It’s that time of year: Reflections and resolutions.
Looking back over 2016 means being honest about how well we accomplished what we promised ourselves we would do; met our goals, kept our commitments, helped others along the way. Soul-searching is not easy. I’ve found a shortcut…
Many of us are engaged in our year-end ritual walk down memory lane. How well did we play our part in the circus, did we grab the golden ring or just miss it? One more ride on the merry-go-round, please. I’ll reach further this time.
Even in our most private conversations with ourselves, memory can play tricks on us. Our fairy godmother shows up, the one who promises that if you just think about it, she’ll wave her magic wand and make it happen: No actual effort, sacrifice, or planning required.
Self-deception can be a comforting thing. It can also keep us in mediocre jobs, stifle our creativity, and kill our courage.
There’s a wonderful tool to help confront such self-defeating fantasies and it’s only a mouse click away: Facebook’s feature “On this day”. The memories may show up directly in your newsfeed, but whether they do or not, you can access them under the “Explore” heading on your wall. One click and you can see every post, comment, and new friend from that date for all the years you’ve been on Facebook.
It’s a digital journal, filled with reflections in the mirror. Laid out in chronological order are not only all the good times but also all your good intentions, begging the question, “Did I follow through, did I hold up my end?” Did the website get upgraded, did the book get written, did the unruly files and contacts get organized, was the new friendship nurtured…
“On this day” has given me more motivation, clarity of insight, and shown me how much more focused I need to be than any other method of self-motivation I’ve ever used. I urge you to give it a try.
Let’s check back in with each other next year to see how it’s going. By then I’ll have a book to sell you…
By now the images from Paris have permeated our consciousness and burrowed deep in to the valley of our soul. Close our eyes and we see thousands huddled together on a soccer field, bloody bodies on sidewalks, bullet holes in café windows, the moment of recognition by the band on stage.
Of all the horror we’ve seen these past three days, for me the most haunting of all is the desperate concert goers hanging, literally by their fingernails from the windows of the Bataclan venue; dangling two and three stories above the street. In one frame we can see someone rush to a window and grab the wrist of a pregnant woman who appears to be slipping. The video ends without our knowing whether those people were rescued or whether they fell to the alley below.
It is an image of total panic and desperation, reminiscent of the last time evil came to call on this scale. None of us will ever forget the photos from 9-11 of people facing such horror that jumping from a window was the best option.
I hate to admit it, but on some level the terrorists are succeeding: One need only to see the news footage from two days after the Paris attacks, where a crowd who had gathered to hold a vigil was sent in to a screaming, rampaging panic by a random noise, to acknowledge that underneath the facade of resistance is a deep seated fear.
Heavily armed police and military patrols are a common and reassuring sight on our city streets, yet we know they cannot be everywhere. Gatherings of sport and entertainment will go on, but underneath is a wariness not present before.
Paris has changed us in some ways even more than 9-11, because after all these years, we have been shown that carnage can still happen on a mass scale.
One thing I’m changing: I won’t be using the expression, “Hanging by my fingernails” ever again.
What I’m not changing is my fervent hope and prayer that good will ultimately prevail over evil.
I’m in the process of moving my office which I’ve occupied for twenty-two years. A typical “type A”, my work space looks crowded and cluttered, not in a hoarders sort of way, more like a piles of papers and stacks of notes way, but I know where everything is, or so I thought until I started to dismantle it.
Tumbling out from shelves and drawers came letters, memos, accolades, and souvenirs, and most of all memories I’ve collected, but hadn’t thought of in years.
The pace of my highly focused packing slowed to a leisurely journey down memory lane as I sifted through one project, one accomplishment, one challenge, after another.
When I finished, I had a small metal chest, a fireproof model I bought for important papers like insurance policies, filled with much more important papers that, when looked at as a whole, represent two decades of accomplishments about which I am very proud.
I taped a note to the lid of the chest that reads “Victory Box”
I used to tell my women’s leadership classes that they should keep a “brag file”…every time they do something above & beyond, write a note to themselves and put it in there. Each time someone sends an email or memo thanking them for their help, or when they receive a great performance review, put it in the brag file. Then on those days when it hasn’t gone so well, when you’ve screwed up, or been accused of doing so even if you didn’t, pour yourself a cool beverage and go through that file and let your past efforts speak for themselves.
Sometime we simply need to be reminded how smart, how competent, we really are. Starting now, I’m taking my own advice.
When one begins something new, there’s no way to know how successful it might be or how it will end. In the case of the Perspectives Poetry Contest, “it” has exceeded my highest expectations and ended with a stunningly beautiful winning poem by Gwyndolyn Parker, and with inspiring second and third place poems by Lindsay Schaefer and Donna Fleetwood.
As a writer myself, I understand the courage it takes to open your innermost private thoughts to the scrutiny of others. Many thanks to all of you who submitted your work for consideration: (In the order they were received) Gloria Domina, Valerie Kovacs King, Cindy Schneider, Natasha Serrano, Carol Minski, David Drescher, Carrie Ward, Robin Zmoda.
My goal for the contest was to encourage people, especially those who do not write professionally, to tap in to their creativity, let their thoughts flow, and be willing to share the product of that process. The outcome was an amazing display of talent.
Special gratitude goes to our three judges, Bathsheba Monk, Kae Tienstra, and Carolyn Potser. So many wonderful poems were submitted that they really had their work cut out for them: The final round of voting, based on a points and grid system, found several of the top tier poems separated from each other by a margin of only a half percent.
It is with great pleasure that I present to you the top three winning poems…
First Place: Shaping My Life by Gwyndolyn Parker of Douglasville, Georgia
Gwyndolyn is retired from Dun and Bradstreet where she served as Director, Supplier Diversity & Socio-Economic Business Solutions. Before moving to Georgia, Gwydolyn was very active in her Lehigh Valley, PA, community, serving on the City of Allentown, Human Relations Commissions, as well as the Board of Directors of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches and Hispanic American League of Artists.
Her passion for fairness, justice, and diversity has inspired her worldwide travels and her authorship of six self-published books.
Shaping My Life
There are some women,
Who have shaped my life
With her songs
With her poetry
With her art
With her political stance
With her run for president
Climb to the top
Fight for our freedom
Ain’t I A woman?
Have shaped my thoughts
Prepared my way
With their life
The way they lived it
The way they saw it
I want to change something
By being in it
I want to know
My thoughts also made a difference
My feet left prints
My stones made ripples in the ocean of life
I want to know that the world
Has been forever altered
Because I lived
I know the world
Will not remember
Me like a
Nina or a Maya
Remembers something I said
Or something I wrote
It will be enough
For me to rest my head
Knowing I too made a difference
By being in it
Second Place: Once a Dancer, Always a Dancer by Lindsay Schaefer of Bethlehem, PA
Lindsay Schaefer is the artistic director of Artists in Unity, a multi-disciplinary arts company, and creator of Movement for You, a way-of-life practice that is a fusion of Yoga, Pilates and dance. Lindsay’s career has taken her throughout the US as a performer, choreographer, and teacher in the world of dance and movement practices. Her creative spirit led her to form Artists in Unity five years ago after moving from NYC to the Lehigh Valley. In her “spare” time, she is a wife and a mother to two children ages nine and seven.
Once a Dancer, Always a Dancer
It slips away
Then runs back
It never left
Once a dancer
Always a dancer
Our bodies may change
Our ability to do everything may change
But, our hearts and deep love
For the dance
We are always one with the Dance
A beautiful image
At 60, 70, 80
White loose fabric blowing in the breeze
With hair long and free as the neck releases
The body twirls
Visiting years past
But, present today
Grounds the body
Places me in my pure reality
Eases the body
Into lightness and flow
The body has aged
Beautifully, I may say
I still see the dance
I still feel the dance
For I am still the dance
I am Always a Dancer
Third Place: Beloved Babies by Donna Fleetwood of Mechanicsburg, PA
Donna Fleetwood is a full time Real Estate agent in the greater Harrisburg market. She also coaches other Real Estate agents and writes a professional blog, “Sell with Meaning”. Donna enjoys the meditative quality of reading and writing poetry, and has attended writing workshops in New Mexico and Utah. She often incorporates her poetry into visual journaling, layering paint and words. In addition to her business and creative pursuits, Donna serves on the executive committee of an international non-profit and works diligently in behalf of their constituents in Rwanda and Central America.
Rwanda was a slaughterhouse.
Woke up this morning thinking
About that blood soaked school
Of death and torture
Graduating class, April 1994.
Anitha tells of her cousin,
Delicate heel sliced with machete.
She falls, no place to hide.
Tall tree lasts a week,
Chopped down piece by piece.
Turn your head now,
“Don’t tell me more!”
In the land of safety, these things don’t happen.
In the land of plenty, this is not our human experience.
The smallest moments can sometime have the largest impact on the way we see life and ourselves. One of those moments happened recently for me when our community held a free electronics recycling day.
Instead of paying someone to pull the precious metals out of our old computer’s brain and guts, we could hand it over for free – our tax dollars paying us a small return on investment.
My first impression was, “this will be easy”. It wasn’t. Once the hunt through the house began, it seemed nearly every room held some outdated device. From telephones that hung on the wall with cords connected to a handset, to an ancient electronic Rolodex, to an almost as ancient fax machine, several generations of cell phones, all the way to a huge computing tower and even larger monitor weighing over a hundred pounds, years of old technology was removed from closets, drawers, and desks.
By the time we finished, the entire back compartment of our SUV, with the second row of seats flattened, was filled to the roof with extinct dinosaurs, victims of technology’s evolution.
Looking at the tangle of plastic, metal, glass and wires, I started running a tab in my head: When the total reached $6000, I stopped counting.
As I watched burly big men toss our hard earned dollars into bins, heard the smashing of once glorious machines, I tried to rationalize the loss. Those things were not luxuries, they were necessities that made it possible for us to do our jobs, be more efficient, and overall have a better quality of life. But oh, wouldn’t I like to have those six plus thousand dollars, now. Exotic locales await…
That money, and the money that followed, did not take me to the Greek Isles, instead it bought an entire new generation of machines that no doubt will someday end up tossed in a bin of no return.
Every experience in life is a lesson. What this one has taught me is, going forward; I will be very selective with my purchases. Do I really always need the latest and greatest or would I prefer to cruise to Mykonos.
The recent passing of Maya Angelou, one of America’s greatest poets, and my own modest success of having a poem published in the New York Times, led me to think that it would be fun to have a poetry contest of our own.No matter how many forms your creativity takes, from cutting edge leadership to great cooking, writing down your thoughts and observations can free your mind to fly. I believe there is a poet in all of us…
We have three wonderful judges who have volunteered to read your work and render their opinion. So dust off that old journal that’s stashed in a drawer, and get writing. And be sure to let your friends know about the contest, too. You might find you are friends with the country’s next poet laureate. The world is waiting to read your thoughts!
The “rules” are listed below; here’s the bottom line… Write about whatever speaks to your heart and soul, then send it to Pam@PamelaVarkony.com. We’ll announce the winner at the end of July.
The rules for Perspectives Poetry Contest are simple:
** The subject can be anything you like and in any form or format… from elegy to sonnet, from haiku to prose. Poems should not exceed 300 words. One submission per person, please.
** Deadline for entries is Monday, June 30, at 5:00 p.m.
** The winner will be announced and their poem will be published on my Facebook page on Monday, July 28, and in the summer edition of Perspectives on July 30.
** The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to their favorite organic food purveyor or grocery store.
** Be sure to “like” my Facebook page to be eligible; you won’t want to miss all the updates and the big reveal.
Meet our three Judges
Bathsheba Monk – Writer, Author, Speaker
Bathsheba is the author of five novels, including a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year. Bathsheba is also a producer and program host on WDIY, an NPR Community public radio station, and a popular speaker at colleges and universities. She’s currently writing the Swanson Herbinko Cozy Mystery series: Dead Wrong, Dead Silence and Dead Karma.
Kae Tienstra – Founder, KT Public Relations & Literary Services
Kae served thirteen years as publicity director for Rodale, Inc., before founding KT Public Relations, specializing in publicity and marketing campaigns for authors and book publishers. Kae is also an avid writer; her short story, “The Plum Pudding Phenomenon,“will be included in A Cup of Christmas Cheer to be published by Guideposts Books in October 2014.
Carolyn Potser – Teacher, Author, Columnist
After a storied career as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher with a particular love of poetry, Carolyn launched her own writing career, authoring a popular book on the history of her hometown, and becoming a freelance newspaper columnist. Famous for her high standards and red pen, Carolyn’s former students range from widely read authors to editors for the New York Times.
The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act taking place this week at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, reminds me of my own somewhat distant history with President Johnson, my first big professional break, and of the excitement that comes with having your whole life ahead of you and thinking anything is possible.
While visiting my parents, a friend who worked as a copywriter at ABC News in New York told me that the network needed to staff up for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. He knew I wanted to be a journalist but he also knew how old I was so I’m sure he was teasing me. Without telling anyone, a few days later I got on a bus and showed up at ABC’s employment office in New York…they didn’t have “HR Dept’s” yet.
I told just a teensy tiny little white lie to get hired…that I was about to graduate from college with a degree in journalism. Actually I was still a teenager. Before the internet it was much easier to get away with that kind of thing. I dropped the name of my parent’s friend, saying he had referred me for a position, again, no one checked, and I was hired right on the spot. The job description was a little vague, something about “assisting as needed”, but nothing could have mattered less…I floated home.
My parents were more supportive than I expected. Of course, I was once again stretching the truth a bit, like how all the girls who were hired to assist at the convention would sleep in a dormitory and be chaperoned.
I had my first professional head shot taken and off to AC I went in my father’s “quarry car” a beat up Plymouth with big fins. I found a room for $20 a day at a boarding house near the convention center. I was so naïve that it never occurred to me I could be in any kind of danger or that anyone might be dishonest. The first night I got in from work, all my jewelry had been stolen from the room.
Even that reality check could not take the glow off what turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I’ve never worked harder, had less sleep, or felt more exhilarated. We were making a difference; keeping the American public informed. Everyone, even rival networks, had a spirit of camaraderie. The ABC anchor booth was near NBC, and one day, when nothing was happening on the floor, the famous Chet Huntley of Huntley and Brinkley, invited me in for a cup of coffee. They seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing, how I felt about being there, and what kind of career path I was planning. Not sure a leading network anchor would do that today…
It was my first taste of power and success. I’ve never forgotten it. When Johnson walked in to the Hall, his presence changed the air…it was thicker, heavier, carried more weight. So as we honor Lyndon Baines Johnson and his momentous accomplishment for this country, I’m also enjoying honoring the adventurous spirit of a young woman I used to know.
Eleanor and I share a desire to have a positive impact on the struggles of women in the developing world, especially in post-conflict countries where war and violence have resulted in many women being subjected to brutality beyond the imagining of most westerners. Eleanor has traveled to Africa to work with victims of mass rape and I have been to Afghanistan as both an advocate and writer. We have found outlets for our passion on this side of the ocean through two NGO’s, The Business Council for Peace, Bpeace, an organization whose focus is creating women entrepreneurs who will then create jobs, and Open A Door Foundation, OAD, who believes in global transformation through women’s higher education.
Four of OAD’s students are currently in the Lehigh Valley, three at Lehigh University and one at Lafayette College. More will be coming in the fall of 2014, including the addition of a student at Muhlenberg College. It was at the invitation of OAD that Eleanor and I boarded a bus bound for New York and the United Nations’ CSW Conference.
To call our experience “inspiring” would be an understatement. Sharing the energy of women from around the world all gathered in one place for one purpose, advocating for the welfare of their sisters, creates an atmosphere of “anything is possible”. Eleanor and I especially enjoyed two panel discussions where OAD co-founder, Barbara Bylenga, participated; “Empowering Women as Change-Agents through Global Networking” and “From Higher Education to Women’s Leadership”.
After spending time in the company of hundreds of women committed to improving conditions for women within their countries, it’s almost easy to envision a future where every woman enjoys equal protection under the law and equal opportunity in their culture. Yet, certain voices remain with me, certain faces are imprinted on my mind days after returning home, like the woman representing a united federation of women’s organizations from the Ukraine, who stood to say that the young women of her country are demanding democracy. And the woman who spoke of the Syrian university students her organization is rescuing so they can continue their education. Through the euphoria of our common purpose, they are a stark reminder of the realities that still exist.
Why should this matter to those of us whose lives are safe and secure? Because where women are repressed, uneducated, brutalized, half of that country’s potential is lost. No economy can thrive without the input of its women. The result is poverty, war, turmoil, and terrorism.
In honor of International Women’s Month, and for the good of the planet, please consider doing your part to have a positive effect on the future of women around the world. Donate; Volunteer; Mentor. One person CAN make a difference.
When Hurricane Sandy dropped a tree on our house last October, destroying our yard and patio, an important part of the security and serenity of our world came undone. To call that event “stressful” would be an understatement, but like many negative things in life, there are lessons to be learned and even a positive outcome or two.
When Spring arrived this year, we began to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again including lots of reseeding and replanting. Just outside our kitchen door was our favorite place, a lovely, shady, patio. The steep bank that protected and provided privacy for that patio was totally rearranged when the giant tree that lived there came crashing downÂ leaving a crater reminiscent of WWII and a slash of muddy earth that had once been a lush barrier to the outside world.
The landscaper did his best, within the limitations of our budget, to restore some semblance of green, but there were lots of barren brown patches and we knew it would take at least another growing season for that “scar upon the land” to heal.
One day I noticed a plant that had seemly sprung up overnight and one we definitely didn’t plant. It looked like a squash of some sort, but in its early growth stage I couldn’t tell. I asked my husband, a prolific gardener if, for amusement, he had planted something. No, he hadn’t and why would he plant a large vegetable in the middle of our hoped for butterfly retreat. The invader grew quickly and started climbing across and up the bank for some twenty feet. Soon it was covered in what were obviously yellow squash blossoms.
The blossoms have finally revealed their bounty… beautiful dual-colored decorative gourds, just like the ones I had in a basket by the front door last October when Hurricane Sandy came calling. The circle of life and a life-lesson wrapped up in a lovely little green and gold package. It reminded me that…
Life’s storms, both emotional and meteorological, can strip away everything you’ve worked for: Someone dies; someone doesn’t love you anymore; your children move away; your job is eliminated. The peace, security, and beauty that surrounded and sustained you are gone. Allow yourself to grieve, then take a deep breath and figure out the best way to move on. Begin again, planting as you go.
And most of all, remember, sometimes unexpected surprises may take root in your life…in the midst of your lovely new garden. Don’t look at them as weeds, as uninvited intruders, instead celebrate the chance to try something entirely different than you had planned. You may end up finding an exciting new life… or with a basket full of fall gourds.
Well do you…do you believe in magic? I do, and sometimes it is what keeps me going during those times when you think you’re never going to be happy, or successful, or appreciated, again. I believe that out there, somewhere, is always the possibility that lightening will strike and offer us mere mortals one of those rare moments when all the stars align.
Such a moment happened recently to Sarah Horn. Sitting in a Hollywood Bowl audience of 15,000 at a Kristin Chenoweth concert, Sarah had no idea that her lightening strike moment was coming. Chenoweth often chooses someone from her audience to come on stage to “sing” with her. Last Friday evening Chenoweth stopped in front of Sarah, who due to a ticket mix-up was in a different seat, to ask if she knew the words to the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked.Â The result of this random audience selection is usually an endearing amateur effort followed by a quiet return to their seat.
Not this time: The video of Horn’s performance with Chenoweth has gone beyond viral with nearly two million hits. No wonder, it’s the kind of moment we all dream of having…of getting our shot. But this was so much more, Sarah Horn was ready; an unknown vocal instructor from Riverside, California, she had in her own way been preparing for this all her life. She had the goods and she delivered, knowing this would never come again. She got up on that stage in front of thousands, stood next to a Broadway star and held her own…it was magic.
The pay-off has come, too; Horn has been inundated with requests for interviews and she’s doing a little interviewing of her own…for an entertainment attorney and an agent. You go girl!!Â
Sarah Horn’s inspiring performance provides a real life-lesson for the rest of us: Never give up your dreams; always believe in magic; and most importantly, be prepared to wow ’em when your moment comes. Oh yes, and when they make a mistake with your ticket, trust that your fairy god-mother is on duty and move post-haste to the new location.