Friday, July 4, 2014

Reactivating My Life's Purpose Each 4th of July

I have a 4th of July tradition. I enjoy going to barbecues, watching fireworks and other typical holiday celebrations, but my ritual is more contemplative. I spend a few minutes concentrating on how I can use my skills as a writer to help others. 

I don’t remember exactly when I started using Independence Day in this regard, but I DO know it predated my professional writing career which has been going strong for at least 30 years. Well, some years stronger than others. I earned my first paycheck for something I wrote back in 1983 when the Arizona Republic published a story I wrote about an unwanted Christmas tree. I earned a whopping $30, but the pride carried me through many years of pennilessness for my freelance work. No wonder they call it “free.”

I was not becoming rich for my efforts, but I was prolific typing weekly articles for Campus News, the weekly newspaper for Scottsdale Community College and occasional submissions to the Buddhist periodicals the World Tribune and Living Buddhism. I also penned plays, skits, video scripts, screenplays and teleplays.

Eventually I earned a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and was hired by Mesa Parks, Recreation and Cultural Division as a public relations practitioner. It was a part-time position but I cranked out press releases, feature stories, speeches, letters and brochure copy like a machine. I worked with wonderful people and enjoyed putting my skills to good use for eight years. 

One of the benefits of working for the city is that I could see the direct results my words had in making the community a better place. I wrote about the wonderful events, classes, volunteer opportunities and programs MPRCD offered, people read or heard the news via newspaper, radio or TV and came out in droves to enjoy them. Unfortunately my position was eliminated in spite of glowing performance evaluations. 

Things went downhill after that. My marriage ended and I had a string of writing jobs that didn’t work out. Eventually I took a more stable position working for a local non-profit organization. Unfortunately my writing skills were rarely needed. I felt a part of me died. My attitude must have tanked too, as I eventually was fired from that job as well.

In spite of this setback and hiatus from being a professional scribe, every year on the 4th of July I reignited my desire to be a writer that would serve humankind. Unbeknownst to those around me, I would launch my wishes into the universe and wait for the brilliant burst of color in the night sky to remind me that my desires could burst forth into reality if I could remain steadfast in my commitment.

My Independence Day ritual predated The Secret, the Abraham series and What the Bleep Do You Know. However, my issue was I didn’t hold onto the dream long enough. Once a year does not an expert make. Eventually I read (and even co-wrote) books and articles on creating a positive attitude and fulfilling your life’s ambitions. To date my most successful work was penning the popular self-help book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within (with fellow author Jacqueline Howard.)  Nothing is more gratifying than knowing something I created has improved the life of another person.

But I’m human and sometimes take a stroll on the grouchy side of life. At times I wonder if the words I write have any impact, I worry my expertise as a public relations expert and professional writer will no longer be enough to pay the bills, as well as any number of negative thoughts that can swirl in and out of my consciousness. Fortunately I’ve trained myself not to wander down that rabbit hole of negativity for any length of time. It’s like exposing ourselves to radiation – a little might be necessary at times, but too much is toxic.

Fortunately today is the 4th of July – my day to rewrite my personal history. Holidays are great reminders of important dates and people in our lives. It doesn’t matter if the holiday is secular or non secular, all have value.

You may or may not want to read my articles, book or adopt my practice of using the 4th of July to remind yourself to launch or reactivate your life’s purpose. But in the words of my father (imagine a Yiddish accent when reading the next four words) “What could it hurt?”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Filming of Fish out of Water

I was surfing the internet looking for writing contests when I saw a listing for NBC Playground’s search for new sitcoms. The odds were against me, but I knew I had to enter. The contest had a short window – two months – and the applicants were asked to submit a 5 to 10 minute video and a 3 to 5 minute pitch of their original show idea.

I’ve entered numerous writing contests in my career. I’ve even won a few. But this competition was asking for something I had never done, create a video. I would normally be too intimidated to pursue the project. I am a bit of a technophobe. My friend, Andrea, calls me a Luddite because my old flip phone sits neglected in my purse. I can’t tell you how many bewildered looks I have received from folks when I tell them I don’t text. But I finally decided to embrace technology and bought a droid. I now text, take pictures and even take a few videos of my grandkids. I often forget to turn the camera off and accidently shoot footage of ceilings, floors and my chubby thighs, but it’s a learning process. 

Ironically, some of the outtakes came in handy later to simulate a fall. But more on that another time.
My mind started racing about how I could create a video and enter the contest. Things started to fall into place. My friend, Michele, told me about a great comedic actress named Viva. She told me Viva’s mother, Carole, was a great organizer and could probably help me find other actors. Before I could say “huzzah” I had two talented actors for two of my lead roles.

Both Viva and Sean are not only gifted thespians, they were willing to work for free. The only glitch was timing. Viva was still in school and only had a few days before she would go on vacation and I had to complete everything before I left with my spouse for a work assignment.

Fortunately I am not intimidated by deadlines. I have my journalism professors to thank for that. Everyone else might have two months to create their videos. I would do mine in two weeks. My biggest fear was the actual filming. However, my good friend Joan came to my rescue and agreed to pull out her camcorder and do the job. I would do a little backup filming with my new Droid.

I looked at my script and tried to envision how I could simplify it enough to capture the story without a lot of expensive props. It’s one thing to write a story but quite another to put it together without a talented crew to handle props, sound equipment, music and lighting. Fortunately, several friends, family members and classmates agreed to volunteer for the project. Two of my favorite clients, International Academy of Hair Design

and The Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center allowed me access to their facilities. The shopping center became a meeting place in my faux version of Beverly Hills. The beauty school became the site of an exclusive fashion show.

I purchased two rolls of rope lighting to create a runway, brought a blue sheet to hide a large display of makeup and aesthetic supplies, and again with the help of Joan, as well as Traci from my yogalates class, we moved furniture, stuck a work light on the end of a gardening tool and began filming.

Prior to filming I went on the internet to research strange things like – how do you replicate vomit. The answer, by the way, is corn chowder. I bought five cans of the stuff and Viva drank the stuff and spewed it on the runway like a champ. After filming and editing this scene I lost two pounds due to the gross out factor. Needless to say, I don’t think anyone who helped on this sitcom project will ever eat corn chowder again. 

When the filming was done the video was still a little short of the five minute minimum so I threw together another scene, at yet another location – Viva’s house. Due to the ensuing deadline I didn’t have time to find another actress to play opposite Viva, so I asked my daughter, Brittany, to take to the stage.

My other daughter, Alicia, helped film and did the editing. Even my granddaughters who are 4 and 6 years old had parts to play. 

 Finally, the filming and editing were completed and Alicia uploaded the video and pitch to the NBC Playground site (not an easy feat.) After hours of watching clips and making decisions about editing (Alicia did the editing but I was still the one making the decisions on what to use and not use) I have new admiration for all the unnoticed details that go into making a short video. I could probably write a book about the subject but this blog post is as close to a book as I’m going to write about the subject.

The morale of the story is I undertook a big challenge, and with the help of friends, family and other kind volunteers, I was able to see it through to completion. What seemed like an impossible task for a professional writer like me with minimal skills in direction, photography and production, was able to complete a project before deadline and with no budget. 

And as a card-carrying member of the AARP I was not too intimidated to compete against young, energetic students from UCLA. Will my project be picked as one of three finalists? Who knows? The winners will be notified by September 30. I hope all of you who read this will send my project, Fish Out Of Water, positive vibes. 

But in a way I have won already. Just by competing I overcame a huge obstacle. It all boils down to if I didn’t try I would  have lost before I ever had a chance to begin. And that would have been the worst defeat of all.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cuts Like A Knife But It Feels So Right

Call me sexist, but I have always found shopping for a Father’s Day present much harder than its maternal counterpart. My dad passed away, but that did not solve my problem as I like to honor my spouse with a present. It’s my second marriage, so the children we share are of the furry variety, but CB is the co-parent none-the-less and deserves a gift.

Fortunately I hit a homerun this year with a Parker River knife. I gave it to CB a bit early so I could review the product. I can whole-heartedly recommend this item as the PERFECT gift for any dad, husband or mate.  CB sails, scuba dives and enjoys many other outdoor activities where specialty blades are a necessity. However the Parker River knife is an ideal choice for everyday use.

The rosewood handle and solid construction make this a handsome instrument to use and behold.  It comes with a handy (and masculine) burlap bag.  It fits comfortably in the hand and opens with the right amount of pressure to make it both safe, yet easy to use. One of the coolest things about the Parker River knife is you can get it engraved. There are all the standard sayings one can choose Best Dad, Grandpa, longitude and latitude co ordinance, or even the person’s name. However, something I would suggest that would make this gift extra special is picking a moniker that denotes a complimentary adjective. I chose SELF RELIANT for CB. It’s a fitting inscription that fits my spouse to a tee.

Another unique component of the gift is the box has a penny on it.  This begs the inevitable question so I’m going to quote the Parker River website for the answer to this one.

"Why is there a penny taped to the knife?"

In many cultures around the world the act of giving a knife as a gift is sometimes utilized to symbol the ending of a friendship or relationship. But knives are useful and beautiful tools that make great gifts. A tradition that goes along with knife giving in these areas is to include a small coin, usually a penny with any gift knife. When the receiver of the gift opens the present, they immediately give the penny back to the giver of the gift. This way they have symbolically purchased the knife, which prevents both the blade from going dull and the friendship from being severed. 

CB has a distinctive and portable cutting implement, I have the penny (I kept the box too) and all is well in our household.  

Since I have given CB the early Father’s Day gift I have caught my “self-reliant one” turning it over, admiring the distinctive craftsmanship, and of course looking at the engraved moniker that is a true compliment to my spouse’s character.  I have to admit, I like to pick up the knife and admire it to too. I guess it gives new meaning to the lyrics sung by Bryan Adams when he croons, “It cuts like a knife, but it feels so right.”

So if you want to cut to the chase and find the perfect Father’s Day, be sure to visit . But time is running out so chop, chop, check it out today.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mother's Day Hair and Spa Adventures

Mother’s Day is approaching. I’m currently promoting a deal for a Pamper Package for Moms.

The same package is available in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida and Texas.

But of course I can’t think of Mother’s Day without thinking about my own mom, Peggy, who died in 2000. My mom had a standing, weekly appointment with her hair stylist for years. I don’t care how sick she was, she went to the appointment because if she didn’t, someone else would get her coveted Saturday time slot.

My hair needs are quite different than my mom’s. She had her hair frosted, teased and sprayed, wore a special satin cap to bed to keep her coiffed style in place while she slept, and she always looked put together. It makes me think of a few lines from one of my favorite movies, Steel Magnolias, where Sally Field’s hairstyle is referred to as a helmet. A hurricane could blow and Sally’s hair would not move out of place.

That is not the case with my stubby locks. My hair ablutions are minimal. I have yet to color my brown hair and I have grey sidewalls. When I wake up in the morning my very short hair sticks up in odd ways. I comb it, but it springs back at strange angles that never cease to amaze me. My hair is very straight (so was mom’s) and I tell people if it wasn’t for my three cowlicks my hair wouldn’t have any style at all. Thank goodness for haircare products and grooming accessories.

Since I work out of my home (a great benefit of being a publicist, screenwriter and author) I sometimes get a little sloppy with my beauty needs.  I can write, conduct business over the phone and no one is the wiser about how I look. But, I think it does take a toll in other ways as this lack of grooming might have a psychological effect toward sloth. And if there is one thing a writer does NOT need is an excuse to be lazy.
However, since one of my favorite clients is a chain of cosmetology schools and a hair care manufacturer, I do learn a bit about hairstyling and I look a great deal better than I used to. They recently launched a new hairspray called Discipline. 

This aerosol hair shaping spray is awesome.  It even keeps my hair in place! It’s a shame this product wasn’t around when my mom was alive. She would have loved it. And I’m sure she would have given a can of it to her hairstylist as well. 

For those of you whose moms are still alive, please consider giving her a pamper package and picking up a duo pack of Discipline Shaping Spray. After all those years she tried to keep you in line, it might be fun to give her something so she can keep her hair from misbehaving as well.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monster on the Run

I enjoy outings with my granddaughters and teaching them things. However there are times I find I learn something valuable from THEM. The girls and I went shopping for a birthday gift for their mom (we picked out a handbag) and I bought Rosannah and Briannah matching Easter dresses. In fact each outfit had corresponding clothes for their dolls. Maybe it’s a grandma thing but I like to buy things that match. The coordinating doll outfits were probably a bit much, but Jackie and Rainbow (the girl’s dolls) needed some new duds.

After our hard work of infusing a few bucks into Arizona’s retail economy we went to the indoor kiddy playground at the mall. As I sat down I spied one mom who sat silently and seemed a bit depressed. I wanted to go over and talk to her, but chose not to. I didn’t want to take a chance that any friendliness I offered would be rejected. 

Instead I picked my spot where I had a good vantage point of where I could watch my granddaughters enjoy some indoor fun. There were probably six kids in the play area and they all ran around and played nicely together – except for the occasional mid-run collision. At one point the kids decided one of the little boys was a monster and they fled from him. At first the little guy seemed satisfied with his role. He would occasionally emit a roar and the kids would disperse, screaming and flailing their arms like the IRS man was beckoning at the door. However, after a while I think he wanted to return to his identity as a harmless, little boy.

Briannah ran from the lad and asked if I could save her from the monster. 

“Use your imagination to save yourself,” I replied. 

I have never been fond of the whole damsel in distress routine. She gave me a few excuses about how her magic wand was broken, but when she realized I was not going to provide salvation she  came up with a plan. She approached the little boy.

“Here is a sandwich. If you eat it you won’t be a monster anymore.”

The little tot ate the imaginary meal and instantly changed back into a little boy. He and Briannah played on the toys and seemed to enjoy themselves. When they approached the other children (who were unaware of the monster’s transformation) they started to flee. However, Briannah emphatically told them he had eaten a magic sandwich and was no longer a monster. She had to reiterate her position a couple times, but finally the children were convinced and the little boy rejoined the group as a child and not an ogre.

As the children played I looked over and noticed the little boy’s mom was smiling. 

I think it is one thing to be able to ingratiate yourself with a group of strangers, but I think it is quite a brave and compassionate act to ensure another person is accepted as well. I recently read an excerpt from an interview with Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakai International and Alastair Thompson, co-founder, editor and publisher of Scoop Independent News in New Zealand.  Here is a passage I admire from President Ikeda.

“I believe that our most urgent challenge is to foster a social ethos that can keep people from being swept up in a collective psychologies and violent agitation. I believe that a spirit of empathy based on our sense of the universal dignity of life should be the foundation for such an ethos.”

Obviously Briannah, who is only 4 years old, did not read this article, but she followed the principle when she encouraged cooperation and not condemnation of the little monster in diapers. Her concern and compassion validated Ikeda’s statement that “It is incorrect to say that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature.” Briannah  used her imagination and stuck to her guns when the “herd” wanted to see a monster where a little boy stood. The children only resisted a little at first, then they allowed the child to unshackle himself from his scary role. But someone had to instigate change. I’m proud that person was my little granddaughter, but we all have the power to do something similar in our daily lives.

In the article with Pres. Ikeda the Buddhist leader and humanitarian went on to say that “…it is crucial to remind ourselves not to pursue our own happiness at the expense of the happiness of others, to prevent our own desire to be empowered and effective from threatening the lives and dignity of others.”
I believe most of us want to do the right thing and be kind, compassionate and consider the happiness of others, but sometimes we get distracted or fear rejection. This is what happened to me when I reasoned against engaging in a conversation with the monster/boy’s mother.

President Ikeda suggests three words to help remind us to foster our compassion - determination, faith and vow. The word “vow” is essential as it suggests a deeply-willed commitment, rooted in an appreciation of the dignity of life. He goes on to say “This determination is essential to resist the negative currents of society and build enduring bastions of peace and harmonious coexistence.”

My outing with my granddaughters is a small example of how small, daily acts of compassion  can contribute to making our world a happier place. By making one small decision (and sticking to it) Briannah freed a monster from his shackles, made a friend, paved the way for the tyke’s acceptance into the group, brought a smile to a mom’s face and made her grandmother very proud. Now if we can all follow Pres. Ikeda’s advice (and Briannah’s example) we can create  the perfect match for a happier and peaceful world.

If you are interested in learning how to become more optimistic, please check out my book, Erase Negativity at To read more about Pres. Ikeda and his writings visit