Great Television: Better Late Than Never

Ray and I have finished all of Friday Night Lights – yes, that’s like 65 episodes – and now we have begun Six Feet Under. Who knew television could be so good? We watched episode one tonight.

Six Feet Under starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell
Six Feet Under starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell

We are also watching the second season of True Detective, which is also excellent. One of the main characters on Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch, is starring along with Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Vince Vaughn. He had a great role on FNL and is doing a bang up job in this series, as well. Fun to watch him as a grown man since he played a teenager on FNL. Interesting to see his growth as an actor.

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I am happy that good television is possible. I realize I’m late to the party with Friday Night Lights and Six Feet Under. I guess I was too busy doing something else when they were on. Still, watching them on Netflix works very well since there is no lag time between episodes. Ray and I watch late at night after we are settled in bed.

Okay, I need to head upstairs. We’re up early tomorrow to go to the orange grove in Ojai. We are leaving literally before dawn since a heat wave is due to arrive in the LA area tomorrow and last for several days.

I hope you are having a good evening, my friends. I will check back in again tomorrow.

 

Old Photos

Today I found a box of old photos. What a treat. Here are a few to give you a window into my earlier life.

My little brother, Sam, and me in the mid-60’s. This is taken in our living room of our family home in Bonham, Texas.

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Ray Beaty, when he came to Arkansas to woo me. It worked. He is 22 years old in this picture. I am 27.  Clearly, we are acting silly.  I think it’s a cute picture of Ray.  This is 1980.

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Our wedding in the park in Mountain View, Arkansas in 1980.

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Ray is demonstrating his love for dogs. He still has that quality. Very endearing. Probably 1982.

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My mother, Helen W. Leatherwood, Ph.D. She taught Sociology and Psychology at the local college and also had a private practice in psychology. I am guessing this picture was taken in the late 70’s.  Clearly, she had hurt her arm.

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My mother’s partner for 29 years, Dorothy LeMole Ed.D. She and Mom met in graduate school and built a house together plus had the private practice together. They were both licensed psychologists. (Late 70’s)

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My beloved nephew, Jim Agutter, and his darling sister, Kevin, with Rosie, my sister Leslie’s partner at that time. We were at Mom and Dorothy’s house and these three are clearly engaged in a backgammon game. (Late ’70’s)

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My dear sister-in-law, Sandra Adams Leatherwood. (Late 70’s)

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My brother John (with the beard) and first cousin, Jack White. John had a Master’s degree in Italian and lived and taught in Italy for 10 years. He died in 1991 from AIDS. Jack is still alive and well. He is a retired English professor. (Late 70’s)

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My brother Jim. He died in 1994 from AIDS. He was a physician and was the person who wooed us to Los Angeles.  For that, we are forever grateful. (Late 70’s)

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Noticeably missing from these photos are my brother George and sister Leslie. They were there at Mom’s when most of these pictures were taken, but, unfortunately, they were not in any of the photos I found today.  Also, of course, there are no photos of our kids or George and Sam’s kids. That will have to wait for another box on another day.

These photos bring back very happy memories of people I loved and continue to love dearly. I have been very lucky to have such a wonderful family.

I hope your evening is going well. I’ll check back in tomorrow.

The Wisdom of Letting Go

I have had the occasion over the past few days to talk to several people who are in pain. In one case, a parent is worried about an adult child who is having serious issues; in another, a friend is worried about another friend who is terminally ill. Worry is the operative word here.

Worry is defined as “giving way to anxiety or unease.” Often, when situations are beyond one’s control, it is natural to feel anxious and uneasy. Who doesn’t want to fix a problem that clearly needs a remedy? Who doesn’t want to step in and make it right again?

The rub is, of course, life is often comprised of problems that are not that easy to tackle. In fact, in the two cases above, the parent of that adult child and that friend of an ill friend simply do not have the power to make everything okay again for these people. These issues are out of their sphere of influence. They can be concerned; they can care, but they can not fix it. The situations are too complex. In fact, in the case of the terminally ill person, the truth is the situation is unfixable. This person isn’t going to become miraculously well just because someone who loves her doesn’t want her to suffer.

In Alanon, which I have attended in the past since I am from an alcoholic family, one of the primary concepts that is discussed a lot is recognizing the tendency to jump on a white horse and go in to fight the battle. One of the most powerful phrases I’ve ever heard is called the 3 C’s: “I didn’t cause it; I can’t control it; and I can’t cure it.” This is an invitation to step off the horse and to recognize one’s need to turn the problem over to a Higher Power. That is great advice whether or not one is dealing with alcohol or drug issues. In fact, with the parent of that adult child and the friend of the dying friend, the 3 C’s apply. Neither of these people caused the problems that their loved ones are facing; they can not control the problem, nor can they cure it. Again, the primary invitation here is to admit one’s powerlessness and to turn this over to a Higher Power, whether that is God, Nature, the Universe, or whatever else makes sense depending on personal belief systems.

At this point in my life, I need a reminder of the 3 C’s in reference to problems that are outside my sphere of control. I still want so badly to get the saddle down, toss it on that white horse and head off with a battle flag flying. I often erroneously think that I have better answers than those who are actually facing the problems. I am working on that misconception. That is called co-dependency. It is not only detrimental to the other person, but also to myself since I will take on someone else’s problem rather than dealing with my own issues.

I am aware that aphorisms can be annoying and some people find the AA and Alanon slogans to be a little worn out. The difference is, however, that despite sounding a bit hackneyed, these phrases are true words of wisdom. They invite a different way of tackling problems; they encourage a surrender of control and the development of trust that individuals have the capacity, with the help of a HIgher Power, to deal with their issues themselves.

So, here are a few of the Alanon words of wisdom that I have found helpful over the years. I hope my friends will find them helpful, too. After all, we all face problems that we can’t fix. Sometimes it’s great to have a short phrase to keep life in perspective.

Happy Sunday. I hope you are all looking forward to a healthy, happy and productive new week.

TOP 10 Al-Anon Sayings

THINK is it..?: Thoughtful. Honest. Intelligent. Necessary. Kind.
“If only I can learn to quiet my mind before I speak! I do not want to act with impatience and hostility, for I know it will react on me. It is a mistake to think this requires self-control; patience can be acquired by learning to let go of self-will. Jonathan Swift said: “Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul. Men must not turn into bees who kill themselves in stinging others.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 20)

HALT if you’re… : Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired.
Be aware when these four physical or emotion conditions arise. When these do arise we are in a vulnerable position to have a severe emotional react.

FEAR: False. Evidence. Appearing. Real.
“In Al-Anon, the answer to “What if? Is: “Don’t project! Don’t imagine the worst; deal with your problems as they arise. Live one day at a time.” I cannot do anything about things that haven’t happened; I will not let the past experiences make me dread the unknown future. “It is a vain and unprofitable thing to conceive either grief or joy for future things which perhaps will never come about.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 193)

HOPE: Happy. Our. Program. Exists.
“The first gift a newcomer receives from contact with Al-Anon is hope. Seeing how other rise above their problems, listening to situations worse than their own, absorbing the atmosphere of love and goodwill, send them home with a new lease on life.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.94)
NUTS: Not. Using. The. Steps.
“When I read a step and think about it deeply, I find it opens the door to new insights. When I read that same step again, it reveals new spiritual ideas. They seem to dig into our consciousness and unearth for us the wonderful potential for good in all our relationships with life.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.141)

DETACH: Don’t. Even. Think. About. Changing. Him/Her.
“How can I best help the alcoholic? By not interfering when he gets into difficulties. I must detach myself from his shortcoming, neither making up for them nor criticizing them. Let me learn to play my own role, and leave his to him. If he fails in it, the failure is not mine, no matter what others may think or say about it.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.29)

HOW: Honest. Open. Willing.
Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the three primary principles in laying down a solid foundation for recovery. Honest with oneself. Being open to Power Greater than our selves and willing to take certain steps.

STEPS: Solutions. To. Every. Problem.
“If we have Al-anon, there is no need to stand in our own light and try to solve our problems in darkness. The ways and means that Al-anon offers have lighted the way for so many thousands of despairing people that no one can question their power. “When I am faced with a problem that seems impossible to solve, when I feel trapped in a situation and can see no way out, let me ask myself whether I am standing in my own light. I must find the vantage point where I can most clearly see my difficulty as it is; then answers will come.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.297)

QTIP: Quit. Taking. It. Personally.
“When the guilt of the alcoholic explodes, I must realize that it is always aimed at those nearest, and often dearest. I want to remind myself that such outbursts only reveal the drinker’s own unhappiness. I will not make the situation worse by taking seriously what the alcoholic says at such times. (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.55)

LOVE: Let. Others. Voluntarily. Evolve.
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (Thomas Merton: No Man Is an Island)

Repost: A Tribute to My Best Friend, RIP, on Her Birthday

Today is Patricia’s birthday and I think it’s appropriate to repost a blog I wrote about her a while back.

To my beloved friend:

My best friend growing up was Patricia Butler. I met her when I was three and she was four, when her family moved to my little town and began attending our tiny Episcopal mission there. Patricia was the polar opposite of me in appearance: she had big blue eyes, snow-blonde hair and was skinny as a pole. I, on the other hand, had almond-shaped dark brown eyes, dark brown hair and was a bit chubby. Other than our outward appearance, however, we were one in spirit. We both laughed at the same jokes, liked and disliked the same people and could finish each other’s sentences. We also loved to sing and spent many days of our youth harmonizing on songs that we perfected for nobody’s pleasure other than our own. Patricia was a year older than I was so she was a year ahead in school. Ironically, most of our acquaintances never knew Patricia and I were friends at all since at school we spent all of our time with our same age groups. However, almost every weekend throughout our childhood and adolescence, we were together on Sundays during and after church. This friendship continued on through college and into adulthood until Patricia was stricken with brain cancer at 32 and died several years later, though by that time, only a shadow of her former self.

I have to say that Patricia holds a singular spot in my heart. She was my childhood friend who transitioned into the woman who was there for all three births of my children. She loved my husband almost as much as I did and their shared love of art was a bond between them and a launching pad for my own artistic education. I can still visualize Patricia as if she were here in the flesh and I still know exactly what she would say in pretty much any situation I might encounter today. I also know she would be immensely proud of those three babies she helped birth and would agree that Ray has only gotten better with age.

While I miss my friend, glimpses of her flit in and out of every close friendship I’ve had throughout my life. Patricia was and remains my first and closest friend, but she taught me how to be a friend and love a friend. Those gifts are her legacy and have filled my life with a whole host of people who enrich my life every day. How lucky for me to have had such a sweet and dear first friend.

Patricia and Len, Ages 26 and 25

Len and Patricia

Off to Make a Difference

My daughter, Liz, and her boyfriend, Ron, left today for a ten day vacation to Alaska. The twist on this story is that they are not going to Anchorage to hang out and relax; they’re going to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity.

I am proud of these two, who are using their vacation time to give back to others.

What if we all did that?  Our world could only get better and better.

Have a wonderful time, Liz and Ron.  I think you two are awesome.

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On Joy

Yesterday, I presented my thoughts on happiness to the best of my ability for what time I had allotted to that activity. Today’s topic is joy. Please note these are simply my musings, not words I think are written in stone. When I write this, I am aware that there will be many points that I will miss. That is where you come in, dear reader, to add your thoughts on the topic in the Comments section. Consider this a jumping off point since I am limited in the amount of time I have to devote to this exploration. Today is booked except for a small window of time right now. Alas, let’s see what comes up, shall we?

Joy is a visceral reaction that is for me less frequent than happiness and also less easily obtained. There is no product to buy that will automatically produce joy – at least to my knowledge – and there is no advertising campaign that aims to sell joy (except, ironically, for a dishwashing liquid). Every consumer knows that it would be a lie for an advertiser to claim his/her product can produce joy. Joy is happiness on steroids and it manifests itself differently in every person. One person’s joyful response might lack meaning to someone else. However, there are a few universal situations that are pretty much guaranteed to produce joy. How often have you seen a pet owner reunited with a beloved dog or cat, the tearful return of a loved one, or the graduation of a child, parent or grandparent in a commercial to sell Coca Cola or Chevrolets? These are universal moments of joy, along with births, weddings, 50th wedding anniversary parties, and sports team victories. Moments we all accept as producing pure joy.

Apart from these universal moments, joy has another more private side. This is when joy arises at odd and unexpected moments. For example, I might wake up early at our orange grove and see the rapid flutter of a hummingbird’s wings as the tiny bird buries its long beak in the middle of an orange blossom. That exquisite visual experience might produce a feeling of joy. Or having my little granddaughter lay her head against my shoulder, sigh, then nestle closer. Ah, what joy that can bring. Or I might listen to the sonorous sounds of J.S. Bach and feel the music touch me on a such a deep level that I feel a surge of joy. These events all have a special meaning to me personally. I love hummingbirds, my granddaughter and Bach. Perhaps someone else would be left cold by these things, but feel an equal surge of joy at the sound of a trolley car bell, the teasing jostle of a brother, or the music of Asleep at the Wheel. This is the personal side of joy, the part that takes into account our likes and dislikes along with our unique histories.

I believe joy is blunted for many people because of personal pain. Whatever the mechanism that exists to experience a flood of elation is simply non-operational. The lists of events that could cause this to happen are no surprise to any of us. They include, but are not limited to hunger, extreme poverty, displacement, illness, grief, cruelty, fear, abandonment, and emotional as well as physical abuse. I have no words to salve those who have suffered under these conditions. I can only pray that time will help heal those deep wounds, and moments of joy will miraculously reappear.

Whether the emotional wounds we have suffered fall inside or outside the Bell curve, I believe joy is one of those emotions that we all hope to experience as much as possible. Joy elevates and celebrates our life experiences; it also brings us back to those early childhood days when life was simple and the discovery of a colorful caterpillar could produce awe and wonder. These are the sister words to joy, which help to provide an understanding of its true composition. Joy often comes when the ordinary is suspended and for just a moment, we experience the extraordinary. It often comes when we stop with all our busyness and allow ourselves to fully engage in life in all its glory.

We might all do well to look at the world each day for at least five minutes from the perspective of a toddler. We might find ourselves focused on something so small and yet so uniquely wonderful that we feel that surge of joy that can be so elusive. Aw, what a treat that would be.

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On Happiness

One of my friends asked if I would write my thoughts about happiness and joy. I have undertaken that task and have discovered that I need to break these topics into two separate essays; otherwise, I’m afraid I will not explore them to the level that will feel satisfying to me or to you, my reader. Clearly, I am not a philosopher, so these thoughts reflect my sorting out as best I can of these topics. All I can promise is that I will do my best to reflect on how these words relate to my own life. That will be my only objective – to sort out my own truth here.

My friend stated that he believes that joy has nothing to do with possessions -it is a state of being – while happiness is an emotional reaction to an event. I agree with that, I think. Let’s start with happiness…

Happiness, at least in part, appears to be a reaction to an event. I was happy when my children were born; when my mother recovered from a heart attack; when my husband a few days back listened to my words of advice and actually heeded them. Happiness is a great feeling. Most of us prefer to be happy versus sad and do our best to increase our chances of happiness by taking pleasure trips, eating favorite foods, spending time with special people. Americans as a society appear to be in constant pursuit of happiness and try hard to find the magic elixir to keep the good feelings flowing. An extra glass of wine will surely do the trick or maybe that expensive dress will bring on the desired response. Perhaps it’s that right man or woman, who surely will be the perfect soul mate. Or in worse case scenarios, it’s an illegal drug, endless at-risk sexual encounters or ten drinks instead of one that is needed to try to produce that great feeling we so crave. We are told through advertisers on television and on billboards that if we only use their products, then our lives will be filled with happiness. We will be prettier, younger, more hip, sexier. Happiness is presented as a commodity that can be bought and sold. Ah, if only that were true.

It is undeniable that money available for food, shelter, medicine, and other necessities is critical for survival needs. Money is also wonderful for non-survival desires, such as a trip to the movies, or a gift for a friend or a treat for oneself. However, while money is nice in this second category, it is not essential to happiness. How could it be when there is evidence to the contrary among poor people around the globe? These people have figured out other ways to bring happiness into their lives; ways that do not require money for things beyond the necessities. Also, if money bought happiness then all rich people would automatically be happy. We know that is not the case. The truth is that while people may feel more secure when there is extra money around, simply possessing it does not guarantee a happy life.

Not only can happiness not be bought, but there also appears to be a wide range of reactions on the “happiness meter” depending on one’s natural propensities.   Research is revealing that mood has a great deal to do with brain chemistry, and that while some people have little trouble feeling happy each day; others struggle terribly. These folks are not trying to be unhappy; they are battling a biochemical imbalance that reduces their brain’s ability to experience happiness. Luckily, medical science is working on pharmacological interventions in this area; unluckily, even with help, there is a subset of people who have not yet found help from these drugs. Clearly, one can only hope more research money can be devoted to this area since this is a sad state of affairs – pun completely intended. Chronic depression is growing among Americans and needs to be seriously addressed by way of research dollars. Our entire society will benefit by helping those who are suffering.

But back to a consideration of happiness in general…

I believe it’s a true statement that people prefer feeling happy to the alternative. However, it must be considered that sometimes circumstances in life are not conducive to happiness. A loved one may have just died; something terrible may have just happened out in the world; a terrifying life circumstance may have just presented itself. In these situations, happiness feels at odds with other feelings that are more appropriate: sadness, disappointment or fear. When I’ve been faced with tough times, I have done what everyone else does in these situations: walked through the fire and hoped that happiness would again present itself when life returned to a semblance of normal. So far, this has been the case; however, I am aware I have not faced the level of pain that would put this theory to a true test. I hope I never do.

Philosophers often talk about happiness as a byproduct of whatever else is happening in life. I have found this to be true. I often go through my day in a neutral mood – simply engaged in the tasks that need to be done – and then feel some measure of happiness as a result of my work. For example, I may feel happy that my house is tidy or my family has enjoyed a meal I’ve prepared or that I’ve expressed what I had hoped to convey in a writing piece I’ve worked on. In those cases, I haven’t actually sought happiness, but rather have experienced it as a result of doing nothing more than going about my life. In contrast, when I’ve actively tried to find happiness, I’ve often felt miserable instead; far too aware that my hopes are not meeting my expectations. Those philosophers may know what they’re talking about regarding this, after all.

How do I achieve happiness? I have no clue what the real formula is to gain a consistent degree of this positive feeling, but I know from my own experience that staying focused in the here and now works better for me than not. I usually zip straight to unhappiness when focusing on negative experiences from the past or else unknowable possibilities in the future. The past can be five minutes ago, by the way, so sometimes it requires real focus to stay in the actual here and now.

Also, I am typically happier when I spend at least some time each day working on a task that has a greater purpose. In my case, this usually involves some form of writing since that is one of my primary ways of connecting with others in the world. Also, helping others is a primary means to happiness for me. I feel better when I take time to help someone else at least part of every day. That person may be my husband, my children, a friend, or a stranger, and the action may be big or small. The key is for me to take the time to offer my help; the good feelings tend to follow. My third surefire means to happiness is to take time weekly to gather with my fellow believers in my faith community and spend time in worship. I am Christian, but I am certain this holds true for those of any faith. Time spent with others with an outward focus on a power greater than oneself helps create love and healing. This for me leads to happiness.

That is pretty much what I know at this moment about happiness. I certainly don’t feel as if I’ve explored every aspect, but I do feel that I’ve learned something from writing this. I think I’ll continue to live my life as consciously as possible and trust that happiness will present itself in unexpected ways as a result. I like the sound of that.

Tomorrow, I’ll tackle joy.

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