Category: Personal Growth

I’m one of those lesbians who is most comfortable in faded jeans, a t-shirt, no socks, and boat shoes; who wears no makeup and is almost totally grey; who has never had a mani-pedi or massage; who is often called “sir” and enjoys sporting very short hair.  I have thick, wavy, and unruly hair – like its owner, it does what it wants when it wants.

I’ve been “out” pretty much forever and I stopped going to women’s hair salons about twenty years ago.  I switched to barber shops for several reasons: I was pissed that salons charged me twice what a man paid for a haircut even though I had short hair; salons were much more expensive regardless of the service performed; salons required an appointment so I couldn’t just swing by when I was out running errands; salons took forever; and most importantly, every woman stylist with whom I’ve interacted has been very uncomfortable cutting my hair the way that I like it – short, like a guy.

I live down the shore in New Jersey but I moved in with my mom in Connecticut this summer to be her caretaker following a health crisis. My hair kept getting shaggier and I wasn’t going to pay $60+ for a haircut (everything here is so expensive!) so I found a Groupon and off I went yesterday, when mom had visitors.  I popped into the salon and was greeted by a gorgeous woman who was dressed to the nines; she looked me up and down and wasn’t at all sure what the hell I was doing there.  I asked if anyone had time to do a walk-in.  She looked at me.  I tried again and explained that I had no appointment but I did have a Groupon and I asked if someone had time to cut my hair.  Still she looked at me.  So I shut up and I looked at her.  Then finally she announced, “I do you,” like she had decided to accept the nearly impossible challenge with which I presented her.

Her name was Angelica and she didn’t speak English.  In fact, that was the case with everyone in the salon except for the owner, who was bilingual – the women who worked there as well as the clientelle were all Spanish-speaking.  Two strikes against me: compared to Angelica I looked like I just rolled out of bed and I only spoke English.  The third strike was coming soon.

My Groupon was for a wash, cut, and style so Angelica washed my hair and then marched me over to her chair.  I dug my phone out of my pocket and showed her a photo of how I usually look right after my barber finishes with me.  She put her hands on her hips and was not at all pleased.  Angelica called the owner over.  I showed her the picture.  The owner and Angelica went back and forth in Spanish and I kept hearing the word “masculino” in the mix.  I chuckled.  Finally, the owner turned to me and said, “She’s a very talented stylist and she’ll cut your hair but not as short as you’re used to –  you’ll like it, I promise.”  So, in spite of the three strikes against me, Angelica and I took a leap of faith together.

I removed my glasses, without which I can see nothing, and I put myself in Angelica’s capable hands.  She took a deep breath and began.  Angelica was meticulous – an artist at work on a masterpiece.  No buzz of a razor here; she used three different scissors, two brushes, a comb, a spritzer, and a blow-dryer.  She turned me this way and that.  She walked around and around me, snipping as she went, hands and scissors flying, with lips pursed and her face reflecting an expression of intense concentration.  Finally, over half an hour later (the barber takes eight minutes – insert inappropriate sexual joke here) we were finished.  I put on my glasses and Angelica showed me all sides of my new doo.  We were both very happy with the result:

I gave Angelica a very generous tip, a great deal of praise, many thanks, and a big smile.  Angelica returned my smile and gave me a really wonderful haircut that was short but not masculino.  It was a victory for Angelica and a lesson for me: I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone a great deal over the last couple of years and often it’s been just the push that I needed in order to move on to something better.  Taking risks and embracing change are both very difficult but have consistently resulted in a happier and healthier me – and now in a slightly less masculino me as well!  Will I return to the barber when I eventually move back home?  Yes. But Angelica and I will always have Norwalk.

She made terrific split pea with ham soup and judged a restaurant by the quality of its French onion.  She also made awesome spanakopita.

She dyed her hair red, went to sleep with it wet and turned our bed into what looked like a crime scene.

She left gum in her pocket, ran her pants through the wash, and we scraped melted Bubblicious off the inside of the dryer for hours.

She thought that the towel animals that were left on the bed each day of our Alaskan cruise should be in a museum.

She loved to text tasteless jokes and funny/silly/gross photos to everyone in her address book.

She had a mouth like a trucker when circumstances warranted it but she almost always beat me at Words with Friends.

She wanted us to be the next Indigo Girls.

She was a fan of mocktails.

She taught me Shore culture and lingo so no one would mistake me for a benny.

She didn’t carry a purse and very rarely wore makeup but she rocked a dress just as well as a pair of cargo shorts.

She saved the life of one of her patients in the hospital hallway as I looked on in awe and she thought nothing of it.

She enjoyed respiratory therapy but wanted to go back to school to be a substance abuse counselor.

She loved her family and friends and always showed them rather than just told them.

She fell, sometimes quite hard, but she always got back up.

Swing Low

I’m very fortunate to have shared the last eight years, the first four as partners and the next four as friends, with Ginger Stevenson.  Ginger was one of the most courageous people who I’ve ever known.  None of us are perfect and that applied to Ginger, too.  But she had the uncanny ability to look at a seriously flawed individual and see the goodness within – even when there was very little of it to find.

Ginger knew how to have a great time – sometimes a bit too great.  I met her at a point in my life when fun was in very short supply.  When I walked Ginger to her car following our first date, which had been on her mom’s birthday, she didn’t leave immediately.  She told me later that she’d called her friend to tell her that she’d finally met someone special but she’d messed up the goodnight kiss.  Although she talked about that kiss for ages afterward (“I can’t believe you went out with me again …”), the truth was that I’d been so taken with her that I didn’t even remember it being the disaster that she described.

When I needed surgery unexpectedly, Ginger accompanied me and my parents, who don’t live in New Jersey, to the hospital.  She showed my folks how to get around town and took great care of them for days for me.  Her eyes smiling down on me were the last things that I saw before I was wheeled away.  I was scared but when she said that I would be fine, she loved me and she would be there when I awoke then I believed her – and I was frightened no more.

When she helped me to get dressed so I could go home after my hospital stay, I was too freaked out to look at the enormous scar that surgery left behind.  Ginger checked it out for me, smiled and assured me that it was a work of art.  She lied but I loved her for it.

When I faced a challenging circumstance, a friend suggested that I imagine that an historical or fictional hero was by my side.  I told her that I didn’t need to imagine – my hero was Ginger and I knew that she loved me fiercely and would protect me without fail.

Ginger Stevenson was 42 years old when she passed away this week.  She made an enormous difference in my life and in the lives of everyone who she touched.  Ginger was an extraordinary woman and I’m honored to have called her my friend.  I’m so grateful that we spent some time together, and laughed our asses off, just a week before she died.  I’d felt a sense of urgency about seeing her and I now understand why.

The world was a better place with Ginger in it.  She had an enormous heart, a contagious laugh, a persistent will and a gentle spirit.  Although I know that she’s at peace now, I can’t help but grieve – I miss Ginger already.  I will always be thankful for all that she taught me – about life, love, trust, friendship and hope.  But the greatest of these is love.

It’s Easter Sunday.  If you’re part of a Christian tradition then today you’re celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Although I am not a Christian, I can appreciate the importance of this day to those who celebrate it.  After all, what’s more miraculous than rising from the dead?

I’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately.  I’m trying to figure out how to restore some much-needed balance to my life.  I took an internet self-assessment two weeks ago to measure the extent to which my job has become my life; I answered every question in the affirmative, which, on this particular quiz was not the healthy response.  However, I also remember a time when I actually had a very full life and a very fulfilling job and managed to juggle both quite well.  I’m not sure why I’ve become increasingly more focused on work over the last several years to the detriment of everything else.  But I have realized, and not a moment too soon, that I need to shift my priorities so my job returns to being something that I do rather than all that I am.

I moved to the Jersey Shore seven years ago, after the dissolution of my long-term partnership – the intimate variety, not the business type.  One of the women who I dated shortly after relocating, and who ended up becoming an important and enduring friend, gave me a tiny bamboo plant at the beginning of our relationship.  She didn’t know that I had been so depressed that I had left all of my plants outside to die once I moved because I couldn’t stand the thought of anything relying on me for its existence.  I felt a completely irrational sense of guilt over being a plant-killer so when I received the bamboo I decided, totally subconsciously, that this was my chance at a fresh start.  If I could keep this plant alive then maybe, just maybe, I could start my life over following the unexpected end of a relationship that I thought would last forever.

Fast-forward about six and a half years.  I had become unhealthy, sedentary and a total workaholic.  And my bamboo plant, which had grown from a two-inch sprout to the thriving four-feet-plus centerpiece of my livingroom, started dying.  The decline has been slow and, for me, painful.  I tried everything that I could think of to remedy the situation but to no avail.  I consulted friends, the internet and a local botanist and no matter what the intervention still the bamboo continued to die.  And still I continued to become more and more focused on work.

About three weeks ago, at a meeting with my colleagues, I let the cat out of the bag: work had completely consumed my life and I was at the end of my rope.  Speaking the truth can be risky but it can also be rewarding — if you don’t mind people walking on eggshells around you for a while.  As it turned out, I was not the only person in the room who felt that way, which I never would have known if I hadn’t spoken up.  I have returned to a practice of honest, daily self-reflection and I am making other changes to try to shift myself back into balance.  My art, which was nearly as dead as my bamboo, has just started to excite me again and I spent several days of this long holiday weekend preparing brand new images for a solo show next month.

This morning, I decided that the time had come to dispose of the bamboo; I no longer wished to be surrounded by dead things.  I wanted to salvage the vase so I shimmied the large root base out of the narrow vase opening and into the sink.  I started washing the bamboo, I’m not sure why, with cold water — the roots were slimy with black rot everywhere and all of the shoots off of the main were a droopy yellow  or a shrivelled brown.  I snapped each shoot off and as I thinned out the plant I exposed a brand new sprout off of the bottom of the main that was actually green.  I eliminated most of the roots and all shoots except for the main and the one new growth.  I returned my diminutive bamboo to the original little pot in which it was given to me all those years ago and it now sits in my livingroom again — no longer a centerpiece but still an example of the will-to-life in action.  Apparently, this is a time of resurrection after all.


The Art of Appreciation

I’ve been reflecting a great deal lately on how appreciation transforms into abundance. I’m not usually the sort of person who stops to appreciate all that I have before generating a list a mile long of everything else that I want — and I want it all! But I find that when I plow ahead filled with want then what I get isn’t necessarily satisfying and sometimes can actually set me back instead of move me forward. So I’m making a conscious effort to be mindful, aware, open to all that’s coming my way but truly grateful for exactly those things that have not yet manifested fully in my life. Clarity of desire rather than unfocused want is what produces a result that’s right on target.

I’ve been single for quite a while. I don’t believe that there’s one perfect person out there for me. In fact, I’ve learned that there are many perfect people — they are perfect for the me who I happen to be in a specific period of my life. When I was in college I met a woman with whom I fell in love. We made a commitment to one another and lived that love until after sixteen years it became painfully clear that we had both grown in ways that made it impossible for us to continue on as we were. It was an ending that nearly ended me but ultimately it was what was the best for us both; I am grateful to her for doing what I could not. After about six months, although I was not ready for another relationship, I went in search of one anyway. I dated a dozen women in half as many weeks in an attempt to try to discover what I wanted. I fell hard for Lucky Number 13, who was perfect for me in that moment – over several years together she restored my self-confidence, helped my broken heart to mend and showed me that I was worth loving. Again, that relationship ended; and, again, the end was what was best for us both but this time neither of us suffered and we were able to transition successfully from lovers to friends.

Friendly Flower

It’s been a few years and I find myself ready to consider the possibility that there is another perfect person out there for the me who I am today. This time, though, I am taking a more active role in creating her. I’m doing this through a deep appreciation of the people in my life who care about me and who have qualities that I desire in my next partner. I definitely have “a type” and at the moment I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who embody components of that type. I spend time each day focused on those people and the things about them that I love and appreciate. This morning, instead of sleeping late, I was up long before the sunrise because I could feel that my next perfect person is out there – I may know her already or I may be poised to meet her soon but my vision is clear, my heart is full and my expectations are high. It’s only a matter of time.

Shake It Up!

I was visiting a friend in the hospital recently. She asked me to bring her a bottled fruit smoothie and as she drank it and we talked, I noticed the directions: “Shake well – settling occurs naturally.” As someone who can’t escape the detours through her own mind, those instructions struck me as wonderful advice.

How many of you have settled for less than your heart’s desire – ever – in any area of your life? I’d wager a good sum of money that every human being has settled at some point. Settling can feel good, secure, comfortable and reassuring, right? But when we settle what do we lose? I’ll demonstrate with an example from my own life since I can think of so many times when I’ve settled!

Intimate relationships. I’ve had long ones, short ones, real and surreal ones, hot and steamy as well as cool and breezy ones. And, although several involved potential or actual life-time commitments, ultimately none have stood the test of time. There was a period of my life when I would have, and did, sacrifice essential parts of myself in order to maintain my settled existence. The last thing that I wanted was to shake or be shaken! But, eventually, I learned that a good shake-up is just what I’ve needed to get out of my rut, wake up to the yearnings of my highest self and get moving again. In my forties now, I find that I’m open to viewing every relationship as an opportunity to learn, grow and expand my horizons – often in some very surprising ways! – rather than as a chance to settle down.

So, I encourage each of you to think about what you really want and what you may have, consciously or unconsciously, given up to retain a settled existence. What can you do, right now in this moment, to shake things up a bit, remove the blinders from your eyes and see your heart’s desires clearly again? If you can feel your way into a state of uncompromising fluidity then I can pretty much guarantee that the only things you’ll lose are your regrets. 8)


I was driving to work on Tuesday morning and my iPod was set on “shuffle” for my long commute.  The AUX jack in my car is very tempermental but that day it worked like a charm so I could hear the music through my car’s sound system.  A tune popped up that I hadn’t heard in forever and made me so happy that I started singing at the top of my lungs.  In fact, I was more than happy — I was absolutely ecstatic and I didn’t care who knew it.  As the song started nearing the end, I actually said out loud, “Gee, I really wish that I could hear that again” but I couldn’t mess with my iPod while I was driving.  Don’t you know that song repeated not once but for the rest of my commute?!  The moment of silence before the opening riff was filled with expectation time and again: would it play Scissor Sisters or would my iPod resume its shuffling?  And every time the song restarted I laughed my ass off and started singing.  I now know every word of this song perfectly — and if I don’t hear it again for quite a while that would be fine!  8)

When I got to work, I signed into SurveyMonkey to explore options for distributing course evaluation summary reports to our faculty.  I found a way to generate summary reports as PDF files automatically but it wouldn’t include the narrative comments that students made — only the quantitative results.  I asked my evaluator to contact the company to request that they integrate quantitative and qualitative results into the PDFs because I really, REALLY wanted this functionality.  She looked at me like I was nuts.  In fact, as I spoke with her about this, I could feel the tremendous relief that would result from this time-saving feature — it was as if I already had what I wanted and it felt great.  The next morning, as soon as I walked in the door, the evaluator said (I’m paraphrasing), “You’re not going to believe this but I signed into SurveyMonkey to contact them about what you want and they added it yesterday!  You should have wished for something really big!”

Well, I wished for two things that day and got them both.  Why?  The primary reason is because I felt rather than thought.  Pure positive emotion is a powerful manifesting tool and when you frame your desires such that they contain 100% of what you want and nothing of their opposite then nothing stands in the way of you getting what you want.  For example, I wanted only to hear that song again so that I could keep the fun going — I didn’t think to myself, “oh, but that’s highly unlikely given the fact that my iPod is on shuffle and I could play it for over a week nonstop and never hear the same song twice.”  If my desire had also contained its opposite then my iPod would have shuffled as usual and I wouldn’t have heard that song again.  Another reason that I got what I wanted and I got it immediately is because my desires were pretty low-stakes — if the song had not repeated then my world would not have come crumbling down around me.  But this was an important lesson for me: no matter how high or low the stakes may be, the process is exactly the same: if I get out of my own way and just revel in the pure positive emotion that comes from getting what I want, whether or not I have it yet, then what I want will come and it will do so quickly.

I invite you to play with this in your daily lives — start small until you feel like you can wish big without any qualifiers — and post your results as a comment below.  Make your life, as you really want it to be, the gift that you give yourself this holiday season.

Have you ever suspected that you’ve been laboring under a false assumption?  One of the most common of these assumptions, in my opinion, is that people must struggle in order to succeed and that the struggle itself makes us better people in the process.

There is an analogy to this paradigm in the world of wine: dry-farming.  Dry-farming is just what it sounds like: no irrigation is used so the vines must fight to survive.  According to Gregory Dal Piaz of “snooth,” ( “the struggle for survival puts stress on the vines, and stress, if you ask some folks (yours truly included) equals flavor, complexity, and balance in a wine.”  This begs the question: does stress produce the same beneficial results in people?

How many of you have ever emerged from a series of harrowing, nail-biting, nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching experiences and thought immediately afterwards, “Gee, that was terrific!  I feel completely invigorated, energized, balanced and in control of my life!  I can’t wait for the next totally horrific thing to happen!  WooHoo — bring it ON!”

Instead, when you’ve been through the wringer, don’t you usually just feel, well, like you’ve been through the wringer?  Doesn’t stress leave you feeling tired, frustrated, depressed, overwhelmed or perhaps even ill?  If you emerge from the struggle victorious you’re probably too exhausted to celebrate your success anyway.  So why does humanity persist in romanticizing struggle, stress and the battle for survival? 

Doesn’t it feel wonderful when something good happens and you didn’t even need to “do” anything to bring it to fruition?  It’s a pleasant surprise, right — like when you pull your winter coat out of storage and discover a twenty-dollar bill in the pocket.  Unless you left the money there on purpose during the last cold snap then you feel pretty good about your find, don’t you?

If I labor under the assumption that I must struggle in order to succeed then guess what: the Universe will provide me with lots and lots of opportunities to do just that — struggle, fight, scrimp, stress-out, come close to losing everything and then crawl from the wreckage … victorious?  I don’t know about you but I want to live fully, joyously and abundantly — not just barely surviving but thriving.  Unlike grape vines, human beings need irrigation so I’ll see you at the watering hole!

It’s ridiculously late or ridiculously early, depending on one’s perspective, but I’m on vacation this week so I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, which isn’t that far off.  I watched the kid’s movie Kung Fu Panda tonight and loved it so much that it inspired me to write about it.  (This will be one of very few instances where my blog will feature art work that is not mine.)

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s your typical story of an unlikely hero who saves the day.  In this particular case an untrained, overweight, noodle-making panda defeats an evil Kung Fu Master simply by being himself.  This is a powerful message to reinforce with children, who for a variety of reasons may feel depressed, disempowered and disengaged.  But I’m willing to bet, and those of you who are parents can correct me if I’m wrong, that it’s even more challenging for adults to believe that they are good enough simply because they are themselves.

We receive a constant barrage of messages from the media, colleagues, family members and friends telling us that we’re not good enough no matter what we do.  If we’re pencil-thin we’re not thin enough; if we labor eighty hours each week and get paid for half of that time we’re not working hard enough; if we’re unpartnered we’re not committed enough; if we enjoy solitude we’re not social enough; and I’m sure you can think of a million reasons why you’re not good enough so I’ll stop there.

What if each adult who is alive during this slice of time that we call the present believed with absolute certainty that they were worthy.  Period.  No clarifications or disclaimers.  We are all good enough just because we are ourselves.  How would that change, for example, the so-called economic crisis?  If everyone felt certain that they were worthy of financial abundance could there be a recession?  Wouldn’t the emotional security that accompanied such certainty render an economic crisis an impossibility?  If we all knew we were good enough then there would also be no conflicts, interpersonal or international; war would be a thing of the past.  What else might change if we operated under the assumption that every person is good enough exactly as they are — and what is keeping us from embracing that reality?  There’s no time like today to choose self-worth.  According to a character from the movie, now is a gift, which is why it’s called the present.