The High Road

There is a beautiful Wanderweg (clearly-marked walks through the Swiss countryside, mainly) in Kanton Zug. It sits atop the Zugerberg and contains breathtaking beauty, relaxing pedestrian strolls, a charmingly dilapidated church, fabulous tracks for bikers, and the “Skulpturenweg” for children and adults.

When I lived in Zürich, I took the short train ride (with my beloved SBB) to Zug, and  walked it many times. It was more meditation than sport. I would walk for hours – disappearing in the sound of cowbells and sunshine or rain or foggy mists.

The top of a Swiss mountain, even a “smaller” one like the Zugerberg, can make one pause. There is a literal and figurative perspective when viewing the city below that brings an immediate disconnect from “real life” and places one in the mountain’s uppermost sanctuary.

When looking down upon the city below, I recall feeling compelled to stay high. I wanted to stay at the top because being at the top felt easy and peaceful. Relative to what lingered below, the higher road above felt more who I was. (Do not mistake me, I can do it – work and live below – I just don’t want to.)

The low road is covered with soldiers running around wearing narcissism, greed, neglect, pathological lying, darkness, etc. like medals. It seems almost normal for quelque personnes on the low road to engage in the tearing apart of folks who don’t live like they do. People who place a higher premium on other virtues.

I don’t do that well and I hope my son will choose not to. It’s not a Catholic thing for me, it’s a human thing. I have one life, I don’t want to live it worshiping those gods.

The high road has better views and many things seem easier to “touch” up there – joy, God, clarity, compassion, sunshine. That’s what I want my son to strive for, also. Life can show you true joy when you stay focused on gratitude, generosity, and humility.

There’s one great thing that lives up there I failed to mention. Justice resides on the high road. Even as some on the low road fail to see her or care she is there. Justice always stays where the air is pure and the views are clear.

And, she’s one hell of a companion to have by your side.

I don’t want to #StandWith anymore

Common threads amongst the aggressors include feelings of anger, ostracism, discrimination, pain. We should have no question, we now know for sure – these feelings can lead some to despair and even acts of violence. One week later and this world has another #StandWith. What are we doing to each other?
Obama said he feels his words are inadequate. Well, I am one person and not POTUS. I do not know how we fix these issues and my words are definitely inadequate (by the way, his weren’t…best speech I’ve heard in a long time). I’m gonna give it a whirl anyway.
Could we start with basic awareness (including rational thought/reaction) and compassion toward our fellow brothers and sisters as a large part of our collective action?
I have gone back to Alex (Parkland surgeon and DPD officer)’s words so many times in the past week: “we are all pink on the inside.” Yes and we all bleed when we are injured. Both the victims AND the people who hurt them. Actual blood that will lead to the end of a life in too many cases. Is it worth it?
There will always be bloodshed. Today, we bleed with Nice. Last Friday with Dallas. What city gets the next hashtag? With which city will we #StandWith when the sun breaks next Friday morning?
Perhaps it’s a small step in the minds of many, and that’s fine with me. Why don’t we all commit to basic awareness (/rational thought) about how our daily actions (and words) affect those around us? Why don’t we balance that rational thought with a rather heavy dose of compassion for humanity? A politician preaching segregation or exclusion of a group of people will not lead to “more safety” for you. Neither will huge arsenals of weapons. We know this from our collective history.
There is little else to try, so maybe try this. Why don’t you start today – be the change you wish to see in your neighbors, enemies, politicians? You show them what you want from this world. Invite. Include. Incorporate. Make certain that you do not fall victim to prejudice, fear, or propaganda. Use your knowledge of history, your belief in the goodness of the majority of humanity.
Maybe we wouldn’t need #StandWith anymore.

An Open Letter to my LGBTQ friends

I will protect you.

I am only one person, but I will protect you – and here is how I will do it.

I will use my vote to make certain I never elect a public official that will not advocate for and protect you by every means available through our legal system.

I will use my voice to speak out if someone makes a joke in my presence about any member of the LGBTQ community or someone struggling with sexuality issues.

I will use my feet to walk up to anyone who rolls an eyeball, smirks, or engages in similarly disrespectful behavior as you and your husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend are walking hand-in-hand or kissing.

I will use my faith to proclaim the same Gospel proclaimed by my church – that God loves all of His children.

I will use my love to teach younger people the stories of Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, and countless throngs of LGBTQ individuals. I will teach them that labels like “gender” and “sexuality” mean nothing compared to “compassionate” and “accepting of others.”

That is not much, but it is all I can do.

To honor of those of you who feel vulnerable to the world during these dark days…I will protect you. You can always count on me.2050411201-quote-harvey-milk

Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

Last Concert of 2015

I sang my final concert of 2015 last night.

Last night’s concert was  bittersweet. It ends a year of major transition for me, personally, and I believe last weekend began a new transition for us all, globally. This global transition has changed every time I connect to the internet. As Thomas Paine observed centuries ago, “These are the days that try men’s souls.”

As I sat in my dressing room, there was a knock at my door and a dear friend appeared to be with me before the concert. He remarked about the very same things (both)  I previously mentioned and said there was a very interesting “look” happening for me last night.

“It’s as if there is darkness around you, but there is light inside. Chiaroscuro.”

I agree. (Side note – that made me think of The Grant and Durd. Had to completely redo my makeup.)

“See how there is just a small amount of shadow on the wall? That’s manageable. Easy to overcome with your smile.”

A little Swiss man, who would show up to hear me sing if I opened a grocery store, talked to me after the concert and said the same thing. He told me my smile after the last note, which was something I did quite purposely, made him feel like everything would be okay.

Light. We need light. I was given a Texas-size serving at birth.

(Your pictures are below. Thank you for being with me before that concert. You have remained one of my dearest friends throughout some times when the dark and the light weren’t in such great balance.)

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There is a great deal of darkness around those of us who are trying to process the current events in a compassionate, concerned, humanitarian way. What do we do? How do we help? Also, how to we protect – ourselves, our children, and our future?

The answer is not to be found in contributing hate speech, bigotry, racism, or darkness. That is unproductive, unnecessary, and inhumane.  As history has shown us, hate feeds on such answers.

Thoughtful, well-educated, serious people sitting together and creating appropriate, targeted, short and  long-term solutions to the problems we face – that is a solution. Marrying prudence with compassion – that is a solution. When force is necessary, tempering such action with a strong eye on the innocents affected by such force and a plan to deal with their future, which we will directly effect. For every child with which I am concerned, there is an aunt/Godmother/LaLa version of me in Syria who is equally concerned with the child she loves.

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Farewell to 2015 – what a wonderful year of some beautiful music. Jackson, I believe my favorite moment of the entire year happened at Transfiguration when we performed “Blackbird.”

Forgiveness – What if I don’t Want to?

The thing I truly dislike about being a practicing Christian (i.e. I keep practicing hoping I’ll nail it someday) is the necessity of forgiveness of others.

My disdain of forgiveness exists on two levels. First, I feel it’s really not my job to forgive someone who has hurt me because I feel that is something for which the person needs to ask him or herself. Or God. Just not me. Who the hell am I? Second, I when I tell someone “I forgive you,” I always want to add a little * that says:

*this forgiveness only valid for one-time use

Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn’t work that way, does it? We don’t get disclaimers and we don’t get to pass the buck. I’ve been forgiven many times and I was not forgiven with disclaimers or a lack of eye contact. I was forgiven personally, unconditionally, and fully.

But, what if I don’t want to forgive this?

This morning, when I woke up, it was my first thought. Someone did something horrible to me a few days ago and I agreed to meet him tonight to listen to what he wants to say. He feels awful and he knows he made a massive mistake. I understand that, but I am hurting. So, my question has followed me all day, and what if I want this to be the first time I look someone in the face and say, “I will never forgive you”? I would have every reason to do so. What will stop me?

Because I don’t want to just say I’m Christian. Anyone can say those words. Me? I want to do it, not just say it. I aim to make my final words as simple as, “Thank you for that crazy life, and I hope I made You proud.” There is nothing more important to me than replacing a tiny fraction of the darkness in this world with my sunshine.

And the people that hurt us? They do it because they have that darkness inside of them. I don’t hurt people all that often. Why? Because I have a ridiculously large surplus of sunshine. And compassion. Huge reserves of both. Makes me remember that fabulous line from Talladega Nights, “I piss excellence.” Me? I don’t like that word, but I certain weewee sunshine and compassion. You bet.

So, I am certain I will look him in the eyes tonight and share some of that sunshine and compassion with him.

I think Mark Twain said it beautifully…  forgiveness-mark-twain-quote

Guest blogger: the one, the only Mark Manson “Love is Not Enough”

The blog was written by Mark Manson (original blog post and tons of other amazing posts can be found through this link)  Mark, I’m so appreciative you’d let me share your post with my peeps.

There are many people who need this blog (not that I would know anything about that because I am the poster child for “I seek out only healthy, meaningful relationships focused on respectful reciprocity at all times”) because it does bring the truth into the light. It’s not about shaming anyone, anything, or any previously-held notion of how-to. It’s raw, honest, and real.

So, read. Enjoy. Go to Mark’s website and tell him how fabulous he is (both as a man and as a writer). Then find him on FB Twitter and anything else for which he rightfully deserves followers.

As is usually the case, I probably won’t publish your comments, but I’m happy to pass them along to Mark (or you can, on the original post).

Love is Not Enough

In 1967, John Lennon wrote a song called, “All You Need is Love.” He also beat both of his wives, abandoned one of his children, verbally abused his gay Jewish manager with homophobic and anti-semitic slurs, and once had a camera crew film him lying naked in his bed for an entire day.

Thirty-five years later, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails wrote a song called “Love is Not Enough.” Reznor, despite being famous for his shocking stage performances and his grotesque and disturbing videos, got clean from all drugs and alcohol, married one woman, had two children with her, and then cancelled entire albums and tours so that he could stay home and be a good husband and father.

One of these two men had a clear and realistic understanding of love. One of them did not. One of these men idealized love as the solution to all of his problems. One of them did not. One of these men was probably a narcissistic asshole. One of them was not.

In our culture, many of us idealize love. We see it as some lofty cure-all for all of life’s problems. Our movies and our stories and our history all celebrate it as life’s ultimate goal, the final solution for all of our pain and struggle. And because we idealize love, we overestimate it. As a result, our relationships pay a price.

When we believe that “all we need is love,” then like Lennon, we’re more likely to ignore fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all of the hard stuff?

But if, like Reznor, we believe that “love is not enough,” then we understand that healthy relationships require more than pure emotion or lofty passions. We understand that there are things more important in our lives and our relationships than simply being in love. And the success of our relationships hinges on these deeper and more important values.

Three Harsh Truths About Love

The problem with idealizing love is that it causes us to develop unrealistic expectations about what love actually is and what it can do for us. These unrealistic expectations then sabotage the very relationships we hold dear in the first place. Allow me to illustrate:

1. Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t bleed into one another very well.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who doesn’t treat us well, who makes us feel worse about ourselves, who doesn’t hold the same respect for us as we do for them, or who has such a dysfunctional life themselves that they threaten to bring us down with them.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who has different ambitions or life goals that are contradictory to our own, who holds different philosophical beliefs or worldviews that clash with our own sense of reality.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who sucks for us and our happiness.

That may sound paradoxical, but it’s true.

When I think of all of the disastrous relationships I’ve seen or people have emailed me about, many (or most) of them were entered into on the basis of emotion — they felt that “spark” and so they just dove in head first. Forget that he was a born-again Christian alcoholic and she was an acid-dropping bisexual necrophiliac. It just felt right.

And then six months later, when she’s throwing his shit out onto the lawn and he’s praying to Jesus twelve times a day for her salvation, they look around and wonder, “Gee, where did it go wrong?”

The truth is, it went wrong before it even began.

When dating and looking for a partner, you must use not only your heart, but your mind. Yes, you want to find someone who makes your heart flutter and your farts smell like cherry popsicles. But you also need to evaluate a person’s values, how they treat themselves, how they treat those close to them, their ambitions and their worldviews in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you…well, as the ski instructor from South Park once said, you’re going to have a bad time.

2. Love does not solve your relationship problems. My first girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other. We also lived in different cities, had no money to see each other, had families who hated each other, and went through weekly bouts of meaningless drama and fighting.

And every time we fought, we’d come back to each other the next day and make up and remind each other how crazy we were about one another and that none of those little things matter because we’re omg sooooooo in love and we’ll find a way to work it out and everything will be great, just you wait and see. Our love made us feel like we were overcoming our issues, when on a practical level, absolutely nothing had changed.

As you can imagine, none of our problems got resolved. The fights repeated themselves. The arguments got worse. Our inability to ever see each other hung around our necks like an albatross. We were both self-absorbed to the point where we couldn’t even communicate that effectively. Hours and hours talking on the phone with nothing actually said. Looking back, there was no hope that it was going to last. Yet we kept it up for three fucking years!

After all, love conquers all, right?

Unsurprisingly, that relationship burst into flames and crashed like the Hindenburg being doused in jet fuel. The break up was ugly. And the big lesson I took away from it was this: while love may make you feel better about your relationship problems, it doesn’t actually solve any of your relationship problems.

The roller coaster of emotions can be intoxicating, each high feeling even more important and more valid than the one before, but unless there’s a stable and practical foundation beneath your feet, that rising tide of emotion will eventually come and wash it all away.

3. Love is not always worth sacrificing yourself. One of the defining characteristics of loving someone is that you are able to think outside of yourself and your own needs to help care for another person and their needs as well.

But the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is exactly what are you sacrificing, and is it worth it?

In loving relationships, it’s normal for both people to occasionally sacrifice their own desires, their own needs, and their own time for one another. I would argue that this is normal and healthy and a big part of what makes a relationship so great.

But when it comes to sacrificing one’s self-respect, one’s dignity, one’s physical body, one’s ambitions and life purpose, just to be with someone, then that same love becomes problematic. A loving relationship is supposed to supplement our individual identity, not damage it or replace it. If we find ourselves in situations where we’re tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior, then that’s essentially what we’re doing: we’re allowing our love to consume us and negate us, and if we’re not careful, it will leave us as a shell of the person we once were.

The Friendship Test

One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is, “You and your partner should be best friends.” Most people look at that piece of advice in the positive: I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend; I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend; I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend.

But people should also look at it in the negative: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?

Amazingly, when we ask ourselves this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is “no.”

I know a young woman who just got married. She was madly in love with her husband. And despite the fact that he had been “between jobs” for more than a year, showed no interest in planning the wedding, often ditched her to take surfing trips with his friends, and her friends and family raised not-so-subtle concerns about him, she happily married him anyway.

But once the emotional high of the wedding wore off, reality set in. A year into their marriage, he’s still “between jobs,” he trashes the house while she’s at work, gets angry if she doesn’t cook dinner for him, and any time she complains he tells her that she’s “spoiled” and “arrogant.” Oh, and he still ditches her to take surfing trips with his friends.

And she got into this situation because she ignored all three of the harsh truths above. She idealized love. Despite being slapped in the face by all of the red flags he raised while dating him, she believed that their love signaled relationship compatibility. It didn’t. When her friends and family raised concerns leading up to the wedding, she believed that their love would solve their problems eventually. It didn’t. And now that everything had fallen into a steaming shit heap, she approached her friends for advice on how she could sacrifice herself even more to make it work.

And the truth is, it won’t.

Why do we tolerate behavior in our romantic relationships that we would never ever, ever tolerate in our friendships?

Imagine if your best friend moved in with you, trashed your place, refused to get a job or pay rent, demanded you cook dinner for them, and got angry and yelled at you any time you complained. That friendship would be over faster than Paris Hilton’s acting career.

Or another situation: a man’s girlfriend who was so jealous that she demanded passwords to all of his accounts and insisted on accompanying him on his business trips to make sure he wasn’t tempted by other women. His life was practically under 24/7 surveillance and you could see it wearing on his self-esteem. His self-worth dropped to nothing. She didn’t trust him to do anything. So he quit trusting himself to do anything.

Yet he stays with her! Why? Because he’s in love!

Remember this: The only way you can fully enjoy the love in your life is to choose to make something else more important in your life than love.

You can fall in love with a wide variety of people throughout the course of your life. You can fall in love with people who are good for you and people who are bad for you. You can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. You can fall in love when you’re young and when you’re old. Love is not unique. Love is not special. Love is not scarce.

But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust. There can potentially be many loves throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they are very hard to get back.

Love is a wonderful experience. It’s one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. And it is something everyone should aspire to feel and enjoy.

But like any other experience, it can be healthy or unhealthy. Like any other experience, it cannot be allowed to define us, our identities or our life purpose. We cannot let it consume us. We cannot sacrifice our identities and self-worth to it. Because the moment we do that, we lose love and we lose ourselves.

Because you need more in life than love. Love is great. Love is necessary. Love is beautiful. But love is not enough.