Some people look at snow and see the beauty of nature. Snowflakes outline tree branches in streams of white. Children frolic with snowmen teeming with corncob pipes and button noses.
Other people see the burden of the storm. Snow plows barrel down streets, pushing banks of the no longer white stuff onto street corners. People strain their backs digging themselves out of foot high mountains.
For me, the glass is more than half full.
New England blessed us with a March snow storm this year, though it hardly matters what month it happened.
This particular storm with its whipping 40 mph winds took down a large tree and with it a power line that supplied a large area of our town. That left us without electricity.
For whatever reason, our electric generator chose this day of all days to croak. With a roaring rev of the engine that ended with a sputtering cough, the generator echoed its last hurrah. No amount of gas or praying to the heavens was going to bring it back to life.
No heat, no lights, no refrigerator, no stove, no television.
Oh, the tragedy!
For a home on well water, no electricity means no water pump. No water pump means no running water. No running water means no washing the dishes (woo hoo!) but it also means no flushing the toilets (boo!). I will spare you the stinky details.
Anticipating the storm, we did our best to prepare in advance. We filled our tub to the brim hoping to use that extra water to refill our toilet tanks when the time came. Unfortunately, our tub was thirsty and drank away the water within a few hours. Why there was a leak, I will never know because the stopper seems to be working perfectly fine today.
My point — I was meant to have a “make it work” moment.
It was time to get back to basics, and indoor camping in a snow storm was our call to action!
Bundled in robes and blankets, I talked with my kids about their hopes and dreams. You would be surprised what matters most to a 6- and 11-year-old! We giggled at my daughter’s silly poetry rhymes and stomped around with my son’s Frankenstein dance moves. Chess (yes, the little one beat me!) and Monopoly Jr. were played with surprising strategy until the sun went down. Later, we told “campfire” stories with flashlights under our chins to add a hint of mystery to our more wacky than creepy tales.
These are the kind of days that bring life back in full force. Instead of being distracted by the busyness of a harried life, you are reminded of the simplicity that makes life meaningful.
A day without can be a blessing in disguise.
The snow is melting so far this spring, though in New England that does not guarantee much. Whether there is another snow storm in the coming months, we still plan to share our “campfire” stories. We may appreciate electricity and running water a bit more these days, but our flashlights are at the ready with or without them.
Being a kid these days isn’t easy. The media reminds us how much bullying happens in our schools and how much intolerance exists for people that are different. It doesn’t matter if it is about gender, race, or sexuality, these negative influences have the potential to harden our children during their formative years.
Children are not born racist or prejudiced; they are taught those limited beliefs. They are born both curious and open-minded.
Perhaps you heard the news story of the little white boy who shaved his head to look like his black friend. There was no way his teacher was going to be able to tell the difference! Or perhaps you saw the promotional video about a neighborhood boy who invited his wheelchair-bound friend to a game of basketball. The children who could walk scooted around on everyday items to even out the playing field.
If you haven’t heard these stories, it is because the world hits us with too many of the negative ones.
Today, I want to share one of the positive ones with you.
Meet Lauren Bietz. A 12-year-old girl living in Texas, she is not only a sixth grader but a veritable artist. “When I was seven, I opened a little turtle-themed art shop at the end of our driveway. A neighbor bought a magnificent Crayola portrait of a turtle for twenty-five cents, and it was so cool to see someone choose something I made and it made them happy.”
The art Lauren creates is expressive and bold, whether it is a vibrant watercolor painting or a subtle black and white sketch. Inspired by artists like John Trumbull and her best friend Maddie, she incorporates ideas but stands out with a voice all its own. When working on a project, “it’s almost like falling asleep and waking up with a full painting in front of you.”
Lauren is not the only creative one in the family. Her mother Kara M. Bietz, author of the young adult novel Until I Break, has always been supportive of her daughter’s art. Lauren says her mom “always acted like I’ve painted the Mona Lisa, even when I know it wasn’t my best work.”
Whether or not it is her best work, it is always excellent work.
To be honest, I would like to see what Lauren’s version of the Mona Lisa would look like.
Today, Lauren has taken her art to a new level. Outgrowing her turtle-themed art shop, she now runs Smaller Art for the Greater Good, a non-profit company she started on Facebook. All proceeds from the artwork she sells go to charity.
“I wanted to choose charities that are relevant to me and to what’s happening in the world right now. My mom and I researched and chose charities that weren’t found to misuse their donations and had a big percentage of the donation go to the people that need it.” Those charities aim to support LGBTQ youth and include the It Gets Better Project, the Trevor Project, and the Out Texas Foundation.
She looks forward to adding more artwork to her repertoire this summer. If you would like to see her current pieces and would like to follow her charitable efforts, please visit her Facebook page Smaller Art for the Greater Good and click on that like button!
Thank you, Lauren Bietz. You make a difference in a crazy world, showing that you do not need to be a grown-up to make a difference. Keep doing what you are doing and you will inspire more young people (and adults) to do the same.
When I have a hankering to do some writing, which is all the time until I actually sit down to do it, I like to get out of the house. I often wander to a cafe, a library, but my favorite is always a book shop.
I remember the first time I went to the local Barnes & Noble. Walking up to the Starbucks counter, my eyes scanned all the options but the decision came to me easily. My heart always melts for a good chai tea latte so I ordered one up.
“Your name, Miss?”
The cashier wrote Diana on the cup. Diana? Really?
I didn’t correct her. It was actually amusing to be someone else for a day. When she called my pseudonym out at the pick-up counter, I sauntered up like Diana Prince with a big smile on my face.
For those of you who don’t know, Diana Prince is the alter ego of Wonder Woman and my personal hero. Who could not respect a woman who seeks truth and justice, who is wise and kind, and better yet, who takes BS from no one? She is a pillar of strength and the essence of femininity. I am not afraid to admit I have a keychain, knit cap, and even a bathrobe with the WW symbol scrolled all over it.
Let’s say I enjoyed that latte like it was nobody’s business, and I got more writing done than I had in a long time.
I am hardly the first person to have the wrong name put on a Starbucks cup, and I would not be the first to let it slide either. If truth be told, I may have even encouraged the practice in other parts of my life, in different ways of course.
When I go to a salon to get my haircut, for example, the conversation always turns to “what do you do?” If I give the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it comes out that I am a doctor. Before you know it, I am held hostage in a chair by a person with scissors telling me about every physical ailment that ever plagued them. While I like to help people, it sort of takes away from the experience.
When I go to a salon nowadays, I focus on other things. I don’t tell anyone I am a doctor. I tell them I am a writer and that is the truth. Instead of being shown blisters and bruises, I get to talk about books and movies about books and my ideas. It lightens the mood for everyone on both sides. I make the most of the situation.
Audrey Hepburn did the same in Roman Holiday. She played Princess Ann, a woman who felt trapped by her royal duties. Life was regimented and formal, and people could not see beyond the expectations of her role. Fed up with a life she never asked for, the princess sneaks out of the royal palace and takes on the role of commoner “Anya Smith” for a day, an alter ego all her own. Unexpectedly, she falls in love with an American newsman as they explore the streets of Rome.
It just goes to show that life is sweeter when you get to be yourself.
Over time, Barnes & Noble has become a second home for me. You can find me there once a week. It is not only that I love to visit my own book on the shelf, a reminder of how far I have come and that yes, I can do it again one day. It is also the camaraderie. I have become less Diana Prince and more Norm from Cheers, where everyone knows my name.
The truth is I do not really need to be someone else. I just need for people to see me for the whole me, not for the roles that I play. I may be a doctor but that does not mean I want to diagnose strangers on my time off, just like Princess Ann is a free spirit who no longer accepted being stifled. We all need to roam in Rome. We all need freedom from society’s expectations.
Everyone has a story and every story has its complexities. I am not only a doctor or a mom or a writer or a runner. I am me. Getting to know my many layers means that you are willing to be open and nonjudgmental. It means you will let go of society’s expectations so that I can do the same for you.
Until then, meet my alter ego.
“Hi, I’m Diana. It’s nice to meet you.”
There is a scene in Bridget Jones Diary where our heroine is on-scene at a firehouse for a feature on “Sit Up Britain”. Her boss tells her to slide down the fire pole to meet with the firefighters. Unfortunately, she mishears her cue and comes sliding down the pole before the camera goes live.
Bridget pulls, struggles, and strains to climb back up the pole, but she cannot quite reach the top. She is simply not strong enough. When the camera finally goes live, she is halfway up the pole and slides haphazardly back down, landing flat on her backside. Well, she lands on the camera, her panties in clear view of all Great Britain.
How many times has a mixed signal or a “miscommunication” made you feel … exposed?
1984 and Animal Farm. I truly believe that reading the classics helps you to grow as a writer. Could there be a better time in history to read George Orwell? To be honest, I have struggled to deal with the hate and constant outrage all around me in this new political climate. An issue or event doesn’t have to target me personally to take its toll; I feel it in my bones. Instead of meditating on how to deal with the cacophony, I heightened my anxiety by reading dystopias. Talk about sending yourself mixed signals!
Cabin fever. Puxatawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter. For me and my kiddos, that meant more than 20 inches of snow, 3 school closings, and 3 delayed school openings this month alone. More than that, it meant stir crazy 6- and 10-year-olds who didn’t hear their mother say “settle down kids”. Instead, they heard “please wrestle around like Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper in the classic days of wrestling” and “oh, please be sure to jump off the sofa!”
The GI bug and a head cold. A two-for-one special! This February, I caught a delightful GI bug (I will spare you the gruesome details) followed by a head cold that crawled its slimy way into my chest. All things considered, I sounded a bit like Satine in Moulin Rouge minus the tuberculosis. My head said “make sure to exercise because exercise is your therapy”, but my body said, “do it and you will cough up a lung”. I was forced to limit my physical activity to walking but I am proud to say I didn’t give up.
Spicy soup. I am ashamed to admit that I, a Portuguese woman, had never made kale soup until now. Using memory as opposed to a recipe, I chopped up some chorizo with the kale, added some tomatoes and potatoes, and added salt and pepper. Far too much pepper. When I took my first bite, my eyes watered and I immediately started coughing. It wasn’t from my pseudo-tuberculosis either. Apparently, my memory mixed signals with my reality.
This is all minor everyday stuff. Who doesn’t send a mixed signal every now and again? Maybe at work, you misunderstand what your boss is asking you. Maybe when driving, the car that flashes its lights to let you pass instead speeds right by you. The list goes on and on.
What really matters are the mixed signals that hurt people.
Have you ever felt hurt by a situation until you see that same situation through someone else’s eyes? And that even though you struggled through a bad experience, someone else had it worse? I had that experience this month, and it was a serving of humble pie, the whole damn pie.
I was hurting, but until I reached out to say how I was feeling, I did not know what my friend was going through. The failure to communicate can be cutting. I waited too long to talk about things, and in doing so, I hurt someone I care about. My heart is ripe with apology. With the air clear, I am happy to say things are now back on track.
Despite it all, February was a good month.
Because mixed signals give us an opportunity to grow.
When everything is going right, we have a tendency to take things for granted. When things go awry, it catches our attention. We learn how to be better listeners. We learn how to see what is happening around us. We become a better version of ourselves, at least in the moment.
I am not saying that Bridget was a better person for showing her underwear on public television. But she may pause the next time she slides down a firehouse pole. Better yet, she can build up her strength to climb back up that pole and start fresh. I plan to start doing some weight training soon myself.
Starting over is brave.
Let’s rise again, Bridget!
Life is a tug of war. When you work hard, you pull the odds in your favor and when you don’t, you could end up flat on your face. That alone should be enough motivation to give your best every day, to make each day count.
The problem is that people don’t always play by the rules. Some people let you off too easy while others stack the deck against you. Imagine fighting off an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type when you only weigh a hundred pounds.
Let me tell you, life is not always fair.
Sometimes I feel like I am living the ultimate tug of war. I pull hard, I fall down, I get up again, and I repeat the cycle. I never quite seem to pull things over to my side.
I took my first physician job straight out of residency. I was paid far less than my colleagues starting out in other practices, but I thought it was a good opportunity to work with a solo practitioner that I respected. She did not see things the same way, it seems. Instead, she put me to work doing all the things she didn’t want to do. More tasks were added to my clinic duties. More call hours. More patients. That would have been fine had she not led me down another path during contract negotiations.
Note to self: Always get it in writing.
I was young and naive. I did what I was told. That did not stop me from questioning when things strayed from my contract. When I stood up for myself, she called me entitled. I bristled at the word.
To me, being called entitled meant that I was not worthy. It implied I was clamoring for something I had not earned, rather than something I had worked for my entire life. I was simply protecting myself against false promises that were made.
In a similar way, Medicare and Social Security are not entitlements. People literally pay for them their entire lives! For that sacrifice, Americans are given the promise of assistance in old age.
Whether you fight for the personal or the political, a tug of war is often necessary to stand up for what you believe in. Stand up for yourself!
People who know me understand that I was raised simply. My family did not have money. In fact, we struggled to pay the bills. Our house was in the worst part of town, next door to a bar. Day or night prostitutes and drug dealers solicited for business outside, sometimes right on my doorstep. At night, I could hear slurs of hate as drunken people beat each other until police sirens scattered them in all directions. I watched people I knew struggle with drug abuse, with alcohol abuse too, but I kept on the straight path. I put myself through college and then medical school. I meant to escape that hollow world, and I did.
I work hard for everything I have despite all that tried to hold me back. Please do not call me entitled.
When I learned my true worth, I started fresh in a new clinic. I have cared for thousands of patients in my career, every one of them teaching me lessons about life. I have even changed career paths since then, working now in medical necessity compliance and educating people about the ups and downs of Medicare. I feel my work is valuable if it can help even one person make a better decision about their health.
Parenthood is my greatest accomplishment. A proud mama, I am raising two beautiful children. While they get participation trophies for team sports (something I could not even fathom in my youth!), I remind them that what really counts is the work they put into it. Life does not give you trophies when you grow up. So they have chores and responsibilities to keep them as un-entitled as possible.
Not that I do not still struggle in my own personal tug of war. My rope is much heavier than it was when I was younger, though it was pretty heavy back then too. Now I face financial uncertainties and health issues. I suffer from car accidents and mistakes that could happen to most anyone. We all carry our burdens.
To live life, you have to participate in it. That means not giving up when you fall. Instead, I choose to grab hold of that tug of war rope again and again.
Each time I will pull harder.