Saturday, November 27, 2010

Success and Failure

I've been rather comfortable with my failures. That was no small feat either. There was a time in my life that I was a perfectionist. It took a long time to break that pattern. I seem to have become a bit laissez-faire though since then.

I do many things just because I enjoy them. I'm Jane of all trades, Master of none. I can do everything well enough, but then I get (if I'm honest) kind of lazy and give up. Meh. I didn't really *need* to run a marathon or learn how to make Eggs Benedict or be able to draw cartoons. Walking a 5K, making scrambled eggs, and drawing just doodles are just fine. Sometimes, good enough is good enough.

Except when it isn't.

I've set several goals for myself to complete over the next year or so, and it's my intention to meet them. Well yeah, good intentions and $4 will get you a cup of coffee.

This month, I joined in a group of people around the world who took up the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). That's about 8 pages a day, typing double spaced. I think. Either way, it's a lot! Well, I got up early sometimes, stayed up late other times skipped salsa class, said no to dinner with friends, gave up Castle (ok, not completely - he's an author... it was RESEARCH! Really!). And today, November 28, 2010, I can tell you that I am a NaNoWriMo WINNER! I completed the task.

Not only did I complete it, but I completed it with days to spare and several thousand words over the minimum limit! HOORAH!!!!

So, for all the people who have told me over the years, "Write a book, Pamila," I'm informing you. I am. No, it's not a travel book, no it's not a Teach ESL book, no it's not an autobiography. It's all of those and more. And it isn't anywhere near finished, but I have the good good bones for the book.

Kudos to my friends Janet and Alana who both heard my short story and told me that it was too complex and needed to be a book. I trust them and followed their advice. Now what to do with these 200 pages?

*Yes, I took that photo. It isn't perfect, but it's mine!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

By Invitation Only

The note came in an email. Do you want to join me for Russian Opera and Ballet? Russian? Hmmm. I check my map. Yep! I'm still in Korea. Tilting my head to the side, I can see Russian BIIIIIIIIIIIIIG Russia. It's to celebrate Russian - Korean Diplomatic Relations her letter continued. And leeeeeetle So. Korea, the mouse that roared.

First, Russian Ballet. Best in the world. No brainer.
Second, combination of two very different cultures. Intellectual porn.
Third, making a new friend. Well yeah.

It is the trifecta of fabulous.

We manage the buses, the language difficulties, and the hills that are the face of Korea, and there was the National Museum.

The tickets were By Invitation Only. I was invited. Wow.


Tonight I watched the best ballerina I've ever seen - she moved like water. Diana Vishneva. I heard Elchin Azizov, sing like the sound of G*d coming down from on high.

And how did that happen? By sitting on the bus on my way home from work and saying hello to the woman sitting beside me, Irina. She is from St. Petersburg and studies Korean and came here to continue her studies.

How many times do we sit on the bus and don't speak to the person beside us? We don't smile at the checkout counter person, we don't thank the person who pumps our gas, we don't invite the person behind us in line at the coffee shop to sit for a spell and chat. Our lives have become "By Invitation Only" and YOU aren't invited.

Where are your invitations? Somewhere under a pile of nonsense? Dusty beside the television? Stuck between the seats of our cars? If you start passing them out, life may overwhelm you with a woman who moves like water or a man who has the voice of G*d in his larynx. Or maybe you'll just get lil ole me, and that wouldn't be too bad, would it?

In case you are wondering, in my world, you ARE invited.

Here is the website for the event: It's worth just going to see the logo. You can spare ten seconds, can't you?

Pic from the internet.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Lifeboat

There is an old psychology exercise that is used on occasion with groups of people. It is called the Lifeboat. The premise is this: Like on the Titanic, there are only a few seats, about one third of the number of participants. The decision of who will live and who will die is based on democracy. People are voted into the boat. Prior to the vote, each person appeals to the group members for a seat on the boat.

For some people, this is a huge leap to suspend disbelief to the point of being able to do this exercise. For other people, they ask to be allowed in the boat so they can help their children, their work, other people. Some people talk about how they don't believe in the exercise, they think we should find a way for everybody. The insttuctions are clear. Only one third of the people will live.

There are the occasional few people who comprehend the purpose of the exercise - to fight for your life, to convince others that your life is worth saving, to love your life, to live it so completely that you deserve to keep your life more than someone else because you LIVE it. It seems hokey, but it is a sobering exercise, as it is designed to be.

A while back I was in a workshop in which this exercise was used. I was a pretty angry woman back then, but more than that, I didn't believe I deserved life (let alone liberty and the pursuit of happiness). Who was I to live instead of someone else? Heck who was I to take up space and oxygen period? I'd integrated all the horrific words and sentiments that had been tossed my way as I was tossed aside by people who didn't care and by a foster care system that had abandoned integrity. Why would I deserve to live?

What is shocking beyond the scope of the pleading for your life is the response from your group members and the people running the workshop. When you don't get into the boat - and 2/3 don't - people tell you why they didn't or wouldn't have voted for you. It can be something as simple as "I couldn't hear you" to "You didn't show passion." Hearing 10 people tell you why they think you don't deserve a seat in the boat, why they think your life is not worth living, is a breathtaking experience - it takes your breath away. Oddly, people say these things with absolute love and gentleness. Rare is it to find a harsh or spiteful response. People are reluctant at times but are prodded to give your honest and clear feedback (and short, no long-winded diatribes, please).

Many years ago, I was one of the people hearing why I wouldn't get in the boat. I was furious - the audacity of these people! I didn't "believe" in this. It went against my morals. I was outraged! How dare they! We all deserve to live! I won't be a party to this nonsense! ... But under all that, I just didn't believe I was worth it, I passively interacted with life, and I did not live it. I hated my job, I hated my home, I hated my life... I hated myself.

Some people say that the difference between a self-actualized person and the rest of the world is that the self-actualized person is AWAKE! I was sleepwalking through my life. The Lifeboat exercise slammed that home.

One of the men who told me why he wouldn't have voted for me, one of the people running the exercise, was Alan Lerner. A lawyer and a teacher, he was a slight man. His words were matter of fact. There was no malevolence, no nastiness, just reality. He took his reading glasses off and said, "Pamila, I would not have voted for you because..." SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. Ouch.

No one would have voted for me - I wouldn't have voted for me. That very well may be the point.

In the following years, Alan and I would begin a slow friendship. He was on occasion the opposing council on a case that I was the Child Advocate Social Worker on. Alan was always debonair and a gentleman, an inner core of steel that was softened by compassion and kindness. He was a man of honor.

Alan died last month. He was a man I regularly visited every time I returned to Philadelphia. He always made time to have lunch or coffee with me. I would meet him at his University of Pennsylvania office. Piles of files didn't detract from the warmth of his space. Family photos and baseball memorobilia surrounded him as he saved families.

It had taken me a long time to forgive him - forgive myself actually - for not wanting to vote for me to have a seat in the boat. Alan Lerner was a man who lived his life absolutely. Thanks to him and about ten other people, I too learned to live my life absolutely. Oh, I fall down at times, but I can dang sure tell you that today, I would be right there in that boat. If Alan were still alive, he'd be there with me.

To honor a man of Alan's stature, to honor him as he deserves, there is little that we can truly do, little that I can do. But there is one thing, only one thing that would be worthy - live.


So, now let me ask you. Why do you deserve a place in the boat? There are only 3 seats, and you'd better believe I'm in one of them. Would you fight for your life? Are you fighting for it today? Are you living it absolutely? If you are not, why not? If you are not, what are you going to do about it? Why should I vote for you to have a spot in the lifeboat?


*Please go here to read Alan's Obituary. It will make you smile.

*photo is from the intenet.