Jillybean's Blog











{November 16, 2012}   When Two Agree…There You Are…

There are moments in life…and there are MOMENTS.

Tonight I was blessed to have one such MOMENT.

As I was walking home from work on a typical Thursday, I was completely self-absorbed and lost in thought. Meaningless thought. I should have just been enjoying the view of the Downtown LA skyline, as I often do. Instead, I was pondering all of the shit that completely ruffled my feathers today. ‘Did that person at work just give me ATTITUDE? Does anyone have any idea what the hell I DO around here?? (Did I just step on gum??) Why does so-and-so have to be such a pain in the ass after 10 o’clock at night??’

I nearly punched the button at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change. ‘Why is this light taking so long? There’s NO cars coming! I just want to get home!! I do have vodka in the freezer, right??’
When I looked up across the street, I saw a man repeatedly hit the crosswalk button on his side. Yes! He understood. ‘CHANGE already!!’

But when the light changed, he didn’t cross. He just stood there. Did he hit the button for MY benefit?

As I walked toward him, I realized he was holding something. A sign.

“Same Old Shit.”

Oh, great. He’s homeless. At least this is a conversation I’m used to having. I don’t want to say I’m unsympathetic, but admittedly, the homeless are as expected a sight in Los Angeles as palm trees and the US Bank building. I’m used to seeing the homeless. I’m no longer surprised.

That being said, when I first moved to LA, my heart sank on a daily basis. I saw homeless people everywhere, every day. It wasn’t like I’d never seen them before. When I lived in Connecticut, I spent a fair amount of time in New York City. And there are a handful of homeless people in my Ohio hometown.

In fact, the FIRST time I ever saw a homeless person, I was about 11-years-old.

He had held a sign that said, “Will work for food.”
We were out Christmas shopping with Mom and it was cold outside. Very cold. Ohio cold.

“Mom, turn back! Turn back! That man needs food!”
Mom, being a little more worldly than I, was hesitant.
“Honey, I can’t turn around in this traffic.”
“But MOM,” I pleaded. “That man is hungry! Can’t we go to McDonald’s and get him a sandwich???”
“By the time I turn around, Jill, he’ll be gone.”
I knew she was right. I had resigned myself and sat back down in the backseat of the Jeep. All I could think about was the man standing outside with a sign, in the cold, begging…relying on the kindness of strangers. And it was CHRISTMAS…and I couldn’t do a damn anything about it. So I cried in silence. A lot. ‘Alligator tears’ as my Dad liked to sympathetically say… This surprised my mother as she caught a glimpse of me in the rear-view mirror.

“Oh, honey. I’ll turn around. It’s just gonna take…”
“No, Mom,” I said. “It’s OK.”

This memory was triggered daily during my first years in LA…until there came a time when I was exhausted.
It was sometimes emotionally exhausting to leave the house. Homeless people were at every event at the Staples Center (there’s no ignoring it when you work RIGHT THERE every day). They were constantly standing outside the grocery store. On several street corners. Outside my favorite bars (so you KNOW I saw many of them there). And every day I felt guilty that I could not single-handedly fix this problem.

I hadn’t realized I’d grown to be callus until I was walking to the Downtown library one day. I was so annoyed and just wanted to get from point A to point B without being “bothered.” I think every Angeleno has felt this way at some point.
But I always kept a spare dollar in my yoga pants as a habit when I left the house.

On this particular day, though, I wasn’t carrying the dollar out of the kindness of my heart. I was doing it out of obligation.

I just about threw it at the first person who asked. When the next guy came up to me, I said, “Go get it from that guy. I gave my last dollar to HIM.” I stomped away, nearly scoffing.

About five minutes later it hit me.

“Wow, Jill. What a bitch.”

The self-criticism continued. “You think YOU’RE having a bad day? That guy lives on the street! The least you could do is treat him with a little respect.” I realized how insensitive I’d become and basked in guilt while studying at the library. I couldn’t concentrate.

Then fate followed up with one more blow.

As I briskly walked home that afternoon, I was stopped by a man. He was unkempt, but had kind eyes. He didn’t say a word.
“What?” I asked, bordering on impatience again.
“You dropped this.”
He held his hand out. When he opened it, a five dollar bill was inside.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“You dropped that, Miss,” said a passerby. “About three blocks back. He’s been chasing you ever since. But you had your headphones on.”
My mouth dropped open. I didn’t even know I had five bucks on me. Then I remembered I stuck it to my phone for an errand I forgot about. The same phone I had pulled out of my pocket to listen to music.
Standing there (mouth still agape and speechless), I took the bill as he handed it to me. I didn’t know what to say.
He smiled and walked away in his raggedy t-shirt and pants full of holes. In my shock, I was paralyzed. Did a homeless man just chase me for three blocks to give me my money back? Would it insult him if I told him to keep it? Did I really sense a sort of pride coming from him for having returned the money to its owner? What was going on here?
I called after him, thanking him. I still hadn’t moved.
When I finally realized what happened, when the appropriate response FINALLY came to me (where I could give it to him tactfully with a witty line like “finders keepers”), I ran after him.
“Wait!!! WAIIIIIIIT!!!!” I yelled around the corner. But as I hurriedly scanned the crowded streets, he was gone. I kicked my own ass up and down Flower Street for that one the whole way home.

My relationship with those in need (and my limiting assumptions) has evolved over the years. I went from overly emotional, to callus, to practical. Eventually I’d just offer, when asked, something to eat or drink. I still felt “off” about giving cash, but sustenance? That allowed me to feel like I was helping without being taken for a fool (I will always be grateful to Lindsey for teaching me the virtues of this one, and for making me a little more fearless in the process).

So tonight, I had my standard answer ready when in a hurry.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” I outstretched my hands. “I don’t have any cash.”
I kept walking. But something tugged at me. And I abruptly stopped.

I considered the situation. There were plenty of people out. (I’ll only walk home when there are plenty of people out.) I felt safe.

And there was just…something about him.

I turned around.
“…would you like a cigarette?”
He smiled. “Yes, Ma’am. I would.”
I handed him two.

“Have a great night,” I called over my shoulder as I walked away.

“Hmm yew tut buuh to yee,” I heard him say.

I stopped again and turned around. “I’m sorry?”

“Thank you for being so nice to me,” he said, looking down to the ground, his glasses nearly falling off. He spoke with a slight lisp and looked at me with a gentle, sheepish grin, working his way into a smile.

“You’ve been the only person to be nice to me all night.”

There it was. A shift in perspective. And the plucking of heartstrings.
Mine were actually playing a symphony. My knees nearly gave out.
‘I am??’ I thought.

And then…’Wow, what a shame.’

“Well, honey,” I said. “Don’t take it personally. People are just so used to being taken advantage of. They put their defenses up. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. And not everyone out here is as nice as you.”

“Thank you for your kindness, Miss.”

Now I felt grateful. I almost blew this chance to make him feel a little better, all because of my assumptions.

I walked over to him and looked directly into his face, taking his hand while I said, “Hey, I really don’t have any cash. But would you like something to eat? I can take you to Ralph’s.”

He dropped his chin.

“They don’t let me in there.”

Wow. I get it, but wow.

“Well, I’ll go in. Whatever you want to eat.”

He smiled and my heart melted.

“Let’s go.”

When we arrived at the store, I asked him to wait on the corner while I ran inside.
I mean, let’s face it. People can be dishonest about what they intend to do with money strangers give. But some, and even if they are few, actually do need help and actually do appreciate kindness. And if you can remain somewhat discerning, you might be able to make a small difference.
So tonight I decided to break down and give the guy a little cash.
Helping him was helping me. My heart was opening…I was letting go a little.

When I came back out, I said, “here.”
“Ma’am?”
“Take it. Go have a nice night.”
He had tears in his eyes and couldn’t look at me for a second.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jill, what’s yours?”

“David.”

There’s certainly something about learning the name of a total stranger, isn’t there?

“Well, David. You take care.”
I turned to, yet again, walk away.
“Ma’am? Uh, Jill?”
“Yes, David?”

“Would you pray with me?”

There it was. That plucking of the strings again. Maybe he wasn’t so much hungry as just looking for a friend.

“Yes, David. I’ll pray with you.”
Sometimes praying with a stranger puts everything into perspective. Sometimes you can just call it like you see it, and sometimes you absolutely SHOULD. But sometimes your heart negotiates with your head a little and you let “love one another” set in. Sometimes negativity causes you to file people into categories. But life won’t always let us live that way. Life sometimes refuses to let us live without the small joys that accompany its ability to continually surprise us. Yeah, I’ll always be skeptical, guarded, and defensive…but hey, sometimes I won’t.

And at the end of today, I took comfort in a prayer with a stranger.

Through this connection, my trivial problems had left center stage…all those meaningless quandaries floating around in my head went away. THIS is what’s really important in life.

David had…just for a moment…helped me to let go.

And wherever he is tonight, I hope he feels as warm as I do.



I stared straight ahead at the red “stapler” cleverly protruding from the widely-recognizable bright red logo.

I anxiously shifted my weight on each foot as I waited…

My hands appeared to have meth-amphetamine withdrawal…my fingers couldn’t stop tapping the counter…

Who wouldn’t be nervous in my shoes???

My baby was in the ICU.

My mood for the rest of the year probably depended on what happened next…right here, right now…in the next few minutes…

Is she gonna be OK???

***

The cavalry appeared.

A stranger I’d met briefly only moments ago, the one with all the power, approached the counter.  Ah, my new best friend.

His name tag “easily” said he was a “Technical Support Analyst.”

I silently labeled him “The Gatekeeper.”

He could either give me really good news or really bad news.

He unwittingly had so many answers to my personal questions…would he somehow allow me to continue lugging around forgotten sentimental baggage?

That piece of comprised silicon, spindles and circular disks held secrets I’d once had the privilege of owning solely without difficulty…until a keyboard allowed me to indiscriminately share them.

Old conversations.

Old records of sites visited.

Old emails…

Old versions of myself.

The “TSA” cleared his throat.
He wasn’t happy.  He had bad news.

He shoved a computer monitor toward me to see the diagnosis.

This was all that could be recovered…what had made it back from the dead with our efforts…

Old files reduced to what looked like a lot of computer jibberish.

“We were only able to retrieve 65 percent of your hard drive,” he said.  He pursed his lips, interpreting the results as a reflection of his personal failure.

I clutched my chest and gasped.

“So,” I swallowed…”What could we get back?  Can I get anything useful back?”

“Well,” he said…”If what you see here is still useful to you…then, yeah…”

***
People don’t realize how much they entrust their entire existence and personal relationships to a technological world…the “wholly-incapable-of-such-a-responsibility” technological world.

Our identities.

Our understanding of our status through communication with others…

Sometimes I wonder how many breakups happen over faulty systems, by unreceived/unreliable text messages…when only 899 of 900 go through…

Except that ONE that REALLY mattered.

The power of that ONE unreliable message, capable of ending a fight or inflating a misunderstanding…how a random glitch in the system we created makes a text destined never to make its way to an intended recipient…how that innocent anomaly has the power to destroy trust between humans…a glitch ultimately held responsible for the destruction of perceptions…

Isn’t this how we view our computers?

We trust our LIVES and personal beliefs to these machines…they are our best friends…our confidants.  Our messengers.

They are family.  They know us more intimately than anyone else.  They can work for us or completely tattle on us.

They house all we’ve ever known and been…

Yet, they aren’t even close to 100 percent reliable.

Most of us can’t even be bothered to back them up…

Even so…

***

This man at Staples may as well have been a doctor to me.

He was about to give my computer complete defibrillation…a shock to the present moment.

If this sounds melodramatic, you’ve never lost a hard drive to thin air.

The TSA cleared his throat.

“You only lost some Word files,” he said.  “Your pictures are all recovered.”

Sigh.  Thank God for small favors.
“OK,” I said.  “I’m mostly ok with this.”

***

A twinge of excitement kicked in as I rode home, my dead little computer shrouded in a “Staples”-emblazoned body bag, survived only by three DVDs harboring what remained.

Once I was in the comfort of my own home, what would I see?

What did it know that my feeble brain couldn’t recall on its own?

What are our brains meant to recall on their own?  Only the relatively important stuff??

Was it worth peeking into what was important to me years ago?  What would my old computer tell me?

Did any of it still matter?  Was it still relevant?

Would technology work for me or against me in this instance?

This was the only surviving record of a past forgotten…a salvaged fossil of myself five years younger…

***
I’d had so much hope for my dead computer. I knew it was destined to record memorable times…until it just wouldn’t turn on one day.

I may have actually looked heavenward with clenched fists, demanding to know why it couldn’t be revived.

When it refused to turn on, I remained convinced of its endless treasures.  I’d have to dig deep…

Curiosity ultimately killed the cat.

***

This tumescent excitement reveled in the absence of the obvious question:
What was I about to resurrect?

It never occurred to me, the long-standing words Stephen King wrote in his terrifying tome, “Pet Cemetery”…

Sometimes, dead is better.

Sometimes, it’s better to leave things alone.

Ignoring this admonition, I hurriedly shoved a DVD into my working computer’s disk drive.

Excitement bordered on elation.

This was going to be fun!

The infamous King quote echoed in a tenacious loop.

Somehow my name preceded after a few repetitions…

“Jill…[in Fred Gwynne’s haunting voice]:  Sometimes…dead is better.”

***

I poured through old files and long-forgotten Instant (AOL!) Messages between myself and ex-lovers, ex-friends, people who had promised to be around long after reality set in…long after an innocent computer would let them go…

Absolutely, dead is better.

Was my unobstructed impression of who I was back then better than what I could currently surmise in black-and-white?

Which version did I want to go with?

Sometimes having a record of everything you’ve ever said can be encouraging…it can even give you a gauge of where you’ve been and where you’re headed…

…Or it can scare the living hell out of you.

That you could have stayed there and not grown…or not taken that chance…

What if you hadn’t followed that seldom-followed fork in the road?

Where would you be now?

What if I didn’t have the courage at that time to do what I knew I should do, or shouldn’t do?

As I discovered, somewhat presciently earlier, the best times of life had yet to be lived…whether I believed it then or not.  It was true then and it was true now as I stared at the screen showcasing the old files…

Had I really been so needy?  Did messages with friends reveal a person who was so concerned with what others thought??

What could those private exchanges with a beloved laptop reveal to me now?

I didn’t even recognize this person anymore.

***

What would I tell her if I could?

Would I tell her that it would be much more comfortable to stay in Connecticut instead of leaving behind everything she’d ever known for the opportunities, friendships and accomplishments Los Angeles offered?

Would I tell her not to trust others…to trust her gut instead…even with the possibility she would miss out on the great times she’d had?

Would I tell her enough to keep her from causing suffering, to others as well has herself?

And, by the way, how had I ever possibly thought that that was the best it was ever going to get?  How did I not know how wrong that assumption was?

Sure, it was great to find old comments from supportive teachers on projects I’d forgotten about.  Words of encouragement from a priest who’d passed away when I was 14…these were absolutely wonderful to find.

But that’s not all I found.

That’s the chance we take with the dead, isn’t it?

You just never know what you’re gonna resurrect.

Old shame.  Old hurt.

There certainly are wonderful gems that can emerge…but we need to remember…when playing roulette with the past, sometimes dead is better.

It’s like when my parents adamantly warned against using Ouija boards when I was a kid.

There is a danger in prying too heavily into the past, into the dead, into spending too much time in a place you don’t belong anymore.

It can be a vortex.  It can make you linger a little too long…

***

While within the illicit journey emerged an unpleasant discomfort, a renewed pain…the perspective of progress served to show how I’ve grown since…a benchmark.

It also occurred to me that maybe our brain is kinder to us than we thought.  Maybe it does know better…it knows what to highlight…it knows which details to elevate and make stand out among the others.

It takes a lot of strength to straddle the line where the past meets the present, making up the whole of who you are as a person, the sum total of all your parts…and take pride in all of it anyway.

You can choose to stand tall without shouldering the burden of looking back, without retrieving old victories packaged with old defeats to provide the validation you ultimately deserve.

And if you are gonna venture back there, be ready.

***

Sometimes I still wonder what truths lie behind the files the technician couldn’t recover.  I wonder what proof, what evidence was perhaps mercifully left unrevived.

Un-salvaged in order to salvage my present.

And then I remember…Stephen King was right.

Sometimes…dead is better.

When there are things your mind can’t retain, maybe there is good reason for it.

You don’t remember the two-way street of hurtful words and spiteful actions.

The minutia of the tit-for-tat is not recorded line-by-line in your mind…we are wired to remember the promise of a better day, a more optimistic future.  Our very nature compels us to erase reminders of sadder times.  We are called to use our strength to focus on our progress instead of our setbacks.

Digging around in the past becomes a chore that takes effort; we can be lured by the very same curiosity that murdered our feline friend…and it will do the same to our spirit if we let it.

Revisiting has its consequences because you’ve grown beyond it.  You have moved past it.

You already learned the lesson.

The shoe is too tight to fit your feet.

You aren’t the same person anymore, even though old emotions can fool you into thinking you’re right back where you were before when you grace them with attention.

Physics says that looking at particles makes them act differently.  The same is true of certain memories when you dig them up past their time.

Memories are meant to serve as markers.  Guideposts.  The ones that should stand out, that need to stand out, do so naturally.

Curiosity, buttressed by technology, can become a one-way ticket.

When you’re trying to build a great life, is that a chance worth taking?

Learn from the past and let it go.

Life becomes beautiful when you realize that everything happening to you has been serving you…that goes for back then and for the present moment.

And there really is no greater moment than the present, no matter how much we want to glorify the past and the future.

The silver lining presented in this unintentional review of my personal archives came in realizing that, in cases where I had clearly made the wrong decision at the time, things ultimately worked out for the best.

We don’t need further evidence or reminders of how costly it is when you look back while failing to guard your heart…

Looking back too deeply and too often can cost you your future…

And no Staples TSA will ever be able to help you with that.



{April 21, 2015}   Refuse To Engage…

A casual conversation I had several weeks ago went something like this…

“This person is not formidable.  They aren’t even skilled or present…How do people like that ever have an impact on anyone????”

I screamed into the phone one eerily quiet night discussing the recent exploits of a person who routinely takes perverse joy in putting others down.

“How do people who contribute nothing yet take everything have even a modicum of impact on a hungry world??”

Silence on the other end of the call answered my question.

We were at a loss.

Exasperation deepened the developing lines on my forehead.  I winced.

Frowns from days past were accentuated by the disgust all over my face.

My night was flat-out ruined.

I was engaged in conversation about someone I saw as inferior to most in character, among other things.

I listened and stared at a spot on the wall, the phone cradled to my ear, letting out an angry “Hollywood sigh”…one possibly mistaken for fake through its histrionics.

OK, this much I knew…

This particular person feeds on the aftermath of impugning rather than elevating other people.

I followed up with a smattering of curse words, ruling that virtues of any kind are completely foreign to some people.

I was becoming ugly myself.

How could news of such an appalling individual ruin my night?  Why do these stories have such a hold on me?

What gives a dastard power?

I mulled over it.  I obsessed.  For weeks.

Before I knew it, these consistent conversations caused days to gradually turn murky and dark, like 50 shades of gray gone bad.  I couldn’t sleep.

I couldn’t relax.

I awoke in the middle of the night as my distressed brain dealt with the impossible task of making sense of it all.

***

Insomnia suddenly delivered an abrupt shift in consciousness as something stayed with me in my waking hours:

There actually is truth in the words “rise above it.”

AND…

To be happy…

Do. Not. Engage.

That’s all we need to know.

There will always be times in life where we think we’ve been “had” by someone or something that doesn’t even belong in our arena in the first place.

On the outside, we laugh at the idea that an amateur can challenge our circumstances while we “hold the title” for defending our self-confidence.

Yet, on the inside, we let “them” win somehow.

There will always be people whose purpose it is to challenge us.

Are we who think we are?  Are we as strong, smart, funny…

There will always be those who think that their subtle ways of “dominating” situations actually have lasting impact.

We sometimes fail to realize that this invitation to battle says more about them than it does us.

And there is a catch to this realization.

We are always tempted to engage.

We certainly can “win.”

But…do we really want to when…

…winning imprisons you?

You may get the last word…have the last laugh…

But because you didn’t belong there in the first place, you “scuff up” your own bumper.  My Connecticut bestie says it like this…”You can’t hit someone else’s car without scuffing up your own paint job.”

What to do instead?

Leave them stuck.

Do. Not. Engage.

My Mom used to say when I’d defend myself to kids in school or feel the need to beat my chest in front of emotional bullies: “Don’t play in the mud with them.”

The wisdom of those words continues to propel me today.
She was right.  Sometimes it is more important to allow people to have “one over” on you.

Even when you can beat them at their own game, would you really want to?

***

Lately, there has been something holding me back.  I couldn’t put my finger on it until now.

I was feeling depressed, lowly.

Until I asked…

Who/what am I “fighting”?

I realized…

I am engaging all the time…where I’m not supposed to.

I was always trying to set certain people straight…those who continually tread on others…

My head was so full of and intent on all these “little victories,” like a modern-day Robin Hood for the poor in spirit…

Whether I was engaging an idea, negative thoughts, meanly spoken words about me or someone I loved…

Of course I feeling was lost.  There was no room for anything else.

The answer is clear…rise above when the temptation to engage comes calling.

You’ll be glad you did.

You have to be in the same league with your challenges to even feel a thrill of victory anyway.

Division I, for good reason, doesn’t challenge Gateway Conference teams in consequential competition.

Teams have to be in the same competitive league to be considered true “victors.”

This is what you don’t want.  You don’t want to lower yourself to win anything in life, ever.  No title is worth that.

Merely engaging with someone whose goals are beneath yours robs you of the thrill of victory in the first place…it makes you feel bad about yourself because you know better.

Who knows?  Maybe your not engaging will ultimately make them reach higher for themselves.

***

I told myself I didn’t care when the siren call of fighting for what’s right against the petty came calling.  I shouldn’t have had the energy to care.

That energy was destined for the employment of something bigger and better.  It was perhaps meant to positively affect the world…it was not meant to concern itself with schooling stubborn negativity.

But that wasn’t any of my situations’ problem.

I was.

I didn’t know my own value and know what was worth fighting for and what wasn’t.

We get a stern reminder when we go off-track.  Often it takes the form of mild depression.  We are wasting our energy when we shouldn’t.

It’s like keeping your eyes open to see the the Ark of the Covenant unleashed…best not to look in its direction lest we be stripped of our life.

I had been engaging all over myself.

Until the epiphany.

The first step to happiness is simple:

…Do. Not. Engage.

Tell yourself, again and again.  Over and over…

Do. Not. Engage.

That’s how you win at life.  Some things are just not your fight.

If you’re feeling bouts of misery, you’re probably too engaged where you shouldn’t be.  Ask yourself why you’re fighting, who you’re fighting…

Perhaps you let yourself lose the battle and totally forget about the war…

A worthy fight feels good to win.  One you win yet didn’t belong in leaves you feeling deflated…like a “dirty victory.”  The proverbial “taking candy from a baby…”

You are meant to win significant battles, ones worth fighting for.

And honestly, most battles don’t fall into that category.



{February 8, 2015}   Yes, It IS a Happy New Year…

Let’s be honest.

January and February can absolutely suck.

At least at first impression they can–without the benefit of a year’s worth of perspective.

Winter is no fun for anybody.  But it’s all a matter of perspective…

***

No, I’m no longer chipping ice off my windshield at 4am when the Connecticut blizzards blithely greet me after a long workday.

The Los Angeles winter, though conciliatory, is more feeling than function.  I acknowledge this truth as one who has intimately known many a cold, winter night in solitude on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

These months are cold and dark for everyone.

Maybe not in the weather way, but in the nascent-year way.

As I comfort dear friends on the East Coast during rough winter swells, I recall their plight…

They may not understand through words of compassion that darker days are darker days across the board and though their experience makes them prisoners of weather, I remain empathetic on a separate plane.

January and February inherently have no substantial merit.

I empathize because the lack of distinction and potential for the misery of winter wrap everyone up in a deceitful embrace.

Celebrations of any kind are in short supply this time of year.

These months are lonely.  Regardless of weather peculiarities, the East and West coast greet one another in an overlap of melancholy.

****

The glow of self-proclaimed New Years’ promises wear off for everyone as we seek comfort in isolation to face the harsh reality of unfulfilled promises.

We face the reality of being stuck and lose heart in the coming year’s glow.

January and February refuse to offer any matter of recourse from despondency when we know that letting ourselves down is a strong possibility.

Oh yes, yet another list of resolutions may remain unfulfilled.  Motivation wanes and plans of action lack clarity.

There is the pervasive, pesky question looming over us at this time of year:

“What were we so optimistic about?”

Or worse yet, we wonder what we might look forward to.

***

As the snow pummels the entire right half of the country, the clouds cast a deceitful shadow each day…convincing those walking on the cold-hard ground that the sun has forsaken them forever…

Stray pine needles turn up in the carpet to mock us…bringing strands of tinsel along for the torment.  The vacuum cleaner has convinced us its a useless piece of machinery.

“Next year, we get a fake tree,” we say as we pick up needles and dust bunnies hugging the baseboards.

There are constant reminders of an exhausted holiday season…memories of hedonism and loved ones who have since returned to their daily grind…

BUT…

****

I was shaken by the idea this year that there is something about this year, and these promises.

Maybe this time can be different…

***

I stared at my list of resolutions tonight.

They looked like a pretty common set:
Drink less.
Laugh more.
Travel.
Practice gratitude.

As I mulled them over, I realized the only thing possibly in the way was me.

The only thing stopping me with these perceived “New Year’s Blues” is me.

Maybe I could gain control and help focus attempts to better myself.

I realize that I am, at this point, ready for a change.

I can no longer tell myself that leggings aren’t just a fancier version of sweatpants.

What I promised myself on January 1st is about to take precedence…

I am in a period of rest.

This is hard to accept for someone who is so goal-driven.

*****

As the moon picked up brilliance and height in the sky one night last week while walking to work, the day waned and I realized…if light could cut through the dark with such ease, was optimism’s power so far behind?

***

I read something about bats recently. They send out sonar to find their prey…shouting, transmitting signals…getting something back when prey is near.

Their cry is at an octave so loud and so intense that no one else can hear…they are bound to find something that sends a signal back…

For us, the benefits of a New Year have now become a reset.  An honest evaluation…us doing something productive with the signals being sent back when we send out a beacon, desiring a confirmation from the dark…

What’s working, what’s not?

Our new goals.  Is success, at this point, relevant or not?

What is success?

You realize exactly how hard it is to accomplish starry-eyed resolutions…

And you absolutely can decide whether or not you need to take on the challenge.

I think we all can.

And that is what we are all called upon to do this year…

Step up.

The time is now.



I wasn’t a guest on the show.

I didn’t need to be.

I was a person who ran with a feeling…with an opening in my schedule.

****

It was a fluke, really.  In the way that an opportunity can be borne of circumstance if you subconsciously make the most of a random day off from work.

This opportunity presented itself while washing the dishes last Tuesday.

****

My DVR offered it up.

Robin McGraw’s voice subtly offered an invite…as I squeezed my dish sponge to rinse under a noisy faucet.

“If you’re in the Los Angeles area…”

I paused.

“Wait…I’m always in Los Angeles!”

“Get your free tickets on Dr. Phil dot com…” she said.

I twisted the dish towel…marched to my computer…

I typed.

“Maybe…Maybe I’ll go…”

****

Two days later I was a confirmed guest on the Dr. Phil show.  I officially had an ‘appointment.’

While Dr. Phil’s advice is primarily designed to target (very brave) guests, ready and willing to publicly air dirty laundry in the hopes of finding legitimate guidance, I was surprised by how much I’d learn by just being there.

On a whim, on that random day off…

****

It’s strange being an audience member of a television show when you work in TV.  It’s like being a ‘tourist’ in your own town.

Yet there I was, a loner who somehow, managed to score a ‘special ticket’ on arrival.

It was perhaps due to my being alone.

It was akin to being a single rider at an amusement park…you get to cut to the the front of the line by virtue of ‘single status.’ It’s like a consolation prize for being brave enough to forgo the security blanket of companionship…I was escorted to the front of the line.

A Paramount employee, gatekeeper to Studio 3…Studio thirty-whatever.…soon approached.

“Oh, so you’re alone?” he said.…louder than I preferred.

“Yep, just me.”

I gracefully grinned.
.
I am way more used to this question than I would like to be.

“So, you’re sure your party is all here?  Ha ha….”

He looks around…seeing if anyone else will share his uncomfortable laugh.

I wait a beat.

A slightly awkward silence ensues.

“Ahem.”  I smile.  “Yes.  Just me.”

“Gah-raiiiight,” he hands me a ‘special ticket.’  “Here you go.”

Little did I know this gesture would eventually grant me some solace for enduring mild embarrassment in front of a crowd of strangers.

Lesson #1 — Single rider status still has its benefits after the age of 35.

****

I was seated early…and in the front row.  Everyone next to me knew something I didn’t. They were excited.

I was clueless.

I pulled a book out of my purse while everyone pulled out cosmetic compacts and lip gloss.  They checked their hair…their lipstick.

I circled unfamiliar vocabulary words with a mostly unsteady pen.

Was I missing something?

My seat-mates primped and preened.  A stage manager warned us not to yawn or pick our nose too much because we would be on camera often, without warning.

“Oh,” I think.  “Maybe I should put this away.”

I continued to read, then glanced up to acknowledge excited gasps and giggles from all directions.

Cameras emerged from backstage.  These cameras excited the best, brightest and most self-conscious of the group.

But not me.  I saw cameras at work every day.

Yet their excitement elicited a renewed personal appreciation for the unvarnished magic of television…a magic of which a decade in the business can slowly rob you.

Is this is how people feel when they visit me on the set?  Am I missing a thrilling side-world by being blinded by the “taking-it-for-granted” curse?

Lesson #2— Perspective is somewhat a panacea in the realm of faltering gratitude.  Reclaiming what the day-to-day eventually steals while whittling away enthusiasm and respect for mystique is essential to fulfillment.

*****

So, you can’t take a cell phone in the studio.

Rather than check my phone in with a staff member, I left mine in the car.  I wound up lasting six full hours without a cell phone.
Spoiler alert:  I survived.

Bigger spoiled alert:  I was very happy for those hours.
I didn’t even know what time it was until we were released at 2pm.  I read my book.  I sipped coffee.  Among the chaos of visiting strangers from all over the world, I relaxed in the comfort of not having a clue as to what was going on on the outside.
When I had the urge to check my phone to justify my lack of desire to manufacture small-talk (of which I’ve had more a knack at a younger age), I buried myself in literature.  No one interrupts a person engaged with a book.

Side note:  It was comforting to see other readers besides me —- with actual books — unfazed by flashing smart phones.  Maybe this next generation isn’t so bad after all…

Lesson #3 — You’re not the only one thirsty for knowledge in your spare time.  A phone is not necessary to save you from the discomfort of the unfamiliarity of strangers.
****

I’ve heard Dr. Phil say on prior episodes, “Family is the most important thing to me in this world…I take my role as husband and father very, very seriously…I also respect you and your family.  I don’t do a TV show here.  I talk to people, they turn it into TV when I’m done.  I have a tremendous respect for your family….”

Lesson #4 — Wisdom comes from experience.  Passion comes from dedication to it.  Not everyone is a sell-out in the entertainment business, thankfully.

I’ve written a great deal about heroes in graduate school and elsewhere.  I love heroes.  I pray for heroes.  I hope that that the heroes I buy into actually live up to a fraction of which I give them credit.

People are still out there who feel as we do.  We alI left the show today hoping we were in the presence of a modern day, normal, fallible yet, respectable human hero.

****

I come home.  Lily’s thrilled to see me.  (She’s my hero in so many ways.)

I’m thrilled to be surrounded by familiarity.  I pour a drink.

I debrief with family.

The truth is, I could have succumbed to the potentially exploitive nature solicited by the experience of such precious intimacy with Dr. Phil’s guests.  I had not yet gone through the work of everyday friendship for the privilege of the intimacy I’d just experienced with them.

It felt almost like a one-night stand.  I didn’t deserve to run off with this level of ‘knowledge’ of their personal lives…but I cherished it, whether or not they would ever know or sense my reaction.

I barely knew them.
But we shared a moment.

And, just as with a one-night stand, his guests and I will probably never see each other again.  We were sure to walk way with no choice but to learn something greater about life from one another.

I could have learned, or could have forgotten everything, chalking it up to “what happened on that show.”

Yet, I felt for these people.

I was satisfied to leave knowing Dr. Phil would ensure their healing.

I approached this experience looking to be entertained, even somehow informed.

I left with something else.

I left feeling grateful for my own life.

I left feeling grateful for the people who have chosen to make a living assisting lost souls.

I’ve seen professionals strive for much less.

I also learned that everyone in an audience claps loudest when they believe people will change for the better.

And what better way is there to spend a random day off?



{August 7, 2013}   To Be…or Not to Be…Seen…

We spend a lot of time trying to hide things.
It could be the old “guilty pleasure” CDs we hide on the shelf behind intelligently-titled books. Perhaps it’s those few extra pounds gained over a particularly indulgent weekend we hide under baggy shirt tops. We hide it when we’re wrong, when we fall in love, and when our feelings are inconvenient. We hide all kinds of things.
This tendency fascinated me enough to begin exploring the concept of vulnerability just in time for New Year’s Day.
I was enchanted by the empowerment birthed from “allowing yourself be seen,” as Dr. Brene Brown puts it. How exciting was it to stand up and be honest all the time?
I read a few books, put out a few self-revealing blogs with a new emphasis on the “truth,” and adopted a new focus. Honesty, honesty, honesty. I got it. Easy enough.

But honesty is not vulnerability and I didn’t know that I was so terrified to be truly vulnerable that I would risk my life to “protect” my pride.

And as is the case in life…just as we’re sure we “get it,” just as we’re sure there is nothing more to be learned about something, we’re tested.

Like, REALLY tested.

***

The trigger for this lesson was waiting for me on a warm June night at a hotel in San Antonio, Texas. We had just wrapped up another broadcast day at the NBA Finals. Game Five was over. In the morning we would head back to Miami for Game Six.

The hotel restaurant was open late. Maybe we’d all have a quick bite before bed.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten.

No wonder that bowl of mixed nuts sitting in the middle of the table looked so appealing. Mixed nuts NEVER look appealing. Everyone knows they’re the dirtiest nuts out there (yeah, yeah, I know…).
But try telling your growling stomach that at one o’clock in the morning.

I sat down and immediately became engaged in a discussion about work with some higher ups. I was so involved in the seriousness of what we were talking about that…I just…didn’t…see it.

I absent-mindedly reached for it without looking. It was the first and only one I ate.

I knew it as soon as I did. It was a Brazil nut.

I’ve never been allergic to nuts. They are always part of my diet. I mean, sure, the last time I had a Brazil nut, my throat itched for a few minutes. It was nothing a glass of water and a little patience couldn’t cure. But this was different.

Something was wrong. TERRIBLY wrong.

As my superiors brainstormed and strategized, I was torn…torn between hanging in there and contributing to the conversation…while trying to hide a reaction with which I was extremely uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

What was happening to me??

I was LITERALLY morphing. Is this how the Hulk or a werewolf feels??

My palms started to itch.
My eyes started to water.
I went to speak. Oh, no. Dear God, no. I lost my voice.
When my tongue swelled and my lips doubled in size, I knew I had to make an excuse to leave the table. I tried to gracefully exit while disguising my panic.

All I cared about was escaping before anyone noticed. Sure, safety was in the back of my mind somewhere…but for some reason, that PALED in comparison to the horror I’d feel if anyone here, any of these professional superiors saw…me…weak.

“Where’s…the…bath…” Oh shit, I’m SQUEAKING. Was that a SQUEAK???

Let’s try again.

I barely squeezed out the words.

“Where is…need tuh…ahem…cough…(coughing fit)…to…’scuse me.”

Uh oh.

“A-hem. A-HEM. ” Is that MY voice? What pitch is that?

Great, now I can’t breathe. But that’s ok. As long as nobody SEES me. Thank God it’s dark in here. I put my head down and calmly walked forward, tossing a cursory wave in the direction of more familiar faces walking through the halls.

PLEASE don’t look at me.

Harboring inner panic with the need to save face is a TOUGH balancing act.

If I thought I was hiding anything, I only had a few minutes before this unexpected and unidentifiable attack came on with increasing severity.

I went to the bathroom and scrubbed myself clean. Soap, water, paper towels, the whole bit. My heart sank when I saw how swollen my eyes were. There was NO WAY I could go back out there. My face was puffy, breathing shallow…my lips were…actually my lips were looking pretty sexy…but they obviously weren’t mine.
Not recognizing your own face is a pretty scary thing.

Holy shit. I may be in actual trouble here.

I remembered I had an emergency antihistamine up in my room. If I could get up there without being seen, I’d be fine. Everything would be back to normal.

***

I snuck away to my room, took the pill, sat on the bed and rocked myself a little.
“Breathe, Jill. Breathe. This will pass. Deep breaths. Push through. NO one can know. Don’t panic. In…and out… You got this. You ARE GOING to Miami. Breathe.”

I probably needed a doctor. I probably needed serious medical attention. But that wasn’t the issue for me. I HAD to get to Miami. I HAD to be ok. I closed my eyes and just kept breathing.

***

Wait…was it already 6AM??? Shit, I have to get downstairs. Wait, that’s STILL NOT MY FACE. What the hell am I gonna do???
No, suck it up. We’re leaving for the airport! I look like hell…but at least I can breathe.

I sure as hell hope the ticket agent can match my face to my ID…what if they won’t let me just get on the freaking plane?

What if my colleagues see how disfigured I look standing in line? Will they assume I had a postgame bender and judge me for it? And even if they do know I suffered a severe allergy, will they, even worse, pity me?
Nope. Status quo.
I pulled the drawstrings on my hoodie to near-closed and put sunglasses on to cover the rest.

I arrived at the gate and sat on the floor, nursing a bottle of water. I tilted my head back and waited to board.

Can we please just GO already???

I rubbed my face gently with my hands. It was STILL completely swollen.

I’ll tell you this. You can think you wished at times that you looked different…had higher cheek bones, a nose a different size…but when your face is actually disfigured and you FEEL it in your hands, all you can think about is how much you miss YOUR face.

This, my friends, was anaphylactic shock. And it wasn’t pretty. Uglier still was my reaction to it. When I really needed help, what did I do? I hid. And I continued to hide it as long as I could. I was a complete and total coward.

And then it hit me.

In light of all my recent studies, just what exactly did I REALLY know about vulnerability?

No matter what I’d read or what mantras I’d tried to cement in my brain for automatic recall in recent months, I still didn’t get it. I didn’t know the first thing about true vulnerability. There I was, physically vulnerable, and I couldn’t bear to be SEEN by anyone. It was a physical lesson, made simple enough for me to grasp the concept. And as we all know, the exterior is sometimes merely a reflection of what’s going on the inside.

Sack up, Krebs.

I took a deep breath and walked over to my boss. Time to be seen.

“When we land, I should probably go to the hospital.”

***

My Connecticut bestie picked me up in a car to take me to urgent care when I landed in Miami.
I greeted him with a huge smile and a hug. Wow, it was good to see him.

He wasn’t so happy with me.

“Are you fucking crazy??? You are THIS sick and got on a plane??? Now I’M gonna kill you.”

He was right. I was lucky. Damn lucky. Did I really risk my health (and possibly my life) because an unhealthy dose of pride prevented me from being seen…and being helped? It was actually a pretty scary thought. This was a personal flaw in need of serious attention. Sometimes you HAVE to let people help you and admit when you’re physically weak. And the same is true on the inside. Maybe there was a spiritual connection here.

After a trip to the ER, and a few jokes with the cute doctor about maybe keeping the lips I’d really learned to like over the last eight hours, I had time to reflect while recovering in my hotel room later that night.

The physical representation of vulnerability in its simplest form was perfectly clear. How many other things had I left unsaid…left hidden?

***

Vulnerability is an interesting topic and it doesn’t just mean being honest. In fact, brutal honesty is often more about going on the offensive.
And it’s not just about being “strong.”
It’s not just about having the courage to look up from your phone while standing in an elevator comprised of total strangers and saying, “hi, how are you?” instead of pretending that last text message was REALLY urgent and just couldn’t wait because you’re THAT important.

It doesn’t just mean telling your kids you love them more often, or being affectionate with a spouse or apologizing when you’re sorry.

It’s not about ignoring the last person who hurt you and being “strong enough” not to show emotion while passing them in the hallway because you’re unaffected to the point of being “over it.”

It’s about holding your head high, smiling, and saying hello, even when you feel the need, practically BEG yourself, to just look away.

It’s about looking people in the face, even when you may be showing your cards.

It’s about not panicking and hyper-cleaning the house when you’re expecting houseguests. It’s about leaving a few dishes in the sink before company comes over and saying, “that’s me. I get busy, lazy…whatever.”

It’s about saying, “I like you, and that’s that.”

It’s about being brave enough to say, “you don’t treat me well enough,” and having the courage to watch someone walk away, thus evincing the clarity of your conviction in doing the right thing.

It’s about knowing you have a weak spot. Knowing you have a “kryptonite.” (Mine is apparently a nut. Insert joke here.) It’s about taking this knowledge, and knowing that, no matter who knows your weakness, you are absolutely more than enough…even when you need to grow.

It’s about not saying anything to and about yourself that you wouldn’t say to a dear friend.

It’s about having the strength to extract the lesson from any given situation or heart-wrenching disappointment without bringing the emotional baggage along for self-protection.

It’s about not having to take a shot of whiskey before hitting “publish” on a blog.

It’s about not hiding yourself anymore.

Sometimes we think vulnerability is about being comfortable with being truly seen by others at our best.

But it’s more about being comfortable with being seen by others AS YOU ARE.

Exactly where you are right now.

Exactly who you are. Flaws and all.

Who knows? Your physical well-being and mental health just may DEPEND on it.

And how liberating is that?

***

And now I’m certain, should this happen to me again…should I find myself with a swollen tongue and puffy lips and disfigured face, I’ll stand up and shout from the middle of the restaurant, “WHERE the hell is the EpiPen???????”



“And now I invite everyone to come up and say a few words.”

Yeah, right.

Was he KIDDING me???

I knew for certain in that moment I didn’t have the strength to even put weight on my legs, let alone stand up in front of all of our friends. Tears were streaming down my face, gentle gasps of air were stealing control between silent sobs, and I couldn’t fathom saying “a few words” of anything.

In that moment, I was pretty sure I couldn’t even put one foot in front of the other.

It was Sunday, January 27th, 2013…and I was at a funeral. And it wasn’t a funeral for which I’d had any preparation. It was a funeral for a very dear friend of mine. A friend who was my age. A friend who hadn’t even been sick. A friend who used to meet me once a month after work in Downtown LA to indulge in some post-work cocktails. A friend who had always made sure I took time for fun between stressful days.

In fact, he was the friend who had just picked me up at the airport a couple weeks prior (he was THAT kind of friend). There was NO WAY he was gone. We were JUST giggling like kids during the car ride home from LAX, talking about the handsome stranger I’d just met on the plane.

But there I was on a late-January afternoon, sitting in a black dress weeping into a handkerchief. This was a new kind of pain…the sting of loss compounded by the cruelty of its spontaneity.

Then something crazy happened. I was somehow lifted out of my chair. Oh no, wait. I WAS WALKING.

“One foot in front of the other…”

WHAT WAS I DOING?

How the hell had I gotten to the front of the room already??? My heart leapt and my neck felt hot.
I adjusted the mic on the mic stand.

I was facing the crowd of friends and family without even the comfort of my sunglasses to disguise the raw emotion on my face. My pain was evidenced by the mascara trails lining my cheeks.

I cleared my throat.

I had something to say.

“My story is simple,” I said. “But I think it will tell you all about who Ryan was in my life…and how he changed me.”

I gathered myself for a moment. I really wanted to do him justice.

Some of the faces looking back at me were friends I loved. Others were strangers. But somehow through my fear and grieving, something moved me. My voice cracked and my resolve faltered. Yet, something continued to push me through…

“This was…” I said, holding back the tears. “This was what he did for me…”

***

It was a warm August day in 2012. Ryan and I were hanging out, talking as we often did. We’d just wrapped up a discussion on string theory and quantum physics. The conversation shifted and went in several other directions, and we were enjoying the moments.

At one point, I’d let something self-critical and cutting slip out.

This stopped Ryan in his thoughts.

“Jill,” he said with a big smile. “Do you understand the concept of loving yourself?”

“Of COURSE I love myself,” I said. “Come on, do you know anyone with a bigger ego?” I was doing it again. Poking fun at myself with a hint of intolerance.

“No,” he said. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean, is there that voice that defends you and doesn’t judge when that inner critic of yours starts going? You know, that inner judge?”

I just stared at him.

He smiled again, taking a teasing poke at my arm to ensure I was paying full attention.

“You know what I’m talking about, Jill. It’s the voice that no matter what you accomplish, it’ll never be enough. I feel like you especially have this. It’s the voice that allows fear to rule your relationships and makes you less open…I get it, no one is harder on you than you…but can you just really love and appreciate and fully accept who you are? This is SO important. Can you reach higher in life without beating yourself up?”

“Well…” I paused. “Actually…”

DO I really love myself?

Ryan got up and walked over to his desk.

“OK,” he said. “What do you look at…what do you use every day?”

This answer was easy.

“My phone.”

“OK, hand it to me.”

He hunched over the desk and took out a piece of paper and a Sharpie.

“What are you doing?” I asked, walking toward the desk.

He proudly handed my phone back to me.

And there, he had taped a small blue piece of paper to the back of my iPhone. In red, bold letters it said: “I LOVE MYSELF.”

“Now you’ll see it everyday,. And, trust me, it WILL make a difference. Just, do me a favor…HUMOR me. Really look at this every day and take a few minutes to think about it.”

I took my phone back (and probably rolled my eyes). “Uh huh.”

In the days to come, I’d acknowledge but occasionally forget about the message. It’s consistent presence and familiarity would sometimes cause it to blend into the background until someone would point it out or ask what it said after they’d caught a glimpse. I’d explain it away, hide it and even temporarily ignore it. The way people brought it back to my attention sometimes surprised me…and caught me off guard.

But still, it was there…every day…

And a few months later, something beautiful happened.

I noticed the message had started wearing off. The paper and tape began to gradually peel away.

Somehow, I was more taken with the idea that this reminder was slowly, visually disappearing, bit by bit…at first inperceptual…almost like Marty McFly’s image from an elusive existence in the photograph from “Back to the Future.”

Even more amazing was how the physical disintegration of this message coincided with the occurrence of more “fun” days, more laughs, less worry at work and easier self-forgiveness when I’d say or do “something stupid.” And maybe most importantly, it coincided with more time-outs taken merely to feel gratitude for a life of which I was privileged to play a part.

This message was making its way into my being, my every day thoughts…

Was I realizing that nothing but love and being a good person REALLY mattered? Could over-thinking everything be destroying the moments of opportunity for the insatiable happiness that follows when you know there is so much life to be lived?

Before I knew it, the paper and tape had worn off. They were completely gone.

When I finally put two and two together and realized that a subconscious, transcendental shift was gradually (and visually) taking place, I paid Ryan a visit one night in December.

“Ryan, you won’t believe this. Your paper is gone. LOOK at my phone!”

“Where’s the note?”

“It’s gone! The note is gone! It just…wore off!”

I looked my dear friend in the eyes.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s because…you don’t need it anymore.”

***

Sometimes looking at the past gives us a sense of empowerment. On occasion, we think about the things we’ve learned over the course of a year, six months, even a week and give ourselves a good ‘ol pat on the back.

This self-indulgent ‘atta boy never seems to come easier than when we realize we’ve somehow avoided being lied to, fooled, tricked, or played. But, if in spite of the lessons, the difficulties, and the teachers who have let us down…if we can still love and forgive ourselves…and treat ourselves and others with kindness as we’re all tested in this classroom of life, we can have true success.

And this is what Ryan taught me. We can learn lessons and yet not compromise a positive self-image. We can reach higher and dedicate ourselves to learning…and yet, silence the inner critic. We can effectively manage the temptation to batter ourselves and not carry negativity into the future with those lessons.

***

I stood at the mic in front of everyone, and let out a deep breath.

Ryan loved with all his heart. He enjoyed life without worry. He touched people with kindness, love, and respect for the moment. But the concept of self-love was especially important to him. He knew love is the greatest force of all, and it starts “in here.”

And he wanted to leave us with that. All of us.

His lesson no longer belongs to just me. It belongs, and always has, to ALL of us.

Sometimes I wonder what he’d say to me now…when I fret over the future, or give into moments of self-doubt and over-analyzation..

But I know that today, no matter what happens in the present moment, he would take my phone and tape a new note to the back…

“Love, laugh and never fear.”



Amazingly enough, the most important lesson I’ve ever learned about love and Valentine’s Day didn’t come from my longest relationship, my extremely solid and supportive relationship with my parents, or even my first love (though, these did teach me PLENTY). No, my most important lesson about Valentine’s Day came in 1997…Friday, February 14th, 1997 to be exact.

I was a senior in high school.

“Take out a sheet of notebook paper and pen…”
I’d looked around at my classmates. Did anyone know what our teacher had in mind that day? Anyone?
It was religion class, “Theology of Death.”

It was fourth period, right before lunchtime. The weekend was three periods away. Come on, wasn’t this supposed to be a “throwaway, party day” at school?

I sat at my desk, wearing my usual smart-assy “screw everyone” Valentine’s Day attire. BLACK. ALL black. My best friend Michelle and I wore black every Valentine’s Day as “a statement.” Hell with that stupid holiday.

Falling in line with my (unnaturally pessimistic) view today was the thought: “Of COURSE there would be a pop quiz.” I rifled through my unorganized backback.

“F-ing Valentine’s Day and there’s a quiz.”

This prospect fed right into my teenage angst-ridden view of the day in general. It just HAD to suck in one way or the other.

Mind you, I had no idea back then what REAL heartache entailed. I’d thought at the time that an unrequited crush on the same guy since sixth grade constituted a broken heart of epic proportions. As a high school senior, with yet still no return on the investment of emotion for six years…was thinking Valentine’s Day just COULDN’T be any worse for me…constantly thinking about a guy who still didn’t want me topped off with a pop quiz I was bound to fail made me pout. Openly.

I held my pen steady…ready for the first question.

Our teacher wrote something on the chalkboard. I couldn’t see it.
“OK,” my Ms. Saunders announced…”I want you to pick three people. Three people in your life who are very important to you.”

“Wait, what?”

Everyone else seemed to share my confusion.
After meeting our blank stares, she continued.
“Go ahead, pick three people.”
“Is this a joke?” I asked Sara. Sara, who had ZERO concerns about Valentine’s Day seeing as how she was already pregnant and on the road to being married a few days after graduation, just smiled at me.
“What?” she asked.
“Is this a…never mind,” I repeated. It was a lost cause. Sara was already living in a world of which I wouldn’t have an inkling until I was…who knows how old?

“Pick three people, NOW,” Ms. Saunders repeated. “Right now.”

I raised my hand.

“Um, can they be dead, or…?”
“Good question, Jill. They have to be alive right now, and they should mean a great deal to you.”
“Sweet!” I thought. “That’s easy.” The people closest to me were Mom, Dad and my sister, Jenni. DONE. Easiest pop quiz ever.

Everyone wrote theirs down and looked up.

“Now, since this is ‘Theology of Death,’ we’re going to do an exercise. Everyone write down your last words to these people.”

Again. Blank stares.

“OK, in OTHER words,” Ms. Saunders continued. “Say, you found out TODAY that you had a terminal illness. Say, you knew you were gonna die in a week, write down what you would say to these three people you picked.”

The room was abuzz with irreverent questions.

“Wow, that’s not depressing. Should I include the will…or…?”

“Wait, am I a senior in high school at the time, or…?”

“Do they know we’re sick? Do we tell them we’re dying???”

Ms. Saunders tried to humor us without succumbing to frustration.

“No, no,” she said. “Right now, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? Don’t overthink it, just do it.”

Not overthinking was a tall order for a classroom full of dramatic late-teens. But then it suddenly occurred to me…This exercise is about saying what we want to say. Nothing else. So I started writing.

Suddenly, things I’d always wanted to get off my chest and admit to came rushing out. This potential catharsis was merely between myself and the piece of paper.

OK…I’d felt like a failure of a daughter at times, but I loved with all my heart. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I’d always be grateful…when I ran away and hid for hours that one time when I was 12, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone…I was just scared. That time I said I hated my stepmother? That was merely out of anger. And you know what? No one, NO one had better parents than I did. No one had a better best friend in their little sister than I did…even though I was in a near coma during an allergy attack at 6-years-old, I knew Jenni never left my side for one second. I even heard her praying and bargaining with God for my life, even though I was physically powerless to acknowledge and reassure her…when I got mad at everyone I was really just vulnerable…and, while we’re at it, did any of them know how much I needed and loved them even when I needed them to believe I was flat-out pissed off about something stupid and inconsequential? Did they know that everything I did…be it tennis, grades, ANY accomplishment I had…was because they believed in me?

I stopped writing.

WOW, that felt good to get out.

I looked around. Some of my classmates were still writing when I put my pen down. Others had ignored the task completely. But I had a peaceful grin…the look of a teenager who had just released a lifetime of regret in the span of several minutes. That feeling was altogether unexpected. I kept going.

“Time’s up, everyone.”

OK, 20 minutes left in the period. Almost lunch time.

Today might not be so bad after all.

But what did this have to do with Valentine’s Day?

Ms. Saunders had a mischievious look on her face. She knew something we didn’t.

She calmly walked over to her desk and took out a box.

“OK, so this exercise isn’t for the feint of heart. But it’s Valentine’s Day, and I want you all think about what I’m about to say.”

She opened the box.

As she walked down the isles of desks, she dropped three envelopes on each one. Paired with three greeting cards.

Oh, no. The sinking feeling in my stomach belied what came next.

“For those of you who are brave enough, I want you to take these cards,” she said as she approached my desk.

BOOM. There were my three blank Valentine’s, staring me right in the face.

I had a lump in my throat. I knew what was coming.

“…and I want you to look at what you wrote…and don’t, just don’t think about it…I want you to copy, WORD FOR WORD, what you just wrote…address the envelopes with the people’s names you chose, and give these Valentines to them when you go home tonight.”

We were all silent.

“What?”

She couldn’t be serious. Take these private thoughts, and, GIVE THEM AWAY? Uncensored???

“I want you to treat this Valentine’s Day differently than any other. I want you to have the courage to repeat exactly what you just said, and give these messages of love to the loved ones in your life tonight. Say what you have always wanted to say…without holding back. Give the gift of yourself this year.”

“Holy shit,” I thought. “I said a lot of things in this exercise that make me look weak, make me sound stupid, make me look…human.

I took a deep breath.

Nothing I had written in a birthday card, Christmas card, or thank you note even remotely resembled what I was about to give away now…in writing.

But I accepted the challenge.

I’d resolved to take my “final words” and make them everyday words. These were true sentiments from the heart, words I thought would never see the light of day, let alone another pair of eyes. They were words written in anticipation of a grade for the rawness of their honesty.

And now I was about to copy them down into a Valentine…and let them go.

Truth be told, it felt so good to do that…I went home and did the same for three MORE people. Sure I felt vulnerable…sure I felt weak and scared. But I’d never felt so alive and powerful in my entire life. And the feeling was ADDICTING.

So addicting, I couldn’t stop with just three. I couldn’t stop at just one year.

In fact, who knew? I may just wear pastels for Valentine’s Day next year.

And now, 16 years later, Valentine’s Day is not a lame holiday meant only for lovers and those lucky in the throes of infatuation. For me, it’s a holiday meant for friends, family and those who have changed us. Those who have made us stronger and more optimistic, and more like the people we want to be even though a battered heart may tempt us to hold back when we should take a risk. Valentine’s Day is about truth and love…love for people, love for life, and love for ourselves. It’s about loving the truth enough to let it go.

As a senior in high school, with the help of that class, I’d figured it out. In being honest and saying what I’d always needed to say under the guise of anonymity, and being who I need to be, I’d really discovered what true love is all about. And, as everyone knows, Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating love, no matter how it takes shape…or what higher ground is waiting for us.

To this day, I step onto the edge of that cliff and look over with a few people every year. Valentine’s Day is the day I celebrate where unspoken words will never be left unsaid. And sometimes I’ll even include a “Be Mine” sugar heart in the envelope.

Valentine’s Day, for me…from that special senior year day on…celebrates courage…and saying what you need to say.



These times tend to creep up on me.

And, as stated in previous posts, ideas usually knock on the door while I’m in the shower.

(What is it about the shower, anyway?)

Actually, what is about this year? The bulk of my thirties’ self-realization started with random bits of wisdom thrust on me whist driving the gorgeous Ohio freeways this spring, peaked when I lost my Grandmother in the summer, and seemed to have landed on my lap in a heap on a cold October day in LA.

In short, it’s been a helluva year.

But I’ve realized…one seemingly little habit has made things exceptionally beautiful. And rewarding.

I keep a notebook on me at all times. ALL TIMES.

I don’t want to miss anything.

I’ll explain.

This habit actually started as an experiment triggered by something I read in one of Maria Shriver’s books when I was 20. She said it would be wise to write down all the things that make you laugh, because you’ll inevitably forget them down the road. So that’s what I did.

In college, I began to ritually check my purse before leaving the house to be sure I always had a piece of paper and some writing utensil with me. Most times, a receipt from the gas station would suffice.

And later, while hanging out with my friends, someone would say something stupid or funny under the influence of alcohol (of course it was just alcohol), and I’d be in a corner somewhere…pulling out my notebook and taking notes that were destined to resurrect echoes of laughter for years to come. Granted, if YOU’RE the person in the corner, writing while your friends are relaxing, relating, having a good time, you’ll draw suspicious looks. In fairness, from their point of view…what sane person writes while everyone is interacting? And what does said person intend TO DO with this “on-the-record” hilarity? It can be quite conspicuous in the moment.

I had managed to illicit paranoia from friends of all walks of life over the years, merely by clicking the pen and hoping my scribbles would translate in the morning.

And in the days to follow, I’d pack the notes away with plans to resurrect them once time had allowed them to steep a little.

Eventually, my note-taking tendencies evolved to not only chronicle the hilarious moments (stories of nudist colonies and outrageous escapades), but also the tender moments. Soon I found myself scribbling notes in the restaurant ladies’ room mere minutes after my last boyfriend first told me he loved me years ago, had a pen out while my Dad was helping mend my heart over the phone shortly thereafter, and looking like a stenographer while my boss delivered words of encouragement and/or praise at review time.

It’s not graceful to be sifting through your purse (and why, WHY is it so big and unorganized when I just want to find the damn pen already!?!?) while girlfriends I’d had helped with major decisions by offering advice (of which I wasn’t prone to or capable of taking myself) graciously thanked me for loving them.

This carried over to moments when my Mom would say she was proud of me, and I’d say, “I’m listening,” as I wrote.

Case in point…after my graduation from USC, my family sat in my living room in Downtown LA, recalling stories that could easily be repurposed for a future sitcom. Laughter was in the air…and meanwhile, I sifted through a basket under my coffee table.

“Where’s the damn notepad?” I thought as I pulled random items out.

We’d all had tears in our eyes, laughing as Dad regaled us with descriptions of raising us from a PARENT’S point of view.

I was glued to his words, while scrambling for the damn piece of paper.

Then I frantically started writing…

“’And my daughters would get mad at me when I yelled and got upset, and yet they didn’t realize they’re the ones who put me in that position…that I was merely the victim of circumstance!!!’ …OK, got it!” I victoriously, yet silently, sighed as I successfully captured the memory.

There was a break in the laughter while everyone stared at me.

The silence startled me, so I looked up.

“What are you WRITING?” Dad asked.

I said, “You all will thank me later.”

I came across this notebook right after my grandmother’s funeral, a year later. Our sentiments, the ones we’d all forgotten, leapt from the pages and we were miraculously able to resurrect otherwise forgotten moments, destined to heal us at a later date…adding lighthearted memories of levity to an inherently heavy atmosphere.

There was a lesson here. A theme was emerging.

These recorded times were all times I wanted to remember.

I hadn’t taken time to revisit these moments until recently.

My mentor and friend at work made the sad announcement a couple months ago that he was leaving the company. After three years of bonding, professional intimacy, and achieving work-wife status, I was now was facing “divorce.” What was I gonna do to cheer up? How many times would I be called upon this year…to let go?

What started as feelings of despair eventually gave way to a higher-evolved gratitude for the time we had already spent together…

…because I had the notebooks.

We spent our last days together as colleagues reliving good times that were long forgotten, reviewing notes I’d kept through the years. Yeah, they were a pain in the ass to write in the moment (the classic feeling of…do you take a picture or just enjoy the view?), but the effort ultimately yielded dividends.

For the reviewing of notes I’d taken many a night, quoting his funniest and most irreverent comments to the crew, gave us hours of laughter as we reminisced, flipping through the pages. My goodbye gift to him materialized as I sorted through these books, one surprise after the next. Chances were good, that now, he’d remember us all a little better. And I’d be cheered while indulging a few soft spots.

And now, dear friends, that secret is my gift to you…the reminder to write it all down…even the seemingly trivial. Write down the funny, write down the touching. Good ‘ol pen and paper is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Writing down notes makes students into doctors and quiet observers into novelists.

Tonight, I sit among these notes, laughing at what I’ve forgotten, and feeling proud for how much has changed over the years. In a way, it’s like that marker some parents keep on a doorjamb as their kids grow. These notes and the documenting of personal accomplishments serve to show how much you can grow in a year. In a decade. In a lifetime.

Someday, maybe a few years down the road, you’ll retrieve this gift to yourself when you need it the most…you’ll remember who you’ve been, and hope for the person you will become.

But most importantly, you’ll probably laugh. A lot.



Most people who know me, who REALLY KNOW me, know I’ve had an intense summer. I’ve said goodbye to one of the most important people in my life and I have explored the depths of my own psyche in ways some people live an entire lifetime in the comfort of not seeing…but it’s been a great journey. Looking back short-term on this trek, I’ve made two observations that currently stand out.
And they are…

#1…”Jill, you can be wrong.”
#2…I will do anything for the people I love, even when my own credibility is on the line.

Revelation #1 came to me in the shower one day in the middle of June…and #2, came at my Grandmother’s wake.

The first one came after a long day last month of watching TED talks on the Internet between trips to Ohio. It was a regular, lazy Saturday, enhanced by vodka and deep thoughts. It was time for a shower to, you know, keep myself from feeling like I only sat around and collected dust and B.O. all afternoon. As I stepped in the shower and turned the lever to the hottest level I could stand (especially uncomfortable given that it was an exceptionally humid June day in Downtown LA), a thought occurred to me that I hadn’t REALLY yet considered EVER before in my life. The concept hit me out of nowhere and blindsided me with all the grace of a Mack truck hitting a parked car…and in the silence of the bathroom unaffected by the dull sound of mist emanating from my shower head…a disturbing thought came to me. As quickly as I processed it, I repeated it aloud, unattached to its audible message. From nowhere came the self-given, uninvited advice…”Jill, you could be wrong.”
All my life, I’ve gone with my gut. There’s certainly something courageous in that. But sometimes, it’s not your gut talking…sometimes it’s your fear. In the face of giving a man a first chance, in pondering my next career move, in assuming my first impressions of people are correct…somewhere in there, it occurred to me it’s not always my “gut” talking. My perception cleared in this moment and I realized that the carefully crafted defenses I’ve been perfecting since childhood COULD be clouding my vision. Sometimes, your fear, and fear alone, makes snap decisions of which you are unaware, prompting you to avoid beneficial experiences in living your life when your less-overprotective faith knows better.
The idea that I COULD BE WRONG, that I could be too quick to jump to conclusions, to labeling people, to “calling a spade a spade,” has made me miss out on something very important. Sometimes, “a spade is just a spade,” but sometimes…it’s not.
For most people, this is a very scary thing to admit: WE CAN BE WRONG.

But…

So what if we don’t know?
So what if we are led to a lesson that hurts, but does not harm us?
So what if what we learn and in the process we are led to higher ground?
SO what if I live and don’t really understand where the events will lead? Can’t being wrong about situations and people be FUN sometimes?
Sometimes I judge people, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I miss out because I was too guarded. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, even though I cleverly articulate my life plans to people with a confidence that is summoned by a force I don’t quite understand. But does it really matter, ultimately, when we are all together in figuring this out?
WE CAN BE WRONG. We think we have ourselves figured out. We think we have our family and friends figured out. But what if we’re wrong? If we’re wrong, we may discover that life is too complex to understand and intimately know…and in those small surprises, and the things we learn along the way, we find out what life is really all about.

The second revelation came to me at my Grandmother’s wake, on a particularly humid June day in Ohio.
It was so sticky outside that my hair was glued to the back of my neck by a layer of sweat I didn’t have to move an inch to earn.
I was fanning myself in the funeral home, hoping to pull myself together (both physically and emotionally) before people started to arrive. I had 15 minutes.
“Get it together, Jill,” I told my reflection as I paced in front of the mirror by the door. Loud sigh…”Get it together.”
After wiping away a few persistent tears from my eyes, I noticed my Grandfather in the corner opposite the room, by the water cooler.
God, this just HAD to be so difficult for him.
He was seeing his wife for the first time…lifeless since leaving the house. My heart leapt immediately out of my dress with such urgency that I had to check the top buttons to see that they were still fastened.
I lifted my chin, shook away the tears and raised my head high while walking over to check on my Grampa. I placed a dubiously shaking hand over his shoulder.
He quickly turned around. “Hi, Jilly,” he said. “You ok?”
He wanted to be sure I’d had enough water to fight the soaring humidity. He held his cup and pointed in my direction.
I blew past his question, gingerly putting my arm around him. I asked how he was holding up.
“I’m fine,” he said. “You want some?”
I eyed his full styrofoam cup of water and said, “Nah, I got a bottle in the car.”
Looking ahead, I had stopped at CVS on my way to the funeral home. I stocked up on bottles of water, just in case I felt myself give way to fainting from dehydration in the receiving line.
“OK,” he said. He turned around and slowly walked away.
I watched him walk toward Gramma again, and again, my heart ached.
I plopped down in the seat next to my sister, waiting for calling hours to begin.
I turned to Jenni and said, “My heart…my heart is with Grampa right now.”
She grabbed my hand and said, “He’ll be ok.”
About three minutes later, Grampa walked over to me.
“Jilly, let’s go for a walk.”
I was floored. Grampa was going to lean on ME. He chose me to help release his emotions. I was thrilled. “Coming,” I said through an enormous smile.
As I followed him, I realized we were headed directly to my car.
“You got the bottle?” he asked.
Since we’d only talked about my water bottles I said, “yes,” and reached in the back seat.
I proudly pulled one out, happy to provide Grampa with his first happy moment since arriving to the funeral home.
He eyed the bottled water and looked at me with disappointment. “What’s this?”
“Grampa, it’s the water bottle you wanted.”
“No, I thought you had a bottle of something else in the car.”
I wasn’t sure how to feel about this one. Grampa had figured his eldest Granddaughter had stashed BOOZE in her car at her Grandmother’s WAKE.
I stood there, speechless. I was upset I had let him down…on top of his assumption that I’d brought an open container to my Grandmother’s wake.
And then I thought, “Seriously, WHY HADN’T I THOUGHT OF THAT?”
“I’m sorry, I…”
“No Jilly, it’s ok,” he said, He was still choking back tears. And in this moment, I realized this wake was gonna be the most difficult thing he has ever done in his life.
As he walked back to the funeral home with his head down, my eyes brimmed with fresh tears. I couldn’t ease his pain with bottles of water. Duh.
I shook away the tears and looked at my watch. I still had seven minutes until calling hours began.
With that, I stopped thinking. I had a job to do.
I fumbled around my purse looking for my keys. Grampa was hurting and I was gonna save him just in time.
My mindset shifted from “crossing over” in “Ghost Whisperer” to saving the City in “24.” Melinda Gordon to Jack Bauer. There was now a new job to be done.
As I sped off in my car and headed for my Grandparents’ house a few blocks away (and about three minutes by car), I thought, “OK, I have empty bottles of water in this car. I can easily transport some whiskey for Grampa.” His kids (and yes, my Mom) will be pissed if I get him shots, BUT, I KNOW it will help. It just HAS to take away his pain. It just HAS to.” My hand trembled on the gear shift as I negotiated every turn in the road, speeding, without flying. I was gonna save my Grampa. I was gonna bring him comfort. But NO ONE could know.
I ran into the house, filled an empty water bottle with what looked like two shots of Crown Royal, and almost sped back out of the driveway with the driver’s side door still open.
I looked at the clock.
TWO MORE minutes.
I wasn’t gonna make it.
I tucked the illicit bottle under my blazer as I left the car and strolled comfortably back into the funeral home. It had already started. Go figure. My Grandmother was so loved people had been showing up early…they’d already been showing up since I left some minutes ago.
How was I gonna provide Grampa his comfort?
I walked right by the priest with this dirty little secret tucked under my arm. “Hello, Father,” I said…and I scrambled past him with all of the guilt of Mary Magdalene.
I approached the room and saw Grampa already in the receiving line with my mother and her brothers. How the heck was I gonna manage the handoff?
I shamefully walked over to Jenni and her husband, Dave. “I failed,” I said.
“Failed at what?” Dave asked.
“I brought Grampa a much needed drink from home and I can’t even get it to him without anyone knowing. I was just trying to be a good Granddaughter. What do I do now?” I said.
“Do they serve coffee?” Dave asked.
My eyes perked up. “Brilliant!” I said. “The Air Force taught you right!”
I rushed toward the front office.
“Hey, can I ask a favor?” I asked the funeral director. “Can you guys make my Grampa a cup of decaf? He’s having a rough one…”
“Absolutely, honey,” he said, with a sympathetic expression. “He can have whatever he wants. Give me a minute.”
With the bottle precariously tucked under my arm, I waited impatiently in the lobby, pacing, waiting for the single cup of coffee.
The funeral director returned with a cup of coffee so full I knew I’d need a minute. But taking it into the bathroom with me would look weird. Now what was I gonna I do?
“I’m gonna put my (non-existant purse, it was still in the car) in the office,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
I just realized I didn’t have my purse…good thing I walked fast.
I hid behind the office door and retrieved the bottle.
“Shit, it’s too full,” I said, pouring coffee into a trash can that miraculously appeared before me as I crouched under the desk.
I unscrewed the cap and dumped whiskey into the cup until the mixture lined the cup’s surface. But there was still a lot of whiskey remaining.
“Damn,” I actually said aloud. “Why am I always so heavy on the pour??”
As I watched the funeral director approach the office, I panicked and downed the rest of the whiskey. I guess Grampa and I both would have questionable breath in the receiving line.
“Echhhhhhh.”
I shook my head and accepted the fact that I had a buzz very soon coming my way. I had to get rid of it. I couldn’t very well leave a clear bottle of whiskey in the office.
I inhaled, stood up and straightened my dress. And now I was bearing gifts.
I took the cup to Grampa when I saw a break in the line.
“Drink it,” I said. “Now.”
I took my place in line and hiccuped through several introductions.
For a moment I felt guilty. But for only a moment.
Yes, my Grampa’s kids would be angry I brought a grieving man alcohol to his wife’s wake, but somewhere, Gramma was smiling down on us, knowing that I cared for my Grampa so much.
Just as a little time passed and I felt proud for how much effort I was willing to expend for Grampa’s comfort, I heard him yell across the room at me, “Jilly, you didn’t make it strong enough!”
With that, all eyes of the receiving line were on me. My Mom’s look suggested, “What did you do, Jill Anne?”
In a flash, I said, “I thought you liked decaf, GRAMPA.”
At that moment, a mutual understanding overcame us both. He smiled at me. He gave me a tender look. And I smiled.

Then I gave him a look that said, “Don’t you dare.”

Later that night, my Mom asked me as we all sat together in the breezeway, “Jill, what did you DO at the funeral home tonight?”
I said, “Mom, I did nothing.”
But here’s what I meant by nothing.
I didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done in my position.
My Grampa was hurting, and I did whatever I could to help him. Even if it made me look like a bad influence. Even if it made me look like a person without scruples. Even if I lied (sorta) to a priest. Even if my comfort measures were unconventional. I realized, I will absolutely rise to the occasion when someone I love needs me, or needs anything really.
And that feeling, that feeling of assisting, whether the world approves or not, makes me feel like I’ve really contributed something special, something meaningful.

And these are the moments I will always, always remember.



et cetera