Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Things Just Got Real...


OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG.
ADVANCE READER COPIES JUST ARRIVED.
Troy asked me, "How do you feel?"
Hmmm...How do I feel?
Excited.
Nervous.
Relieved.
And maybe just a little bit like puking.


Years of soul searching, hard work, ass-in-chair 24/7 writing days...and now it's finally about to be real. 

How do I feel?
Like I've grown up a lot. Realized the patterns of my own making, learned how to break free of some of them. I grew so much through writing my essay in Dancing at the Shame Prom, and in co-editing it, and in the process of collaboration with Amy Ferris. Giving birth to that book full of amazing stories from such powerful women was huge and life changing.

Now, I feel like I am about to embark on a scary new adventure. A rollercoaster ride. And I am not a fan of roller coasters. 

And I feel like I want so much for every one of you to write your stories, even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you.  

I want to hear your stories. 
I want to share with you my story. 
Because I believe we can all help each other to heal on this journey home. 


***Fire Season will be released on April 14th, but you can pre-order at Barnes and Noble, Indiebound or any major bookseller, and here on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Season-Journey-Ruin-Redemption/dp/1631529749

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year, A New Beginning





For the past few years on New Year's Eve, I couldn't wait for the year to be over. They were years of struggle and challenge, lawsuits and deaths and restraining orders and floods and exploding plumbing disasters. But in these years, there have also been miracles. Every tragedy gave me the opportunity to grow my compassion. Every challenge allowed me to work my courage muscles. And for all the times I was stuck, I had to work hard to strengthen my wings- and that's a good thing. Maya Angelou used to say, when you are in trouble, say thank you, because there is already a rainbow behind the clouds. Just because you can't see it yet, doesn't mean it isn't there.

I don't mean to sound Pollyanna-ish. I don't love getting older, but I'm grateful that I'm wiser, and especially grateful that I'm healthy. I didn't love being betrayed and getting fired from my job this June, but I am so grateful now to have a much better job. I hate that my sister-cousin Tammey died, but I am grateful that I got to share so much of my life with her, and that I still get to love her and remember her and share my memories of her with everyone.

In writing FIRE SEASON, I could see clearly on the pages that when I looked at my life with gratitude rather than regret, everything changed.

I am grateful for everything this year. Grateful for learning, growing, new experiences, my husband and children, my amazing friends, this beautiful world that I got to explore. 




 What were you most grateful for this year?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dreams are a Powerful Thing

 

Last night at the King Family Christmas party, our friend Wendy got up and told the story of her childhood Christmases in Australia. Her father ran a general store that was open 365 days a year, even half a day on Christmas. On Christmas, she and her brothers would watch Christmas shows on TV, and wait for their father to get home from the store. Their father believed in each person getting only one gift, so they'd wait all day to open their one gift, and that was Christmas. She asked her father, "Why can't we have a Christmas like they have on TV and the movies?" and her father said, "That stuff is only on TV. It isn’t real." But Wendy never stopped dreaming about those sparkly Christmases she saw every year on TV.

When she grew up, Wendy came to California on vacation, where she met and fell in love with a lovely man - and because of him, she would never leave California. They were married twenty years ago, and had a family. Little did she know when she met him that this man was part of the King Family- the family known for their annual Christmas specials. Troy and I have been part of the King Family’s annual holiday party and Christmas Show for 15 years, and let me tell you- nobody does Christmas like the King Family. Wendy’s Christmases now are far beyond the ones she saw in the movies. Every year, Christmas is sparkling and full of song and family and joy. I love Wendy’s story because it is such a strong testament to the power of dreams. 
Sing-a-long at the King Family Christmas party.



Christmas has always been a special time of year for me. After all, I’m born in December and named after a Christmas plant. But beyond that, it is a time of hope. It’s a time when my family always pulled it together to be our best selves, no matter what else was happening in our lives.

My childhood was not so bright and merry. Domestic violence, a dad in prison, and being shuffled around to relatives made me long for a normal, stable life. I would count the days every week until the Partridge Family show came on TV. I was riveted to the screen. Like Wendy watching her Christmas shows, I watched the Partridge Family and not only wanted to be like them, I wanted to BE them. And my favorite Christmas album? ---------->

Many years later, I married a musician, raised some musical kids, and now we record Christmas songs together every year. This is my Christmas/Partridge family dream-come-true. Our Christmas Family album is our gift to you, (download for free and share with friends, if you like) in the hopes that it inspires you to never think a dream is too big, or that you can’t have it, or that it doesn’t exist. Remember Wendy’s story, and be inspired.

Our wish for you this holiday season in that you hold on to your dreams.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from our family to yours…
(Listen to our Family Affair Holiday Album while you peruse the internet by clicking below, or feel free to download the whole album for free.) 

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Muslims are terrorists, black guys are scary, cops are racists" and other crazy assumptions we make.


Yesterday, while watching the news unfold about the horrific hostage crisis and shooting by a madman in Sydney, Australia, I became concerned when CNN stated over and over that the shooter was a Muslim cleric. And today, with news of the massacre in Peshawar, I fear the worst. I know how we humans absorb information fed to us by media and make subconscious connections and assumptions; Muslim clerics are terrorists. Black guys are scary gang-bangers. Backwoods Southern boys are Klu Klux Klan members. Catholic priests are pedophiles. Cops are racists.

Above is a photo of Shakeel Syed, a muslim cleric, standing united with Reverend Sandie Richards, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, and Reverend Louis Chase, at our one-year memorial event for Sandy Hook last year. This year, in conjunction with our coalition’s #LightLA campaign, Syed’s Muslim community held a vigil to remember all those lost to gun violence. Shakeel Syed is a Muslim cleric. Shakeel Syed is a voice for peace in our community, as are the majority of Muslims. Let that be a new association in your mind.

The judgments we make about others come from the most base part of our brains, actually termed "The Reptilian Complex" (the lizard brain). This is where fear resides. This is where the instantaneous fight or flight reaction comes from. This is the part of our brain that fears anything that is not familiar, anyone who does not look like us, speak like us, live like us. This reptilian complex is where tribalism is centered. Tribalism is what makes us wage wars, or even attack others at sporting events should they root for the opposite team.

But we are not "tribes" any more. We are no longer neanderthals. We are capable of rational thought. Through commerce, culture, and the internet, we have become a blended, interconnected world. But our human brains have not yet evolved to match the level of technology we've achieved.

Only by constantly challenging our own assumptions will we grow. We rise above the lizard brain only by forcing ourselves to entertain the possibility of other humans, very different from us, being just as worthy and deserving as we are.

Let’s stop assuming that all cops are racist, all priests are pedophiles and all blacks are looting, rioting hoodlums. Let’s please stop assuming that all Muslims are Taliban or ISIS terrorists. Let’s stop assuming. Period. Let’s recognize that no one comes into this world aiming to be a heartless villain. It is only a small, sick, tortured minority that becomes that. What if, instead, we awaken to the reality that we are, the majority of us, not enemies, but good people with good intention, even if we go about our lives differently?

Imagine…


For more on the workings of the lizard brain: http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/2012/03/lizard-brain-strikes-again.html

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Lesson in Courage


The past several weeks, as my heart broke watching the news accounts of the Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner tragedies and protests, I've been reading "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd. The book takes place in the early 1800s and is a historical novel that intertwines the lives of "Handful," a strong and courageous slave girl, and her reluctant "owner" Sarah. The girls become friends and form a bond that will altar the course of their lives. Though a novel, it is historically accurate. I cringed inside while reading the accounts of cruelty and severe punishment that blacks endured in those times, and then I looked up from my book and wondered how the hell this is still happening.

The book is based on the lives of the real Grimke sisters, two wealthy Southern women who, as children, grew up in a house full of slaves. Sarah and Angelina Grimke saw the horrors and the brutality of the slave life and somehow had the moral compass to do something about it. Against their family's  outcries, they moved to Philadelphia and became the first women abolitionists and feminists, traveling from coast to coast, speaking publicly and writing books about the wrongs of slavery, imploring morality from the public. Their books were burned in the South. Religious leaders spoke out against them, saying it was immoral for women to speak in public. They were made pariahs in their home state of South Carolina, and were threatened with imprisonment if they ever returned. They gave up a life of wealth and riches and let go of their family ties forever in order to continue their work.

History had all but forgotten these women, but thank God Kidd has breathed new life into their story. The Grimke sisters eventually ended up freeing many of the Grimke slaves, and some of those freed slaves' children grew up to continue the work as abolitionists. Just before they died, as old women, the Grimke sisters were amongst a handful of women who showed up to vote, illegally, as a protest. These women, and the generations of black families who survived and endured the unimaginable, have put courage in my heart.

We need more women, and men, like this today. More people to stand up against the racial inequality that still is rampant in our culture. It shocked me, while reading this book, while watching the news, how far we've come, yet how much we haven't changed in our hearts. I am still an eternal optimist. I believe we can, we will, change things...



Friday, November 21, 2014

How To Survive Being Fired


Author Wayne Dyer recently told a story about doing an interview at a radio station where a huge layoff had just taken place. As he walked down the halls, he saw employees packing up their offices. “Congratulations!” he called out. One of the employees responded, “You don’t understand. We just lost our jobs.” But Wayne said that he did understand, and from his view, the Universe was pushing each of them into a new direction that they might not have had the courage to pursue. Face it, he said, you’ve all known for a long time you wanted to leave this job. The Universe just gave you a shove.

I was mortified when I was fired this summer. I am the proverbial overachiever. Employee of the year, yada yada yada. Never in a million years did I imagine myself being fired. But I was - and from an organization I had completely devoted my life to. I was knocked flat for weeks. But here I am months later saying hallelujah, because it was truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I am now in a job where I am appreciated, trusted, and given the space to flourish and do what I do best.

If you have been fired, as counterintuitive as it may seem, try saying THANK YOU. More than likely, you’ve been stuck in the equivalent of an abusive relationship. You stayed because of financial security. You stayed because you thought you could somehow make it better. You stayed because you were determined to win them over. (Ever see the movie The Devil Wears Prada?) You stayed for a myriad of reasons, but not one of those reasons was that this was your dream job.

Yes, you may be in a really tough predicament right now. It might even look hopeless. Yes, it’s going to be messy and uncomfortable for a while, but you’re going to make it. You know why? Because you always have. You find a way to survive and thrive. You have before and you will again.
And I promise you, if you keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, you will eventually end up in a better position.

Just to lift your spirits, here is an article about very successful people who got fired. You’ll be surprised…and inspired.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fire Season - My Journey from Ruin to Redemption


As many of you know, in November of 1994, our house burned down. After my husband Troy and I jumped out second story windows with nothing but our pajamas and our kid, our lives began a downward spiral of loss that would continue for four years, leading us into a deep depression and the brink of divorce. We lost three homes in 2 years, lost our cars, lost our friends, I lost my national business, we were bankrupted and we almost lost each other. But we survived. In 1999 we bought our house, things got better and were actually pretty great until 2010.

And then, in 2010, it seemed the cycle was beginning again. We were sued over a little dog named Stitch that we adopted. A three-year court battle followed. We had to get a restraining order against a violent neighbor with a criminal record for assault with a gun, who threatened my husband’s life. My husband’s boss, and great friend, Greg, dropped dead of a heart attack. Our dog Brandy died. Our septic system failed and flooded the yard, leading to a 10,000 repair job and an invasion of flies, not unlike the Amityville Horror (except they had better plumbing). We were busted flat broke from home repairs and court costs. And then, our daughter-in-law took our one-year-old grandson to Japan for a visit... and didn’t return. We thought we’d never see them again. We were overcome with grief.

During this time, I took an eight-week writing course with my friend Amy Friedman, where I wrote and shared, for the first time, the story of our fire. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t read the essay in the group, so Amy read it for me. After class, Amy and I went out for coffee and I confessed to her something I had been secretly fearing in my head. I told her, “My life is spinning wildly out of control, and I am terrified that I am in the beginning of a life pattern where I’m going to repeat another four years of hell.” And this is basically what she said. “You are still afraid of what happened to you, because you didn’t get the lesson in it. If you don’t write your way through this, you’re going to repeat the pattern. This fire story is not an essay. This is a book you need to write.” And only out of sheer terror and because I am slightly superstitious did I begin to write this book.

Four years later, Fire Season is about to be published with She Writes Press this spring (and you can pre-order it now for a discount on Amazon).

What I learned in writing my book was that I am stronger than I knew. That every time I let fear control my life, everything fell to shit. I saw, through my writing process, as I mapped out and wrote those years down, that it wasn’t until I chose love over fear that my life began to turn around. Through these past four years of intense challenges that began again in 2010, I learned to choose love over fear, and instead of losing everything, like we did in 1994, this time the outcome was very different.

After a year of praying and sending nothing but love to our daughter-in-law in Japan, many miracles lined up to bring our grandson home, and he now lives with his mother in L.A. After our three-year court battle, we still have our dog Stitch. The violent, criminal neighbors were evicted (the day after Christmas – best Christmas gift ever). We still have our home 15 years later and the new septic system works perfectly. This time, we didn’t lose everything. This time, yes, life knocked us on our asses – but we got back up faster. This time, when it seemed everything was falling apart, Troy and I turned toward each other in our grief and sadness (love), and not against each other (fear).

So, like Amy Friedman advised, I wrote my way through these four years, and now, after a summer from hell, I hope to God I’m coming out the other side. It’s not that I don’t have my challenges still. We’ve got a building inspector trying to wreak havoc with our house, and some trouble with termites…but I know better now than to let fear get the best of me.

Back in 1995, when I was spiraling down, I felt so alone, like there wasn’t a single person who got what I was going through. Books were what saved me. Books about hope, about endurance, about surviving. I wrote Fire Season because I don’t want anyone to feel alone like I did. I want to share my experience of finding hope on the other side of darkness.

I know that you, like me, have endured some difficult losses and challenges. I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments below…