of The Godfather’s haunting theme, floating in from someone’s tv down the hall.

He began to sing  “Dah, dada da, da dah,” very softly.

Inspired, I went to his home, got a portable music player and grabbed some cassettes from the car. They were the filled with the theater pipe organ music he adored, and I hurried back. When I tucked the light headset around his ears, his eyes flew open and he beamed at me, grinning with delight. For the next 2 days, he smiled and dreamed and hummed along to his favorite tunes.

Later that day I went to the meditation garden and heard a song come, not on the breeze but into my mind. It was Greensleeves, my mother’s favorite tune. I shivered, then welcomed her gladly. She had been gone nearly 9 years by that time. I felt as if she walked with me back to his bedside for those final hours.

Last night’s concert (see previous post)was a heart-overflowing event where the music community showed love and support for its own. But what about that which they offer us? What is the value of music?

There’s a new film coming called Alive Inside, that may help answer that question. It’s about the work of social worker Dan Cohen and his Music & Memory™  program.

Terry with her mom, 94

Music & Memory is a non-profit that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly and infirm, training nursing home staff and elder care professionals to create and provide personalized playlists to enable those with memory and cognitive disorders to reconnect with the world.

My dear friend Terry Nicholetti, a DC actor, has known about this power for years. She cares for her 94 year old mother, who long ago lost her capacity to remember or even speak, the result of Alzheimer’s disease. Terry takes her guitar to of the nursing home and plays old-timey songs for the Memory-Care patients, most of whom do not speak or even interact. They often will respond with enthusiasm, some even singing along. Their musical memory is intact when other pathways may be long gone.

“American culture is wrong: there is actually life beyond adulthood. The aging we experience holds very important learning and lessons.  Theres the opportunity to live and grow and become elders. No pill does that.”

from Alive Inside

Grace is the right word

Next Sunday, July 20 there’s a tribute and benefit concert for my friend and neighbor Grace Griffith, the award-winning folk singer from Accokeek Maryland. It’s also an album release party for Passing Through, a new CD.

Due to the effects from Griffith’s 17-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease, the album took more than two years to painstakingly record; the record’s producer Chris Biondo, who also produced and performed with the late Eva Cassidy, opened his studio to Griffith and encouraged her to work at her own pace. The result is a haunting collection of folk and Celtic material revealing the artist’s soul. Griffith’s soaring vocals are made all the more poignant by her deteriorating physical condition.
from Blix Street Records

Play a song from the CD:


Her producer Chris Biondi spoke to WAMU’s Metro Connection on Friday, talking about what it took for Grace to create this final album. “It took a lot of courage to do what she did,” Biondo said.  PLAY THE INTERVIEW

The July 20th concert features a stellar lineup of musicians, including Tom Paxton, Al Petteway, Debi Smith, Marcy Marxer, Cathy Fink, Zan McCloud, Jim Robeson, Chris Biondo, Lenny Williams, Lisa Moscatiello, Randy Barrett and more.

The July 20 show is at the Birchmere in Alexandria at 7:30pm. Tickets available at the box office or online, here.

Please come out and show your support for this gifted singer and lovely soul. The CD Passing Through will lift your spirits and make you cry (that’s a good thing!). And, it makes a great gift!

Don’t Blame Eve, or the Snake

From the movie Noah comes this retelling of the Genesis creation story, which warms my earth-loving feminist heart, as it doesn’t demonize either the Serpent or the Woman. What is forbidden is the Knowledge of Evil, there’s no telling the gender of the fruit-picker. But those who carry out the murder of their brothers appear to be not-women.

I doubt neither Darren Aronofsky or I really seek to blame men for violence, but for me, it’s important lift the burden of sin off of our foremother Eve.

In the narrative of the film, the snake’s skin becomes a sacred symbol of inherited wisdom.  One critical Christian web site called it ‘the skin of satan.’ Noah uses the skin in his son’s initiation, when he tells him the creation story. He wraps the skin around his arm and it merges with him, turning to a spiral energy pattern that looks an awful lot like DNA.

In the Wiccan philosophy, the Serpent is a wise and simple creature, one that sheds her skin when it is outgrown, and begins again. The snake biting its tail, the Ouroborus, is an ancient symbol of infinity and the cycle of life.

So I for one was thrilled to see a version of the story that didn’t blame the woman or the snake.

Anti-Heros: Where are all the Women?

reblogged from Writer Unboxed

I love me a great anti-hero, from Batman to V for Vendetta to the evil yet delicious Frank Underwood. So I enjoyed this blog and loved it’s important question: Where ARE the women? (I suppose Claire Underwood could earn the title in her own right, but the show really is about Frank. See ‘sidekick’ in the discussion of key features of a great anti-hero, below). Tell me about your anti-hero loves (or hates!), and tell me why we don’t see more women in these roles.

Anti-Heroes: Why Devious is so Delectable,
and Where are all the Women?

I don’t watch much TV. In fact, I binge on one show per year on Netflix, maybe two if it’s a good year in television, but that’s about it. (There are just too many good books to read.) But recently I’ve become addicted to the political thriller House of Cards and the indomitable Frank Underwood. With each episode, I find myself absolutely gripped—both fascinated and horrified by this character. I wait with bated breath for his next brilliant comment, his crocodile smile, and the twist of his knife in someone’s back. Another superb detail I adore is that Frank is from a small town in Georgia, so his lilting accent and charm almost make you believe he’s a gentleman. Almost.

Frank Underwood got me to thinking. What’s so great about him? He is egotistical, driven, conniving, adulterous—even murderous, yet he’s an amazing orator, a statesman with manipulative skills that are unparalleled, and above all, powerful. Also? He loves his wife. Though his needs are often first and foremost, he truly loves his wife and it shows. Frank isn’t the only anti-hero…

read more at the original post

“Depressed but Not Ashamed”

Two young journalists discovered that they both live with depressive illness while working together. It was the first time either of them had discussed their illness with a peer. Finding strength and hope from their supportive connection, Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld began to investigate depression among their constituency: high school students.

11% of teens experience depression

Their research uncovered strong links between untreated depression and suicide among young people, as well as estimates that 11% of adolescents experience depression. With suicide the third leading cause of death for young people, Halpert and Rosenfeld felt obligated as journalists to shine a light on the issue: one plagued by the silence enforced by stigma.

They planned an entire issue of their high-school newspaper devoted to teens living with depression, and interviewed teenagers from around their school district about their experience with depression, addiction and anxiety.

Tackling the stigma — and the silence– head on, Halpert and Rosenfeld asked their interviewees to use their real names, and nearly all agreed. They even obtained parental approval.

However, the young editors ran into roadblocks from their administration, who eventually forbid them to publish.  Fearing bullying and other blowback from the personal stories, school counselors and administrators nixed the project.

Our intrepid journalists were not content with just backing down. They published their tale in today’s New York Times Op-Ed page:

We were surprised that the administration and the adults who advocated for mental health awareness were the ones standing in the way of it. By telling us that students could not talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were trying to eliminate.

The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals to talk to, we feel it doesn’t compare to sharing your experiences with a peer who has faced similar struggles.

Whenever people have the courage to stand up and speak the plain truth, and to therefore implicitly ask us to behave as a tolerant, compassionate society, I intend to cheer loudly and often. And to lend my support in whatever way I can.

I once lost a job because my depression became a factor in my performance. Had it been epilepsy, or alcoholism, I would have been protected by the Union and been able to keep my job.

Now I’m a free-lancer who no longer fears retribution for my speaking out. But I know there are many people who fear for their livelihood, kept silent by their corporate and government responsibilities. At best they live with the stress of hiding their illness and living with the fear that it might be discovered. Worse, many go without treatment or medication that could ease or eliminate the symptoms and ravages of the illness.

That’s why today I am Blogging for Mental Health 2014, and want everyone to know about the courage of those who speak out, like Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld. They are making a world where mental health means caring for yourself, without shame.

Would You Like to Fly?

New tiny cameras and flying drones are making remote filming possible in new ways. Take to the skies with these airborne film makers:

Aerial NYC – Randy Scott Slavin

So many drone vids are choppy and unedited. This one is a pleasure, a ride through the city smooth as a spring breeze. Mr. Slavin may have mail ordered his drone, but he has honed his flying, filming and editing skills to a fine degree.


Eagle flight in Chamonix, FR

Devoted French naturalist Jacques-Olivier Travers is working to bring back the White Tailed Eagle, the largest native eagle in Europe,  nearly extinct and not living in the wild since 1959. Working with birds in the ancient falconry traditions, he raises and trains White Tails until they are ready to release. A feature film about his work is in development, and you can see more about the project HERE.


Cornwall: A Birds Eye View

This is a shameless tourist vid for VisitCornwall.com, but it’s a treat, at least for an anglophile like myself.


My Blogging Life

This post also appears, with minor edits, at The Women’s Pages, a multi-author blog for women writers published by the Accokeek Women Writers Group

BloggingI’ve been writing Art Spirit Nature or about three years and I’ve learned a great deal by experimenting with different kinds of writing.  I’ve learned how to grow my followers and  express myself in new publishing format. I’m proud of this blog and I really enjoy it because it gives me a lot of latitude to express myself on topics dear to me. As you know, you’ll find art, science, profiles of creative people, and musings all about the wonder and beauty of the creative life.

But I’m ready now to go to a more professional level, and so I have two new blogs launched this year for business, and I am committed to maintaining these regularly,twice a week. That gives me quite a busy writing life on a regular basis, at least for news and essay writing!

My Marketing and Design blog is called Clearly Creative Communication and you can find it at:


blogging-insideThe purpose is to explore the new mediums of communication, new tools, and also the new ways of working, particularly for creative women. Design and visual communication are also featured.  It’s off to a great start, and I hope if the topic interests you that you’ll Subscribe or Follow.

The other blog is for my other job with Milestone Asset Partners, a commercial real estate investor group. That one is called CRE Milestones and covers news from the world of commercial real estate, particularly multifamily housing, including trends in financing and emerging markets.  A drier subject, but it’s the freshness here that counts; I scan the CRE eNews every day and pluck two topics to feature that week. It’s mostly reporting and linking to others’ stories, where I will summarize the story and occasionally offer my own analysis.

Blogging is an amazing format – it’s basically a magazine that you self-publish. I’ve found that to become a better blogger I need to read lots of blogs, so my next story about blogging will be finding and reading the ones you like. Reading lots of blogs has helped me find a niche in the blogosphere, and find my blogging voice. 

Tell me what you blog about, or, if you don’t (yet) have a blog, what would you write about if you did? It’s all a part of the creative conversation!


Holiday Blues and a White Christmas

I love the movie, and the song,  White Christmas  beyond all reason. The film stars Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kay and Vera Ellen,and I think I watched it with my grandfather every year, curled by the fire.We laughed and sang the songs together,  and  knew many of the lines.

trainWCThe movie is ridiculous. (go watch it, NOW) Crosby and Kaye are terrible cross-dressers. Vera-Ellen needs to eat something. Who bursts into song on the train? And how on earth does that rustic little inn have the soundstage for those dance numbers?

None of this matters. Somehow, this confection, conceived in sunny Hollywood with a hit song written by a Jew manages to evoke the most perfect nostalgia and longing for the perfect Christmas that never was.

I’m home snuffling with a cold/flu thing, looking at my one string of lights and missing all my bygone family, who would be getting on my nerves if they were here, and feeling all these pangs of longing for home. Of course, it’s been a big year for me,  moving  beyond the householder’s life and embracing a new simplicity. With it comes freedom and a lightness. Out goes the tree and the three boxes of ornaments.

I heard composer Rob Kapilow describing what makes the song so great, on the Kojo Nnamdi show the other day. It was a hoot to hear Nnamdi say “I grew up in Guyana and never knew what snow was, and this song still gets to me. Thank you for explaining why.”

Rob Kapilow is known for his talks and performances of “What Makes it Great?” which is now also a book. He’s brilliantly enthusiastic about music, and believes that everybody loves music, given a chance to really listen and understand it. In this video he attempts to explain the genius in Irving Berlin’s song. “You can just feel the pang of memory!”

The love for this film, and song, lives on. The song is covered again and again but it will always belong to Crosby. The film gets trotted out every year, shared with new generations. It’s in the mash-up culture: here’s Vera Ellen dancing, brilliantly,  to Run DMC:

Watch the original 50’s jazz music version