COLUMN | LIVING, LOVING & LAUGHING (DEAR DEB) IN THE WEST END

Baby steps to ease and peace | 3.14
Our Song | 2.14
Whoa! Social Networking Overload! | 3.13[IMAGE]
"Cause We're Alone" | 2.13
Thanksgiving thoughts | 12.12
Be the Change | 9.12
Connect on a deeper level | 9.12
Staying silent and listening | 8.12
Spring has sprung | 5.12
St. Patrick's Day | 4.12
Listen, Love, Laugh | 3.12
Martin Luther King, Jr. | 2.12
A New Year | 1.12
The Empty Nest: Blessing or Curse | 12.11
Baffled | 11.11
Attracting the wrong attention | 10.11
Poverty and homelessness | 9.11
Nourish, Amuse and Enlighten | 8.11
Neighbor's Child is Terrified of Dogs | 7.11
Note to Self | 5.11
In Too Deep | 4.11
Love Language: Reflections on a Valentine | 3.11
Time for Resolutions | 2.11

Write me about this or other topics. We can all help each other become our best selves. I am still interested in responses to February’s Question to Readers. Email: editor@communityreporter.org. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses and new questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or by mail to Ask Deb, c/o Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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“Too Much to ‘Think’ Last Night…”

Remember the song “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” from 1967? It occurred to me this morning as I contemplated writing this month’s column. From the moment I sent the June column for publication I’ve been hit with thoughts, issues, ideas, that may or may not be connected one to the other but that seem to want my attention and perhaps yours. Just off the top of my head I am troubled by thoughts regarding vulnerable people on our streets, poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, sex trafficking, gun violence and gun availability, and concerns about the healing of our planet.

A couple of weeks ago our neighbor, Wendy Underwood, invited me to attend a breakfast hosted by Ramsey County Attorney, John Choi. Considering myself an arts activist as well as a community activist regarding issues of poverty and homelessness I was eager to attend and hear what Mr. Choi had to say.

I listened as Mr. Choi talked about the need for safe haven for young people leaving trying home situations and being taken advantage of by those engaged in the sex trade. He talked about the plague of domestic violence. I thought about the young people who are homeless on our streets. The vulnerable people who have nowhere to go; the people that our social service agencies and nonprofit organizations attempt to serve in all of their diversity and in all of their debilitation. Recently, on the Facebook page “West 7th Where All the Cool Kids Hang Out” there was a photograph of a homeless woman urinating in the doorway of a West Seventh Street business. That post elicited about 75 comments from community members expressing outrage with the behavior of the woman herself as well as disgust and disappointment with the business owners for not keeping their business clean and free of the possibility of this behavior. Many who commented expressed compassion and concern. Some expressed a sense of helplessness. Condemnation was heaped upon the head of the woman, an apparent addict. There was an outcry for common decency.

My Virgo horoscope this morning seems timely as I try to process all that fills my brain. It tells me this. “It is natural and yet unwise to think that others see the world as you do. Your thought process is as unique as theirs. It is only by assuming that you don’t know that you can come to know.” Hmmm. I’ll apply this now to the disparity of opinions expressed regarding the complex question of poverty, homelessness and community service. Today I’ve dug deep through the quagmire of my thoughts and understanding and arrived at the conclusion: there is much we can do.

There is much “I” can do. Saying this, I am accepting the truism “there is only so much one can do” but thinking in terms of the outward expansion and exponential impact of each person doing only that which they “can.”

I see a common thread in issues of domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, addiction and even sex-trafficking. I see people in need. I see vulnerable people unable (for whatever reason or by whatever definition) and helpless to help themselves rise to a level of existence and contribution we wish to see in our neighbors. Rather than seeing the problem as overwhelming, I’m choosing to recognize something rather basic. “The poor will always be among us.” The poor will always need a bathroom, a meal and shelter from the storm. These are basics in our society.

As a community can we consider providing each individual in need, regardless of our opinions or judgments of their worthiness, public restrooms, access to food and access to shelter? As for the question of who will clean and maintain public restrooms this is a job creation opportunity. Perhaps it’s a job for an unemployed homeless individual. One of the thoughts crowding my mind last night was about the sorry state of our environment and the current curse of global warming. It’s another “there is only so much one can do…” situation. I try to keep my carbon footprint small. Living in prosperity as I do, my conscience is regularly tried by the choices I make simply because I “can.” Today I realized the poor and homeless who live on the streets require so little from this world and are taking up very little space and few resources. Perhaps, rather than railing against the blight they are on our pristine community, we can be grateful for the small mark they leave on our planet.

I calm my anxiety concerning all things beyond my control by choosing those few things I can do. I name them. I seek to do what I can.

What You Can Do/What I Can Do

1. Link to HEADING HOME RAMSEY for information about services for the poor and homeless. Here you will find phone numbers, a continuum of care covering a range of services for those in need and access to a calendar of events and meetings open to the public that will provide guidance on what is being done and what you might do to contribute to the healing in our community: headinghomeramsey.net.
2. Print out the brochure available at this site and create small packages in business size envelopes to give to panhandlers or others in obvious need on the street. This envelope can detail access to restrooms, businesses/organizations/individuals offering free food. It can contain a gift certificate to a local coffee shop, sandwich shop or restaurant. A phone number for United Way’s First Call for Help and $2, $5 or $20 cash would be a nice addition to these envelopes.
3. Resist judging. Seek ways to be the calm in the storm. Your calming ways bring peace in ever expanding circles around you.

Deborah Padgett is a West End resident, artist & writer. You can find her novels in your local library, various independent retail stores or online. Look for Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth. See padgettstudios.com.

 
What Was Once Old is New Again...

Ah, refreshment… And oh the cleansing quality of a springtime rain (for example), or, for that matter, a new perspective, another point of view. Just prior to a much longed for return trip to Scotland I experienced a fierce and energizing engagement in the old becoming new here in St. Paul’s West End and Little Bohemia neighborhoods. Through the initiative and combined efforts of many in our community, but especially, Tom Brock, Mary Esch, Jerry Rothstein, Mary Hogan-Bard, Nicole DeGuzman, Nance Derby-Davidson and John Davidson and (my own) Michael Padgett, The St. Paul Art Crawl expanded from Lowertown and the Water Street Studios all the way out West Seventh to encompass numerous artists never before included in this twice-yearly draw toward recognition of the arts in St. Paul.

The Community Reporter highlighted the Schmidt Artist Lofts and its resident artists and featured its new Arts Correspondent, Nicole DeGuzman, who did a bang up job highlighting the work of artists throughout the paper’s area of circulation. Mary Esch showed great prowess as an arts organizer by coordinating, publicizing, hanging and hosting an exhibit of 14 artists in the amazing Acme Academy of Arts gallery space (soon to become a retail shop called Artista Bottega owned and operated by John Davidson and Nance Derby-Davidson). We may not have had the blooms, greenery and birdsong we so crave in the springtime, but we experienced a version of renewal and awakened energy to carry us through until the sun would ultimately shed its light.

Two days post-art crawl I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, to be inspired by breathtaking sun on blooms, a nearly ancient and picturesque city pulsing with art, song, dance, literature and history on a grand scale. During our two weeks of travel, up from Edinburgh through the Highlands and Glencoe and on to the island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, then down through the Scottish Borders and along the North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Coast to the 17th century fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay, I felt the breath nearly knocked from me at all there was to experience. Though we took many photographs I was struck by how little of the experiencing a photograph contains as it leaves out the scents, sounds and emotions that create the atmosphere of a place. I vowed to take it all in and hold each moment as fully mine as possible, in spite of the transient nature of experience.

The morning after our return from our travels, I awakened in my home here in my West Seventh neighborhood and found I had learned to remain awake to the beauty and experience that surrounds me wherever I go. I looked out over the roof tops and the trees just beginning to open their leaves, to the Cathedral dome and spire. I turned to face the other way and, through my window, watched the lights of the High Bridge over the Mississippi River begin to fade in the light of day. I smiled to think of all I had left behind in a country I may or may not visit again. I embraced the return to my own, dear neighborhood and the refreshing beauty of both the rawness and the richness of all that is old becoming new again when looked at through the clean lens of a wanderer returning home.

OUR SONG, the Community Reporter, Ask Deb playlist is now available at youtube.com/playlist?list=PLn7GhNz7PuZKIQYr6GTJX2GWdCbEcQOQp.

Link also available at Deb’s “Living, Loving & Laughing” blog site http://mimiof18.blogspot.com, where Deb archives her Community Reporter column.

Deborah Padgett is a West End resident, artist & writer. You can find her novels in your local library, various independent retail stores or online. Look for Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth. See padgettstudios.com.

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From May 2011,
Note to Self

Channeling Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past
“For a long time I used to go to bed early.” Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past: Volume I — Swann’s Way & Within a Budding Grove


Dear Deb,
Just thinking you might want to take some of your own advice this month. I understand some of your recent circumstances have disrupted your sense of continuity. The love of your life had unexpected surgery and, while all assurances were and are that he will make a full recovery, you’ve doubtless felt little control over your world and your role in it. People have been concerned about you and your dear ones and assumed a level of fear and anxiety you didn’t feel and you wonder if you’ve been in shock and are certain you’ve been coated in the protective covering of adrenaline. Life became entirely new in an instant didn’t it? Maybe you assumed life would automatically go back to the old version of normal as soon as the crisis abated? If so, I think you’ll have to think again. After the adrenaline rush comes, what? Yes. That’s right. Exhaustion — the need to re-group — the relearning of the day-to-day flow of things. The recognition that the proverbial brick has hit you and it will take some healing before you are ready to return to living life with a vengeance. Admit it. You are tired. You want a nice cuddle. You want someone to run your tub for you and then to, yes, that’s right, wash your back. You want to be wrapped in a great warm towel and rocked and read to by the fire. Yes. Self. You take it from me. I know what’s good for you.
Here’s the other thing, Dear Deb, you probably have a fair amount of material in the form of questions and answers and ideas from others that you could add to this month’s column. Is that right? Okay. Well, I think you should take my advice and leave all that for another day, another month, another time. Take some time to rest easy now that your dear one has recovered. Smell the crocus and tulips. Send your readers all your very best wishes and ask them to please write if they have any advice they would like to pass on to the world at large or to you in particular. I’ll close for now and will eagerly await your response.
Yours Very Truly, Deb
Still time to submit your all-time favorite song for our West End playlist. Check out the column archives at communityreporter.org.
Deborah Padgett is a West End resident, artist & writer. You can find her novels in your local library, various independent retail stores or online. Look for Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth. See padgettstudios.com.


 
April 2014

Thank you, dear readers, for sharing the music of your life. I am certain I haven’t heard from all of you who want to add to our playlist so maybe this month’s column will give you the incentive to show us your “song.” Many of you will remember OUR SONG was my February column, but if you didn’t happen to catch it it’s available at communityreporter.org. There is still plenty of time before summer to make your musical contribution.

James Zimmerman and his dear spouse Jennifer were my first responders with James sharing his life-long favorite song, “The Cool, Cool River,” by Paul Simon — the live version from his concert in Central Park in 1991 (available on youtube.com). Jennifer is a Judy Garland fan and embraces as her favorite “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Virginia Tisdale loves Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” for oh so many reasons, especially the Joan Baez cover.

Reader Camille Gunderson, a poet and a student in West End Artist Mary Esch’s community education drawing class, offered “Mr. Tambourine Man.” She said, “Not, probably, my all-time fave, but since retiring (I’m a 60’s woman and love all the 60’s music), this song “struck a cord.” I can visualize singing this at the end of my life. “…Returned into sand…vanished from my hand…still not sleeping to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free driven deep beneath the waves.” She thinks it will be a good “farewell World” song.

Mary Esch says “Three Little Birds,” originally written and performed by Bob Marley, is her life’s soundtrack choice. She loves Tracy Chapman, and her version of this song is the best (available on youtube.com).

Reader Edna Thorpe, from Menominee, Michigan, was touched by the recent passing of Shirley Temple and offered this: “I think my favorite song tonight is ‘On the Good Ship, Lollypop’ by Shirley Temple. As I read my paper this morning I learned of her death. I have so many great memories of her movies. I had a Shirley Temple dress (there’s a picture of my brother and me when we were little and I am wearing that dress).”

As I hear from each of you I continue to contemplate the role of “song” in my life as a connection between us as well as a way to arrive at a common language of non-violence. Of course not all songs serve to connect us. A song that invokes the name of a particular deity, or head of state whose ideology we do not share or a “fight” song or even a particular school’s Alma Mater can serve to divide rather than unify. So far my readers seem to embrace the music that brings us together and lifts us up. I think the recognition of the songs that play in the heads of others serves the purpose of allowing us to listen deeply to those around us and notice all we share in common.

In the music I am listening to today I’m struck by references to “walking away,” or “never again,” when just days ago it seemed the lyrics in my head were all about “reaching toward” and “resting in” and the “connection between us.” What relationship do the lyrics “let it be” have to lyrics like “walking away”? I saw a quote on Facebook suggesting the appropriateness of leaving the broken pieces where they lay and just walking away. In times of struggle to resolve long-time misunderstandings we are sometimes advised to walk away, put it behind us, forget about it or give up trying. I’ve recently become absorbed in a practice of radical acceptance in which I embrace what is mine to care for and to fix and leave what is not mine where it belongs. If I am meditating in this way in the midst of the broken pieces I consider myself to be mending rather than walking away. It does not seem a subtle distinction to me, this difference between resting in what “is” and “walking away” from Humpty Dumpty’s remains. To me there is something essential about staying right in there with all the fragments and shards that are a part of us and, rather than walking away, reaching toward all that can be mended. Certainly it’s true that not all things can be mended and returned to their original form but isn’t it also true that all things are in a state of becoming something new? So, in terms of song, for today at the very least, I will embrace the music of walking toward rather than the music of walking away. Stephen Stills’ words in “We Are Not Helpless” take me in that forward direction. “We are the answer. For we can live the peace we dream. All are strangers, all are friends, all are brothers…” (youtube.com).

Deborah Padgett is a West End resident, artist & writer. You can find her novels in your local library, various independent retail stores or online. Look for Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth. See padgettstudios.com.

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DEB SAYS:
Baby steps to peace and ease

Dear Readers:

Back again, dear readers, with some thoughts on this endless winter we’re having in our part of the world. The snow is pretty, right? And, hey, how about that full moon not so long ago? And, did you happen to notice the tulips are in now at all the local supermarkets? As I sit here warm in my kitchen on one of the first days the temperature hit double-digits I am attempting to count my blessings in the few hours remaining before the predicted snowstorm slaps me awake to face the Monday morning stress of simply getting from here to there and back again. And I do have so very many blessings to count. More than some of you I am certain. Fewer than others I suppose. Life for me has become a constant quest for riding the middle ground between pleasure and pain, sorrow and joy, deprivation and plenty.

This is the place Pema Chodron, in her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, refers to as “that tender, shaky place” of uncertainty that we struggle to escape by gaining a sense of control. Last fall, I attempted to prepare myself for the harsh realities of the coming winter months, the limitations of my aging self, upheaval in family, community and the larger world by enrolling in a course of Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief at River Garden Yoga Center (455 West Seventh) right next to Claddagh Coffee, The Day by Day Café and St. Vinney’s on West Seventh. The course is an eight-week involvement in yoga, meditation and paying attention to life as we live it. It was pioneered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and has proved to be a useful component to help individuals deal effectively with the pain (physical and emotional) that is part and parcel of human existence. For eight weeks in a row I spent a half-day once per week, one hour per day beyond that and then attended a full-day retreat six weeks into the course, engaged in a new way of experiencing my thoughts, feelings and sensations. The course ended just after Thanksgiving and prior to the intensity of the holiday season and the potentially paralyzing deep freeze of a Minnesota winter.

Though I am not as diligent in my practice of all the tenets of the course as I had hoped I would be, there are habits I’ve developed that add a considerable element of peace and ease to my life. Each morning, first thing, I write in a small notebook, “Things I Feel Good about Today.” This forces me to focus first on what is good in my immediate consciousness. Next, I focus on something, anything, of beauty that happens to be nearby. I take a deep breath in and out, and focus on that beauty as I breathe in and out, slowly and deeply for ten full breaths. I then place a smile on my lips and begin to move my body and go about my day. This ritual creates a stepping-off point for me to whatever lies ahead and gives me a sense of ground under my feet no matter what the day brings.

What are your practices and rituals for managing this uncertain life?
Deborah Padgett is a West End resident, artist & writer. You can find her novels in your local library, various independent retail stores or online. Look for Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth. See padgettstudios.com.

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DEB SAYS

OUR SONG

I am so excited to be back dear readers! Hiatus served me well and I am back with some tales to tell about you and about me. Tales about all we think about and feel and do and say and (this month) SING!

With the benefit of many decades behind me I have much experience with the “OUR SONG” phenomenon and I’m pretty sure that you do too. I share the experience of “Our Song” with each of my children, my sweet sister Marty, my precious husband, a best friend and now I even have an “Our Song” my granddaughter gave to me (Adele’s “One and Only”).

The presence of a song in my head has kept me company through many solitary experiences. Raised as a Baptist preacher’s child, my solace at having to spend untold hours in and around all things church was to immerse myself in committing to memory as many hymns and their melodies as I possibly could. I was a quick study, and any story put to music instantly became mine forever and provided the early soundtrack to my life.

My adolescence was ushered in to the sounds of Dion and the Belmonts, Ricky Nelson, Del Shannon, The Everly Brothers, Little Anthony and the Imperials and the Shirelles. I had to be sneaky to gain access to the sounds of the bebop and rock and roll music that made my heart soar, because the music and the beat were considered far too suggestive for my preacher’s-kid ears and mind. The more quickly I could learn the songs by heart the more I was assured I could call up their sounds to accompany my day no matter how isolated I was from the outside world.

So the other day, while I was walking away on my treadmill, I reflected on the songs that spring to mind when I consider a particular loved one, a particular period in time or a certain experience. As I thought what I would say if someone asked me to name my all-time favorite song I realized I would need to sort through a rather long list of favorites. I began to construct a YouTube playlist as a compilation of three songs for each of the people who are dearest to me.

From that list one particular song came to mind as being the accompaniment to all my reaching and growing in the more than two decades I have shared my life with my husband, Michael. The song is ONE by U2, from their 1991 Achtung Baby record album. I first heard the song when my daughter, Tamara, played it for me. I married Michael the year that ONE was released and the song spoke so clearly of our connection to one another and our building toward unity as a family. Then it was the soundtrack to the Clinton presidency and it eloquently expressed my hopes for global unity and mutual understanding. In 2005 Bono performed the song with Mary J. Blige and, to this day, I never tire of listening to, singing along with and swaying to Mary’s powerful rendition. (YouTube, Mary J Blige, U2, “One”) “We’re one, but we’re not the same…. We’ve got to carry each other… carry each other… O-n-e… O-n-e….” It’s a song that’s all about what we’re going through. It’s a song about recognizing our intrinsic need for each other. It’s a beautiful song, with a powerful lyric and it speaks to the core of my desires and my values. It’s My Song. Now, how about you tell me yours!

Write to me and tell me your all-time favorite song. Once I have a significant number of OUR SONGS I will compile a playlist representative of our Community Reporter population. And by summertime, you know what? There’ll be dancing in these streets!

Deborah Padgett is a writer, painter, mother and grandmother. She lives in St. Paul. See padgettstudios.com.

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LIVING, LOVING & LAUGHING (DEAR DEB)
What’s so funny about that?
Dear Readers:
Last night as I lay awake thinking over the last few days spent laughing, chortling, giggling and guffawing with my grandkids I realized my column deadline is rapidly approaching. I thought about May as the month to celebrate our mothers. In February we honored our Presidents. In March we become everything Irish. In April (at least in Minnesota) we have more snow than rain so can’t necessarily assume April showers will bring May-flowers. It occurred to me we could all use a good belly laugh. Let’s turn our faces to the rainy, snowy and/or sunny sky, as the case may be… Say, “Ha!” Slap our thighs. “That’s a good one!” we’ll say. Then we’ll perhaps remember the last time DEAR DEB contained a joke and we’ll think, now what was that? A smile will cross our faces and we will remember the one Jerry the editor told us in August 2011:
This one: “A rabbi, a minister and a priest walk into a bar. The bartender looks from one to the other, stops, says, “What is this supposed to be? … Some kind of a joke??”
Here’s another good one my husband just told me. The CAR TALK brothers have decided to apply for a National Health Service grant because, as we know, laughter is the best medicine. They learned recently that a hundred good laughs is the equivalent of ten minutes on a rowing machine and they can laugh instead of going to the gym.
What’s so funny about that? Well, maybe you’ll like these:
Q. Why was the little strawberry crying?
A. Because his parents were in a jam
Here’s another good one:
A mushroom walks into a bar and orders a drink.
The bartender tells him to get out.
The mushroom says, “Why? I’m a fun guy.”(Get it???? fun guy...fungi???? LOL)
Or:
A font walks into a bar.
Bartender says, “We don’t serve your type.”
Okay. Just one more… You’ll want to catch your breath you’re laughing so hard!
How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one. But the light bulb has to want to change.
If these don’t tickle your funny bone, write to Dear Deb and tell us all a good one. Happy April.
Deborah Padgett is a visual artist and writer. Find her books, Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth at various retail purveyors, online at padgettstudios.com and at your local library.
Write me about this or other topics. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org. or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

 
“WHOA! Social Networking Overload?”

Dear Readers:
Here’s something I LOVE about the Community Reporter…. I get it on my front porch; I can pick it up at the Day By Day or Claddagh Coffee across the street, down the block a ways at the Mad Hatter, across the High Bridge at The Capital View Grill (to name a few venues). Or, and you will love this, I can sit right here on my iPhone, iPad, iMac and/or laptop and go to communityreporter.org and read a complete and current issue or issues archived far into history. I use Facebook, our family business website at padgettstudios.com (and our three linked blogs) and sometimes e-mail, to spread the word about our amazing community paper. Just think, our St. Paul West End community has a WORLD WIDE REACH. Seems to me the ONLY way to avoid knowing all about our neighbors and our community is to determinedly cover our ears and eyes and unplug. I hear some of you would love to do just that and I myself am in a bit of a quandary about just how connected I want to be.

The great thing about sites like Facebook is we can keep up to date on what our friends, neighbors, colleagues, their friends, neighbors and colleagues and, yes, their friends, neighbors and colleagues are up to and thinking and learning. The lousy thing about Facebook is “we can keep up to date on what our friends, neighbors, colleagues, their friends, neighbors and colleagues and, yes, their friends, neighbors and colleagues are up to and thinking and learning.”

Oh dear. What one of us in our recent political fervor hasn’t run amok with a beloved (though not like-minded) relative by spewing hatred and vitriol all over our beloved’s point of view? Dear reader, how long did it take you to recover from that fiasco?

All this is to say I like more than dislike the connections and conversations I share on Facebook, THE COMMUNITY REPORTER, websites, blogs and e-mail I like knowing A. and L. were on the beach last week, that M.L’s recent move is going well, that K. has a studio/gallery brim full of pots for us to peruse, that Krugman hit that nail right on the head in the New York Times yesterday, that some of you think the Pope is right/wrong to resign and I love seeing all of you profess your adoration to your darling Valentine. My advice, since this is ostensibly an advice column, is that you and I and everyone else concerned, keep it civil, keep it kind, keep it circumspect. Use social networking to spread love not hate, support and encouragement not vitriol. I’m not saying we must withhold our strong opinions or our intense desire for change in this world. I’m just saying I believe our voices will be heard and our viewpoints entertained more often if our delivery is civil and diplomatic and, yes, sometimes even FUNNY! See you on the WEB!

Deborah Padgett is a visual artist and writer. Find her books, Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth at various retail purveyors, online at padgettstudios.com and at your local library.

Write me about this or other topics. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org. or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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“Cause We’re Alone, I am Singing This Song” For You...”

Dear Readers:
We are not helpless we are [human]
What lies between us
It can be set aside and ended …
All are strangers, all are friends…
Open up my friend and learn to hear …
If you cannot let yourself be known by anyone
Then you are hiding and not whole… All are strangers, all are friends, all are brothers …
Paraphrased from Stephen Stills, We Are Not Helpless

Dear Reader,
Over the two and a half years I’ve been writing this column I’ve addressed questions and/or commented on a wide range of subjects from the mundane, or even silly, to the downtrodden and uplifting ⎯ ending pretty much always with the grateful and inspirational. I find myself confronted in my day-to-day living with joy, sorrow, deprivation, longing, fulfillment, hope and plenty. For me a solid answer to any problem that presents itself is that there is help to be found. I live in that confidence. Perhaps it’s a false confidence and for certain it’s not a confidence available to everyone everywhere. But here in my community and for me this confidence is valid. But you know what? In just the last few weeks, with the old year ending and the new one upon us I have met with each of the following statements made by people who suffer much from a sense of “not enough to go around.” I have heard you, dear reader, say:

“I am so alone.” “I am so afraid.” “I have no income.” “I have no health insurance.” “I feel such rage.” “My child is abusive.” “I am in danger.” “I have no work, no home and no family.” “I have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder but I will not take medicine or accept therapy.” “I have Alzheimer’s but I have no one to care for me but I just can’t see spending money to pay for assistance.”

You have said these words to me because you know I will listen. You know I will care. I’ve said and felt many of these things myself in my lifetime and am not immune in my future. You have not asked me to help you and you have not asked for my advice. But since I have the privilege of writing this column and because I very much want your health and well-being I researched a few websites that might provide a starting place toward you moving beyond helplessness and in the direction of hope and help.

• www.abct.org/Home — Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
• www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Gestalt-therapy.html — Information on Gestalt Therapy in The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.
• www.namihelps.org — National Alliance on Mental Health, Minnesota (NAMI).

As for me and what I can give — I’m offering you an arm around your shoulder, my head against yours, and maybe the words and melody to a song that will lift your spirits. And, dear reader, keep talking to those who will care and who will listen. If you find yourself feeling helpless or hopeless, the one piece of advice I give (without your even asking). Do ask. Ask for help. Ask for advice. Seek guidance and counsel. You are not alone. Your need is universal.

Write me about this or other topics. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org. or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Solitude, My P.J.’s, Favorite Cup

Dear Readers:
There’s a beautiful, free-hand, brush-stroked bird on the porcelain cup on my lap. I’m alone in the early morning hours watching the street wake up outside my window. I had meant to rail against the vicissitudes of war, greed and competition. Instead, I am struck quiet with gratitude. “Gratitude? But, Deb, you wrote about giving thanks last month!!”

And I know, I know…. But it’s the beginning of a New Year. The old one tugs at me for a review of all I had wanted, wished for and tried to make happen (damn it!). What comes now, at year’s end, is the vision of my six-year old grand girl, Clara, as she takes my face in both hands, brings her nose to mine, looks into my eyes and says, “Mimi! We are going to see THE GRINCH!”

“No!” I say. “For real?”

She sinks away, picks up her cocoa cup, sips, then nods. “For real!” she says. She smiles off into the distance. She’s thinking this, “Just imagine!”

I’m thinking this … “They didn’t stop “the season” (paraphrased from Dr. Seuss’s GRINCH…) from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other…IT CAME JUST THE SAME!” “Yahoo voray, Yahoo voray, Yahoo voray…bring some cheer…” we sing aloud.

We stand in a circle, hands linked all around the world. We raise our eyes and our voices and we sing in ONE SONG …. “Just Imagine…” says Clara.

Write me about this or other topics. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org. or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Thanksgiving thoughts

Dear Readers:

This week I have reflected on thanksgiving. First it was Veteran’s Day and my thanksgiving led me to thoughts of Jim Northrup, Anishinaabeg, Marine, Vietnam Veteran and chronicler extraordinaire. My thoughts of thanksgiving embraced my friend and poet and playwright Miriam Rothstein who portrays the ongoing injustice in land rights for the indigenous people of a tribal island in British Columbia. My thoughts and thanks took me to Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, where land rights laws dictate small protection against crimes committed against native reservation residents. [Editor’s note: The Round House has been awarded the National Book Award for fiction.] Special thanks to Skye and my other readers at The Capital View Café (on the West Side at 637 Smith Ave. S.) who recently made my day.

Thanksgiving. The very word brings to mind elementary school coloring book pages depicting pilgrims in their tall black hats, Indians in their feathers all gathered together to share a meal. Today I am thankful for an awareness of a world of many nations, many cultures, and disparate thoughts, belief systems coming together as one human community. I was captured by Mike Hazard’s posting on Facebook this morning. Many of you know Mike. He is a poet and photographer who witnesses life around him and gives voice and image to all he sees. Today his image was the word F.O.R.T. on a tear-stained plaque. His accompanying words follow:

“MANIPI HENA OWASIN WICUNKIKSUYAPI/WE REMEMBER ALL THOSE WHO WALKED.”

Fort is a four letter word.
We were gathered near Fort Snelling to remember Minnesota’s Trail of Tears. A reporter asked why I was there and I cried my eyes out as I tried to count the reasons why. Why, 150 years after 1,700 Dakota were force-marched into a concentration camp at Fort Snelling, was I here?

I was here because I have learned our world is mapped by trails of tears.

I was here because life is way more fulfilling now that I have become more curious about cultures other than my own. Right now I am teaching 25 students at LEAP High School how to make picture stories about their lives. They are recent immigrants from all over the earth. Genocide drove them from their homes in Burma, Ethiopia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, El Salvador. Their stories open, rend your heart.

I was here because I have learned that my great-grandfather was an Irish lumberjack in the North Woods and I realize now that meant he was cutting down the trees to build houses for European immigrants. In the words of the late Walt Bresette, the clear cut of the forest canopy was an eco-holocaust for the Anishinaabeg.

I was here because in 1964 I stood in the Doorway of No Return on Goree off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, with an African kid about my age. He spoke no English and I no French, but somehow we communed with the unspeakable horror that was the slave trade between Africa and America.

I was here to listen.

I was here to witness the prayer walk called “Manipi Hena Owasin Wicunkiksuyapi/We Remember All Those Who Walked.” (See 2012dakotamarch.eventbrite.com.)

I knew I was on the right trail when I spotted Sister Jane McDonald bringing up the rear of the procession. “Tears are holy water,” the good Sister teaches.

I was here because I wanted to understand what happened, here.

I was here because fort is a four letter word.

When we saw an eagle circling a circle of circles over the ceremony, as an elder held a round red wreath to the sky, and trilled, I thrilled, knowing why we are here.

Write me about this or other topics. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org. or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Be the Change

Dear Readers:
When this column goes to press the people in our families, neighborhoods, cities, states and entire nation will be mere weeks and days away from exercising our power to vote for the Presidential candidate who best reflects our deepest wants and hopes. I talk with many of you throughout my day-to-day life. Some of you are conservative, some liberal, some moderate in your political views. Some of you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist. When I am with you, drinking tea, sharing a karaoke stage, shopping the aisles of Cub, having the Linguini Bolognese at DeGidio’s, I’m aware of our common bond. Maybe you sneeze into your elbow in line at the store and I say “Bless you…” and you smile and say “thank you.” Maybe you’re having a bad run of luck with the pull tabs you bought with your beer and we lift our bottles and smile in commiseration.

You might be a devout practitioner of daily prayer and meditation or you and your family bow your heads to say grace before you dig into your pancakes at the Day by Day Café….I’m watching you. I guess, whoever you are, you’ve had sorrow visit your life. I guess you’ve probably had some health scares, some financial woes — worries about your folks or the kids. The economy is not good. Young people are maimed or dying far from home and right down the street from us. A neighbor or son was just diagnosed with kidney failure, and still, when they’re not on dialysis we can hear the sounds of slow jazz pouring through their open windows.

I guess there are some things you fear, some experiences you prize and relish. I’ll bet I’d be right if I guessed every one of you is “going through” something. I’ll bet I’d be right if I guessed every one of you would like to feel cared about, heard and understood. This is the common bond of our humanity. I see this close up and on a micro/local level every day and imagine you do too. Where are the great divides between us? What matters most to you? Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Barbara Kingsolver, in Animal Dreams put it this way: “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for, and the most you can do is to live inside that hope. What I want is so simple I can hardly say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat. Enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.”

What is the change you wish to see in the world? Be clear in your heart and mind what you hope for, then make the choice that best represents that hope.

Want to give it a try and let me know what happens?

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Connect on a deeper level

Dear Readers:

Have you ever wanted to connect on a deeply reciprocal level with a friend or loved one and simply not known how to bring the conversation beyond the superficial level of, “Hey, how are you?” and a response akin to “Not bad, not bad….Could be worse. How about you?” or, “Oh my God! You DO NOT WANT TO KNOW!” — with the subsequent effect of feeling that, “Yes, well, maybe I DON’T!” Intimate conversations in which we drop our masks and truly listen to one another and feel heard and seen in return are a rarity in this life.

I recently met with a friend who is an expert in Gestalt Therapy. We were talking about what it is individuals long for in their deeper friendships. He said, “Isn’t the question, then, ‘What are you going through?’” Wow! was speechless for a moment. I looked at him, nodded my head slowly and thought, “What if that is the question we ask of those we want to know and those we want to know us?” Clearly it’s not the question for a business meeting or a casual acquaintance. It wasn’t even a question this friend and colleague and I could reasonably ask each other.

The following week my granddaughter, seventeen years old, was here with me. I used the question with her. She opened her mouth, her heart and her mind. I listened. I felt blessed she would trust me with her heart’s truth. I met my daughter for coffee. I said, “What are you going through?” Hours later I felt I’d been given a gift in the deeper knowing of her. I asked my youngest sister in an e-mail, “What are you going through?” I learned her current involvements, her sorrows, vulnerabilities and great joys. I asked my husband and a close woman friend to participate in this type of conversation rather than our usual, “How did you sleep?” “What are your plans for the day?” “How are you?” It’s amazing the difference in the quality of the conversations. I loved being the trusted other for my child, grandchild and younger sister. I love too the reciprocity in having a peer tell me his/her heart’s truth and eagerly return the favor. It’s about being heard, seen, and respected. It takes the impetus off the idea of giving advice (unless asked for it…). Takes the impetus off the idea of fixing one another. What richness is inherent in simply seeing, hearing and (often) understanding another and feeling understood.

Want to give it a try and let me know what happens?

Write about this or other topics. We can all help each other become our best selves. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses and questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Staying silent and listening

Dear Readers:

It’s siesta season. We’re all seeking refuge from the heat. I sit quietly smiling all to myself at the sound of my grandchildren’s laughter or their voices as they read aloud to me. I’m in a state of luxuriating so profound as to render me dumb before this column deadline. Is this column going to be about staying silent and listening? It seems so.

I wonder if the season has had a similar effect on you dear readers. Since none of you has raised a question, comment or observation you wish me to address here I will simply assume you too are luxuriating. My Facebook friends are sharing music, laughter; travel sites and seem to be letting go their hectic pace. I’ve so loved picturing you with your cool drinks on the patio; poking the fire in your backyard fire pit, breathing in the scent of the bouquet you bring from the garden and position to scent your living room. Have loved too the image of you stopped before a mountain view, binoculars aimed in the direction of the eagle flying overhead.

A friend hiked in the Andes in Peru. Another filled a weekend with a sisterly stint in Chicago, shopping for the perfect Mother of the Bride dress. A family filled in the blanks in Silly Monster Mad-Libs by the fire until it became too dark to read so they simply sat there grinning into the dying embers. A friend of mine is spending her final days quietly surrounded by her family. Her cat lies in her lap and her husband sings to her. She is an artist and my thoughts are with her beautiful smile and the images she created that have the power to carry me to a place of truth and beauty and knowing. I will visit those places often even after she is gone.

Here’s all I want to say for now. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich)
Write about this or other topics. We can all help each other become our best selves. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send responses and questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or Ask Deb, c/o CR, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Spring has sprung

Well, spring has sprung — or has it? It’s snowing outside my window now, but last night I wore a sundress to a party! The lilacs are ripe for the picking but my windshield wipers couldn’t move quickly enough to clear the white stuff from my view of the road to the YWCA this morning. So, dear readers, I am happily inside on this bitter cold day. I’m working on the computer, an engagement I enjoy and that pertains to my topic: social networking. Here’s the question. Here’s my response. Let me know what you think.


Dear Deb,

I have a rich, full, exciting life with a choice of activities, friends, leisure pursuits, professional, community, family, volunteer commitments and humdrum day to day doldrums, sorrows and joys. I am just like you, I expect. I am just like all of my Facebook friends. Here’s my dilemma. I’m in a generation that is somewhat resistant to social networking. I have many acquaintances and friends and even family members (and am meeting more interesting people all the time it seems). I would love to be able to spend time with each and every one of these people and/or engage in events and activities with them but, like you, and everyone else I suspect, I can only stretch myself so far and have to pick and choose how to spend my time and energy.

In the interest of recognizing the various activities and interests of my acquaintances and respecting their time commitments I keep track of their Facebook posts. This way I know who is on vacation, who has a family member in need, who is looking for work, laid up, thoroughly engrossed in a project that requires all or most of their attention. That sort of thing. I am able to rejoice in my friends’ endeavors, commiserate in their frustration and sorrows and generally keep in mind a sense of their well being. I know what music and literature is sending chills up and down their spines, what restaurants they frequent, how funny/demanding their children are and if they are giving of themselves to those in need.

When I run into a fellow Facebooker they don’t have to stop what they are doing and fill me in on what’s taking place in their lives and they don’t need a rundown on my life. I like this. I feel in touch. I feel known, seen, heard and connected. I can ask informed and pertinent questions. I can avoid awkward and painful topics. I also know, because of all this ready information, when it may or may not be a good time for me to insist on a phone call or a visit with them. When I run into someone I love and they are not Facebookers I feel a push/pull between “tell me all about your self — we must catch up” and their wanting to ask the same of me. It seems to me that people who aren’t on Facebook and know me from only one dimension of my life, say we hang at the same coffee shop or live on the same street, don’t really know me in the broader sense and I don’t feel I really know them either. It’s not that I need to have everyone know me in depth or that I need to know them in depth. The dilemma is being able to juggle people’s expectations of me. I easily lose touch with people who resist the computer. I sometimes get a response as if a friend or family member feels insulted at my inattention and lack of availability to engage spontaneously in an activity that’s important to them. “Why haven’t you called?” “Why haven’t we had lunch lately?” “How come you weren’t in church last Sunday?” Is it wrong of me to ask people who say they have an interest in me to take a minute to check out my posts and for me to offer the same in return?

Signed, Complete Facebook-o-phile

Dear Complete,

I think your question gives a new perspective through which we can view the changing nature of friendship and connection to others in our world. To some extent it could be seen as an attitude thing. I know many people who find the computer so impersonal a vehicle they would rather not know what’s happening for a broader range of people than to spend their time with the keyboard. Some sensitivity to dear ones and loved ones in this regard is very important. My mother, for example, mostly enjoys the computer for playing games of Lexulous and Scrabble. I expect her to have seen the grandkids’ photos, my calendar, what I’ve been reading and what projects are absorbing my friends and me when she checks Facebook. Turns out, she doesn’t find it convenient to check Facebook. She doesn’t like to log into the computer and she gets confused about e-mails sent and received. She gets frustrated with Skyping and would rather simply receive an occasional handwritten letter and remain in the dark about my day-to-day goings on. I, on the other hand, shudder to think of the dark I would inhabit if I had not adopted the habits of Skyping, Facebooking, Linking In, e-mailing and, photo and video-text messaging. If I make a new acquaintance and want to know more about them than there’s time to tell I ask them to become a Facebook friend or to share their e-mail address with me. That way I am able to let them know right away their easiest access to me and I am able to learn enough about them to show respect for the boundaries in their lives.

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St. Patrick's Day

I can’t tell you how pleased I am at the result of posting my impending column deadline on “West 7th Where All the Cool Kids Hang Out.” The comments and questions I received focus on a critical neighborhood issue that must deservedly consume our attention. (Yes — it would be redundant to tell me I’m being redundant.) The first reader’s question poses a philosophical, theological and beerparty-ological dilemma faced by the green-dressed leprechauns jigging up and down West Seventh from O’Keenan’s to O’Mancini’s to O’Moe’s and beyond to McGovern’s and the Liffy between the hours of noon and 2 a.m. on our beloved Irish saint’s day.

Dear Deb,
Can I blame St. Patrick for this hangover? Why would he do this to me if he is a saint?
Signed, Hung Over, But Why?

Dear Big Ol’ Innocent Hung-over Guy,
See question and answer below.

Dear Deb,

Do you think electromagnetic radiation affects human beings?

I'm thinking specifically about the lights from our house that seem to have a negative influence on me. (Imagine here photo with house lights and car headlights glaring and shooting crosswise rays.) Like the optical equivalent of fingernails on slate, a Styrofoam cooler in the back of a long car ride, or audio feedback from a bad wedding band.

On the BBC, they will warn you that a story contains flashing lights, and my cousin has asked us not to take flash photos of her son because that’s been known to send him into a seizure. Maybe it’s a British thing. My optic nerve is, not to brag, pretty huge.

So why are humans pretty agreeable about what hurts their skin, nose, ears, and tongue, but we don't agree on the eyes? Doesn't energy get transferred from photons and curry powder and Free Bird and sharp sticks to a human being? What are the equations for those forms of energy?
Seriously, On My Last Optic Nerve

Dear On My Last,
Aren't you the same guy who wrote under the guise of Really Big Hangover yesterday? The answer to both your questions is the same. Yes and Yes. Also, your Facebook friend’s suggestion that the 3:2 equation applies here is quite right. (He said “It’s a basic equation: 3:2 beer causes a bland lifestyle.”) As far as The Brits, flashing lights and seizures, I’d have to say they get it right too. We must also acknowledge the role here of Global Warming in that we had our first hot St Pat’s Day, which required repeated application of the 3:22 equation — that is, squared2 at a minimum — often applied in the form of Smithwick’s, Guinness, and W 7th area micro-brews.

Another contributor pointed out the applicability of Seinfeld to the issues you’ve raised. He said, “As with everything important in life, this issue has already been covered in the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer has a seizure. Here’s the link: youtube.com/watch?v=v-SQqKaaUbw.

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Listen, love, laugh

Dear Deb,
I try to be an upbeat and positive person and, for the most part, my spirits are high and I love my life. Right now though, with Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I’m finding it hard to entertain a loving spirit. Why is that? Is it that winter never quite came and still seems unending? Is it the emergence of a worse-than-ever political season that has nothing to do with peace and love but rather has everything to do with denigration and division? I hardly had ten seconds to rejoice that we would no longer be at war in Iraq before existing powers started talking a “take no prisoners” approach to Iran. Right now it seems there is very little sense to be made of anything. It’s only at times I am resting with fellows of like mind that I can relax, take deep breaths and momentarily feel all is right with my world. I feel a need to hide myself away. Any advice for me from you and/or your readers would be helpful.
Someone’s not so happy Valentine

Dear Someone’s,
I’m imagining there are many people feeling the same doldrums and loss of high spirit you describe. Perhaps Valentine’s Day was put dead center in deep winter to give us an opportunity to take a loved-one in our arms and close the door on the world for that very reason. Sometimes (even without a loved one to hold) we have to love ourselves enough to simply close the door on the intruding and uncaring world and seek a stillness and solitude that comforts. Though it’s certainly important to keep an awareness of the larger world and our part in it, there comes a time for renewal and refreshment that requires attention to keeping ourselves whole and happy. My advice is to sequester yourself, alone or with others you dearly love and with whom you feel reciprocity and safety. Listen, love, laugh. The world outside can wait. And when you re-enter, your calm and refreshment will make the world a better place.

Dear Readers,
Received a couple of questions this month about gifts of art. One reader asked the proper response to gifts of art that simply do not fit your taste or your décor. These gifts can be as simple as tea towels or as extravagant as a carefully rendered landscape painting. Another reader, an artist himself, said he seldom responds well to a gift of art because his tastes are very specific. He has taken great pains to build his art collection and can’t figure how to incorporate pieces that aren’t quite suitable.

Dear Gift Recipients,
Receiving gifts we can’t really use or simply don’t like much is a tough one. Almost always gifts are given with the intention of kindness and generosity. I’m asking myself now how I would want a gift I’ve given from my good intentions to be received. Having received the occasional gift I don’t know what to do with and certainly having given gifts I’ve later learned were not particularly welcome I think I have to stick with the old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.” A kind and grateful response to the gift giver is always in order. It is often possible to offer the gift to someone with suitable tastes on another occasion. I think a kind “How kind of you to bring me a gift,” is the only response necessary. Gift giving among family members, lovers and/or best friends is a different issue entirely. In these cases it’s appropriate to establish expectations, understanding and boundaries to be sure we don’t run roughshod over our loved one’s feelings.
And this on gift-giving in general….

Dear Deb,
People seem to get in a bunch over gifts. What to give? How to accept what you don’t like? “It’s the thought that counts.” Yes — but I want the chance to have something tangible to accept or reject. You can’t fob me off with “I’m thinking of you so fondly and that’s my gift to you.” NOT! So I get the thing and it doesn’t meet my skyscraper standards — what do I do? I re-gift. Instead of keeping the damn thing in my front closet so I can bring it out any time the giver is expected, I simply pass it on. Now please note that I pass it on with DEEP THOUGHTS for the person who will now receive it, not just automatically. And if the giver comes by and is obviously looking around to see where I put her offering, I tell her that I loved it so much I couldn’t resist making a gift of it — just as she had done. (Right?)
Not a hoarder

Dear Not a hoarder,
It sounds as if you might be saying “Lighten up about the gift thing, already. If one receives a gift one does not want, give it to someone who does want it!” That sounds like one solution to me. Hopefully anyone who gives you a gift will do it in the spirit of “hope you like it but, if not, I won’t like you any less if you return it or give it to someone else.” Seems to me that is the safest spirit in which to give a gift.
Sincerely, Deb

P.S. Now I know what happened to that set of quilted coasters I gave you!

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

As luck would have it my deadline this month is MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY. I find this inspirational in light of the questions and comments my readers have raised regarding how we, as individuals, congregations and communities can respond and have an impact on current conditions of inequality and poverty. A friend on Facebook posted a link that contained a couple of Dr. King quotes I want to share with you.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

One reader told me she watched the steady physical and apparent psychological and economic decline of a fellow parishioner. She became disheartened and felt rather hopeless to provide any help or counsel. One day in church, prayers were raised for the down-and-out woman. Finally our reader gathered her courage and asked the woman why she had never said anything about her need for assistance until now. The woman raised her eyes and said, “Why didn’t you ever ask?”

Another reader despaired that, he, as one individual, could do so little to help the masses that are so deeply in need. Other readers have asked how they could become volunteers and what are the specific needs of those living in poverty and without homes.

What I make of all this is that if we knew how to help, how to make a difference, we would try. Lately I’ve been thinking of poverty and homelessness in terms of return on investment economics. This may sound a bit cold, but I think the separation of altruism and charity from the broader economic concerns of our world is a mistake. How many studies have been done showing the long-range benefits of providing education, health care, meals, housing, transportation and childcare to those in need? Always the lifting up of this segment of society allows for economic gain for the larger society. Other studies show if we do not make this type of investment we pay a much greater price to incarcerate those who have fallen into lives of crimes. We pay a price in failing to provide education, in that ignorance often leads to bigotry and hatred and results in war, greed and domestic violence. When each citizen of our world is alone in the need to survive and has no community to provide for basic human needs, some few people will rise above the fray and become wealthy and powerful. I think this is what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was saying when he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

This is all to say that I believe the answer to “what can one person do?” has become a moral, political and economic question. But it’s more practical than that, too. It’s an issue that requires us to put our money where our politics are, at least to the extent we focus on issues regarding the good sense and feasibility of a new Viking’s Stadium or the addition of more upscale housing when the need for affordable housing is pressing.

I’m a common sense kind of gal for the most part. I like to ask, “How much does it cost? How much will it benefit?” Lately as I ask these questions as they relate to lifting people out of poverty, the initial price tag seems tiny. Let’s see if we can exemplify the life of Martin Luther King Jr. in our concerns for our community and for the future of our world. Write to me and let’s keep the conversation going, okay?

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A New Year

A new year! I’m dumbstruck. How did that happen? Holidays have passed. Those memorable communications and relationship snafus remain. I’m thinking we might mostly need a brief REMEDIAL COMMUNICATIONS 101. What do you think?

Dear Deb,
I am an elderly woman and I like to play word games. I have a young friend who also enjoys word games. We are pretty evenly matched and have fun together. I have one problem with her. In a discussion about the meaning of a word, she declares flatly the she has the correct meaning. If there is a question about the rules of a game and we look up the rules and it turns out I am correct, she says, “Well, we never played it that way before” or at best “I must be thinking of a different game.”

My question: Will I be out of line or in danger of losing my game partner, if I suggest she might want to modify some of her dogmatic statements from “This is the way it is” to “I think but I could be wrong?”

I enjoy your column very much and think you are a smart young woman. I’d love to meet your mother sometime. Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,
I wish you could meet my mother and that she had an easy answer to this type of question. Let’s see, in the absence of her perspective and wisdom, if I can be helpful here. I’ll do a bit a guessing and say I’m thinking this friend might be what Dr. Phil would call, “A ‘Right’ fighter….” This means it is quite possible she has some emotional investment in being “right” and feels being “wrong” or “mistaken” says something shameful about her, so that she feels inadequate when she doesn’t come out on top in her perception and statement of her opinion. This is one of the “Five Losing Strategies” in communicating effectively in relationships. As Terrence Real, author of “The New Rules of Marriage,” points out in his quick reference guide, the number-one losing strategy is this: “Needing to be Right.” He breaks it down into “(a) Finding out whose view is more “valid” or “accurate”; (b) Leads to endless objectivity battles; and (c) Fuels the psychological violence of self-righteous indignation.” He offers five winning strategies and his book is worth the read, but the most important point in any communication process that fails to satisfy the participants is this: It’s almost as simple as the STOP, DROP & ROLL response when warned of a fire. It is: STOP, THINK, CARE, LISTEN WITH EMPATHY. “How to Communicate” author M. McKay, PhD., describes it this way. “Listening with empathy means saying to yourself, ‘This is hard to hear, but it’s another human being trying to live.’ Ask yourself: ‘How did this belief or this decision, though it may ultimately fail, lower this person’s anxiety or get some needs met?’
“Your ability to listen naturally goes down when someone is angry, criticizes, or wallows in self-pity. If you find listening with empathy difficult, ask these questions: (1) What need is the [right-fighting, etc.] coming from? (2) What danger is this person experiencing? (3) What is he or she asking for?”

You may or may not wish to bone up on your skills through reading these books. A simple solution for immediate use is to follow the above steps toward empathic listening and then say something along the lines of, “Oh, you think so? You might be right!”

Would love to know how this works out for you.

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The Empty Nest: Blessing or Curse

Dear Deb,

This year I’ve published a novel, accumulated another dozen LIVING, LOVING & LAUGHING columns and climbed upon my lectern regarding HOUSING ASSISTANCE, repeatedly trying to ignore a gnawing sense my words were going unread. The other day on MPR an author was interviewed regarding his book, titled “READ THIS OR YOU’RE DEAD TO ME” Not long ago I would have stolen this cynical title and sent it into the world in rant form because I feared I had so few readers. Well, not so the last couple of months (I’m happy to say!). Mr. MPR Author can have his title. You, dear readers, have found and used your voices. Not only do I have “readers” but I also have “responsive readers!” I’m overjoyed. There is far too much from you for one column alone. Still, keep those cards and letter coming please.

THE EMPTY NEST: Blessing or Curse?
I am a recent empty nester and I just want to say that, although I miss my kids, I don’t miss them that much. My husband and I have a suddenly deeper connection in our own marriage, enjoying so much uninterrupted time together for the first time in 21 years. We go out on a date and know that when we come home we won’t be faced with siblings needing mediation or one or the other needing to process the phone call they just finished. Whatever mood we set on the date need not be broken by returning home. Or we settle in to watch a movie together with the same knowledge that the evening is all ours. How refreshing…and quite honestly, sexy.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m really looking forward to my kids coming home for vacations and even for the summertime, but as much fun, laughter and love as the house will be filled with during those times, I know I won’t mind the return to this quieter life where my husband and I are once again focused mostly on each other.

Sadly, I’m finding that our empty nest experience is perhaps not all that common. We recently attended a picnic at the home of a friend. I was chatting with a woman who commented on the fact that I was a recent empty nester. She was a bit older than me and before I could say anything she said, ‘I think that the empty nest is the saddest time in a marriage.” Really? She just said that? I was taken aback for two reasons. First, someone I’m only marginally acquainted with seemed to be telling me that her marriage, in and of itself, sucks big time — and that’s awkward. Second, if I’m honest, I will have to enthusiastically disagree with her and that seems a bit heartless. I just chose to say that we were finding our new freedom bittersweet.

Furthermore, a friend’s husband recently broke into tears while out to dinner for his birthday, because it was the first birthday his daughter (who shares his birth date) had not been present with him. And when I say broke into tears, I mean he sobbed. My friend told me the crying is a daily occurrence. And yet another friend has shared that she is wondering what she and her husband will do once their last birdie flies from the nest next fall because everything outside of their jobs is attending his events and taking care of his needs and she can’t remember the last time they went on a date.

So, I don’t really have a question, I’m just a little sad by the news that the return to simply being a couple, after years of quite happily sharing the highs and lows of parenthood, is a real blow to so many folks, rather than an exciting next phase in their marriages. I told everyone who asked me in advance of our empty nest that I thought it would be bittersweet, but truly its not, it’s just sweet. And I’m looking for more folks who share my joy because I have to believe there are more of them out there than I’ve discovered so far. Perhaps they wouldn’t mind writing in.

Your friend who is, Happy to be going to Parent’s Day at least two hours away

Dear Happy, Your letter cheers me greatly. Enough said. You heard the woman, Readers. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind writing in.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS & SEASON’S GREETINGS

Write about this or other topics. We can help each other become our best selves. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send your responses and new questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or by mail to Ask Deb, c/o Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Baffled

November 2011. And now the fall is fading…. For me the last couple of months have been a time of equanimity and serenity for the most part. I wish the same for you. As the seasons change new questions of our responsibility to loved ones, our communities and to complete strangers emerge.

Dear Deb,
Take my wife! Please! But, seriously, Deb. I do have some issues with the coming of the cold weather and increased proximity to my nearest and dearest. Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with her. It’s just that our mutual love of our den during football season, the baseball playoffs (World Series….) & her desire to be near me while multitasking on phone, computer, magazines and other written material and carrying on conversations with me — Well, we are at odds. How do I tell her, without being mean or hurting her feelings that I really need to concentrate on these sports events and that her expletives at the phone and computer and desire to share her frustration, joy and O Magazine discoveries with me at these times is, frankly, infuriating. Baffled Spouse

Dear Baffled,
Your circumstances sound strangely familiar to me. I can understand your furor and frustration. Moving it all indoors in the cooler weather often leads to far too much togetherness even for the most loving couples. I’ll refer you to a column I wrote some time ago about “Love Language.” In my experience it doesn’t much matter what the issue or frustration or irritation is. The way we tell others how we feel and what’s bothering us makes all the difference. If in doubt about the irritating individual’s love-language, your best course is to use “I” statements. Make the frustration, not about how unbearably annoying she is and how can she possibly expect you to put up with her shenanigans but, rather, about what would help you enjoy her company more. You might try something like this during a muted commercial. “Pooch-y-boo. Can I just talk to you for a second while I have a break from this game or at your earliest convenience?” If her response is to behave with irritation at your interruption of her mischief, be respectful and calm until she comes to a break in her tasks. Once you have her attention, smile (if at all possible), wink, look into her eyes, maybe even pinch her cheek a little and say, “Love you, sweetheart but I gotta tell you I’m feeling (whatever you’re feeling) “Annoyed,” “Invisible,” “Interrupted,” “Like my pleasures are unimportant to you.” Then, “Can we talk about how to be together and share this space while showing regard for each others’ preferred activity?” You won’t likely want to have a long conversation during the commercial but can agree to talk more about this over a cup of coffee at Fresh Grounds, Claddagh, The Day by Day Café, The Mad Hatter or Mojo Monkey. Baseline of communication is really quite simple: If a person you love says they feel something, care about it. Always use I statements. Failure to use “I” statements results in others feeling accused and our natural, animal response (rather than caring about the accuser), is to protect ourselves. This natural response is the biggest barrier to human communication. Following these two simple principles will make your every engagement flow much more smoothly. Gentleness of speech and touch are huge components of smooth communication as well. Can’t wait to learn how this all turns out. Sincerely, Deb

Next month I will address issues arising from the prior column and article about Homeless Assistance and what we can do as individuals and as a community or congregation to alleviate the suffering of our neighbors without shelter.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving and gratitude to my dear, dear readers.

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Attracting the wrong attention | 10.11

Dear Readers:

Remember way back in August when all the kids in the neighborhood were running around in minimal clothing and trying to look and stay cool? This column featured a question by “Anonymous” expressing concern about a preteen girl’s attire and demeanor attracting the wrong kind of attention from older (maybe not so much wiser) boys. I learned some readers thought “Anonymous” was a man and found the column a little “creepy,” as in, “Why is this guy paying so, so much attention to this preadolescent girl?” Well, sillies! The writer was a woman! This is not to say a caring man would not share the writer’s concerns. Just that (and this is weird I think) a man writing as “anonymous” evokes this creepiness response in some people. Something to think about (I’m thinking). For the particular Reader’s Question refer to August Community Reporter archives under columns.

Readers’ responses were, as always, varied. One teenaged type family member of mine (female) joked, “Tell her to mind her own gosh-o-golly business!” Then laughed, referred to the psychology textbook in her lap, adjusted her glasses, and pretended to seek a reference under what she referred to as the chapter on “Little SL&#Ts.” She threw her head back and laughed at the looks on the surrounding adult faces, then said she was sure her mom and dad would know exactly what to say to the girl’s parents.

The question was one of safety, not unlike a question a few months ago about a texting/phoning teenage driver. Is it best to err on the side of caution, face the situation and just tell the kid directly about the concerns? Or, and especially in the case of a scantily clad preteen, is approaching the child directly inappropriate for a near stranger? I’m going to suggest erring on the side of caution concerning the child’s safety. If you are a stranger, approach the parents or guardians and express your concern. If the child appears to be in imminent danger don’t hesitate to simply call the police. I’m a big one for “better safe than sorry.”

Last month Dear Deb spoke about the dramatic increase in the need for Housing Assistance services in our community. Your responses were compassionate and inquisitive. Are we powerless? What can be done? What can we do? See this month’s article about the work of the Homeless Advisory Board’s.

One reader reminded me of a quote by Mother Theresa: “Your brother’s newsletter is really, really powerful. And makes me despair that any change can come about. I have to go back to a quote from Mother Teresa to keep it in perspective: “In this life we can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Yes.

Write me about this or other topics. We can all help each other become our best selves. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send your responses and your new questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or by mail to Ask Deb, c/o Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Poverty and homelessness | 9.11

Dear Deb,

Dear Readers (and you are very dear to me, by the way):
I don’t have a lot of letters or conversations or questions to share this month but I’m guessing I’m going to bring up what’s on the hearts and heads of many of us. I’m here on the West End, yes, LIVING & LOVING but short on the laughter in some ways. I wish I could say I feel well removed from the poverty and lack of hope that permeate the news around the world. I do feel deeply blessed and privileged but despair is around every corner and behind every cloud. Some of you know I serve on The Homeless Advisory Board as a representative of residents of St. Paul. While there are many thriving programs and opportunities to assist and offer help and guidance, there are many more people in need than can be helped. My sister and brother-in-law live and work in a Cincinnati community and share a common bond with all of us concerned with poverty and homelessness. I want to share a portion of my brother’s newsletter with my neighbors here and ask you if the circumstances of people’s lives sound familiar to you and, further, ask you to write to me to share your stories, questions and concerns.

Dear Friends,
This is a mean season — Jobs are scarce. Government programs are tightening their belts. Rents are due. People are scared.
On every busy corner around here, somebody is holding up a sign asking for help. It used to be you knew those folks were junkies, but these days you don’t need a habit to be desperate.

Last night I had to tell Diana’s not-yet-twenty-year-old daughter that she can’t keep staying with her mom because, if she gets caught, HUD will throw them both out of the cheap-but-highly-regulated apartment we rent to keep Diana off the street. We found her a place, but it won’t last long unless she finds work, and the felony on her record makes that a long shot, even with our help.

Dena called a few days before that, crying that she had nothing to feed her four kids until their food stamps arrived. I know she and her husband smoke and drink and manage their money worse than Bernie Madoff on his worst day, but hungry kids are hungry kids. Anyway, the food I took over doesn’t change the fact that they are four months behind on their rent.

I could go on, but you get the picture. In a world where almost everyone is one check away from homeless, it feels like all the checks have stopped at once. Nobody here has any savings. Unskilled, unhealthy, and often unemployable, these people weren’t making it very well even when times were good. Now they’re not making it at all.

The question is what are the rest of us to do?
Loaning money to people who can never pay it back doesn’t work, but standing by while they get evicted ends friendships almost as surely. Taking people into our homes sounds good, but only if those people are both willing and able to do what it takes to be independent again. In this neighborhood, in this economy, we need another answer.

Almost every day, somebody sends me an article about some new program that miraculously transforms inner-city nightmares like ours into dreams come true. When I look more closely, however, I find that those programs are expensive and only seem to work for the most highly motivated poor people.
Almost every night, we here have a conversation about somebody we love who is in trouble. We take turns coming up with ideas and shooting them down: ‘She doesn’t read well enough for that.’ ‘He won’t show up.’ ‘She can’t be on her feet more than an hour.’ ‘Her mom won’t help.’ ‘He’s drinking again’. ‘They’ll spend the money on something else.’

Over and over, we try to work out problems that have no solutions. Over and over, we end up right back where we started; living and eating, laughing and crying, walking and talking together with dear people we can almost never really help.

I’m not trying to bum you out. Believe it or not, I’m trying to draw you in. I figure that if enough of us lie awake wondering what to do for the rest of us, then maybe one of us will find a new answer after all.”
Bart Campolo, Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 10, 2011.

Write me about this or other topics. We can all help each other become our best selves. If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send your responses and your new questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or by mail to Ask Deb, c/o Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Nourish, Amuse and Enlighten | 8.11

In April a reader submitted a question about her elderly aunt who could not be dissuaded from sending her niece unwelcome e-mails. Last month a reader from Seattle wrote in response to my suggestion and we published her comments. I received a delightful and beautifully written letter on the same topic this month from “Forwarder”:

Dear Deb,
I am a recipe, joke and religious ditty forwarder who wonders whether you have room in your busy day to receive my offerings. We are a group that seeks only to nourish (recipes), amuse (jokes), and enlighten (religious ditties). We have no other agenda. It hurts us to be rejected, as it hurts anyone else. It seems ironic that with all the incredibly stupid material being circulated on the Internet, social networking sites and the like, that people are so intolerant of our small efforts to contribute to the flood. Since you also give advice, maybe you could come up with something for us?

By the way, have you heard the one about the rabbi, minister and priest who walk into a bar…?
Sincerely, Forwarder

Dear Forwarder,
I so loved your letter! And, no, I had not heard the one about the rabbi, minister and priest who walk into a bar and quickly wrote my editor to ask if he happened to know the joke. He knew it. He shared it. I laughed and laughed. Is this it? The one you mean? “A rabbi, minister and a priest walk into a bar. The bartender looks from one to the other, stops, says, “What is this supposed to be?… Some kind of a joke?”

But I digress. The reader who was annoyed by her aunt represents only her own point of view. My personal point of view is I’m open to people sending me all sorts of stuff, and if I don’t want to open it or, having opened it, don’t want to view it, it is my perfect right to close it, delete it or respond to it that I don’t like it and don’t want any more of same. Also, I can open it, view it, get a huge kick out of it and forward it to everyone on my list (and often do). Sometimes a recipient writes me and asks to be removed from my mailing list and I oblige. I can’t thank you enough for your fun submission. You can forward me recipes, jokes and/or religious ditties any old time.

QUESTION for my READERS: This is such a good one and the answer could be complicated. Please, dear readers, give me your suggestions for a response.
Dear Deb,
There is a very nice young girl on my street who worries me a bit. Just two years ago she and her other girl friend actually wanted to talk to me, even hang out; they wanted me to show them how to draw. They even brought some other art work over to my house and I looked at it on my front porch. Now, they are suddenly a half foot taller and sorta lanky and they don’t have any time for me. I’m guessing they were 10 back then and now must be 12 or 13 maximum. Well anyway. Recently one warm Sunday I was walking in a very open park near my house and I saw one of these girls sunbathing on a towel, she was wearing a very tiny bikini and was bending around in an immodest way. There was one very young man like 20 or so and two other boys maybe 12 and 14 years of age milling around her texting and talking on cell phones. The older boy had a truck and was carting the other two boys around. I thought it was a natural thing to do, show off your beautiful body once you discover it has feelings and that boys like it. But I thought that combination of one scantily clad girl, three boys (fully clothed mind you), cell phones, and a vehicle was a stereotypically bad situation. I see her now and again hanging with that youngest boy who’s probably her age. It seems he must be her first boyfriend. Should I tell her father or her mom what I saw at the park? Her parents are divorced and I mainly see the father. Yours truly, Anonymous


 
Neighbor's child is terrified of dogs | 7.11

Last month I indulged myself by giving and taking my own advice. I promised I would bring you questions and comments of readers in my next column. Readers have raised some interesting questions and have often presented me with the answers as well.

Dear Deb,
My husband and I have five school age children who love to play outdoors. Our yard is a complete kid magnet and has been for the last three years. Our kids have wanted a dog for the longest time and we were finally able to adopt a sweet mutt who we all love very much. We have always had an easy back and forth relationship with our next door neighbors, whose little girl is the same age as our daughter. The girls come and go between the houses and yards and have pretty much been inseparable. The problem is this. The neighbor girl is terrified of dogs. She always loved to play in our yard and at our house (we have a big outdoor play set) but since the dog has come to live with us she won’t come near without having her dad carry her in his arms. My husband and I, as well as the little girl’s parents, felt terrible about this and it was making life a bit lonely for our daughter too. We sat down and figured out a solution with our neighbors. We made sure doggie was well fed, comfortable and securely attached to a leash. The little girl’s parents brought her over and held her close while we let the dog sniff her until she laughed and said it tickled. When doggie calmed down and sort of lost interest we put the little girl’s hand on his head and let her feel his silky fur. Doggie licked her hand and after a while, when our little neighbor realized how friendly our dog is, she felt safe having her parents leave her here to play. Peace and play have been realized! Minnesota Kool-Aid Mom

Dear Kool-Aid Mom,
Timely advice with the coming of spring and all the wild things emerging into shared space! Deb

Dear Deb,
As I drive in and out of my neighborhood I sometimes pass the teenage daughter of my neighbor down the street, driving, and on her cell phone. I feel that the issue of talking and driving is a serious one, especially with teens. Do I tell the parents? I don’t know them well. If so, what would I say?“ No Phone Zone” Driver

Dear No Phone,
I thought this one might best be answered by a teenager. I solicited responses from six of my favorite teenagers (to whom I happen to be related…). I learned that teenagers are busy, and perhaps less than thrilled to be asked, but still had an especially astute response from a very bright young man of sixteen. He suggested you say, and I quote. “Hmmm. ‘Hi, I’m your neighbor and I know it’s none of my business, but safety never takes a holiday. Therefore with that in mind, I sometimes see your daughter talking on the phone and driving. I would hate to see her name in the newspaper for a car accident and know that I could have tried to prevent that cell phone use and I didn’t.’ ” I’ll let you know later if anyone comes up with a better answer. For now, this seems to fit the bill, don’t you think?

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Note to Self | 5.11

Dear Deb,
Just thinking you might want to take some of your own advice this month. I understand some of your recent circumstances have disrupted your sense of continuity. The love of your life had unexpected surgery and, while all assurances were and are that he will make a full recovery, you’ve doubtless felt little control over your world and your role in it.

People have been concerned about you and your dear ones and assumed a level of fear and anxiety you didn’t feel and you wonder if you’ve been in shock and are certain you’ve been coated in the protective covering of adrenaline. Life became entirely new in an instant didn’t it? Maybe you assumed life would automatically go back to the old version of normal as soon as the crisis abated? I think you’ll have to think again. After the adrenaline rush comes, what? Yes. That’s right. Exhaustion — the need to re-group — the re-learning of the day-to-day flow of things. The recognition that the proverbial brick has hit you and it will take some healing before you are ready to return to living life with a vengeance. Admit it. You are tired. You want a nice cuddle. You want someone to run your tub for you and then to, yes, that’s right, wash your back. You want to be wrapped in a great warm towel and rocked and read to by the fire. Yes. Self. You take it from me. I know what’s good for you.

Here’s the other thing, Dear Deb — you probably have a fair amount of questions, answers and ideas from others that you could add to this month’s column. I think you should take my advice and leave all that for another day, another month, another time. Take time to rest easy now that your dear one has recovered. Smell the crocus and tulips. Send readers your very best wishes and ask them to write if they have any advice they would like to pass on to the world at large or to you in particular. I’ll close for now and will eagerly await your response.
Yours Very Truly, Deb

Next month look for: Volunteerism; Response from Seattle reader; Validation and Social Media, and Neighbors: Their Kids & Their Dogs.


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In Too Deep | 4.11

Dear Deb,
I am 18 years old and about to graduate from high school. I fell deeply in love with a girl a year older than I am when I was 15. She is just now finishing her first year of college. About six months ago I realized that, though I love her and can’t quite imagine life without her, she is not a person I can ever marry or spend my life with. I can’t handle her family because it’s way too different from me and my family. I don’t like the way they relate and don’t want them as grandparents to my children. I don’t feel intellectually stimulated by this girlfriend. Also, she is rapidly heading toward obesity and I’m into physical energy and physical activity. She told me some time ago that she is ready right now to say she is committed forever and I wasn’t ready to deal with the loss, loneliness and turmoil of a break-up so I tried to make myself believe it was all right to stay. I really do have some wonderful times with her but I know in my heart that I’m not being fair to her to hold on for fear of how lonely and sad I will be without her. It just seems cruel to come right out and tell her how I feel about her family, her weight and lack of energy and/or our lack of intellectual compatibility. What can I do? Sincerely, In Too Deep

Dear In Too Deep,
You are wise to be thinking about the appropriateness/inappropriateness of continuing in this relationship. You are right to realize that hanging on is unfair to her. I have asked another column reader to help me with the answer to this one. She advises that you sit down and think through your feelings and write down what you want to say. Since you know that she is not what you want in a life partner and she wants that commitment from you, you have to say goodbye.
Make sure she knows that you don’t feel she has done anything wrong. You might want to try to express your appreciation for your time together in some detail, and find ways to tell her of your hopes for her path in life.
Expect some serious tears and heartache on both your part and hers. Stay solid in your knowledge of what you need for your future. I suggest that whatever you choose to say to her that you also send it in letter form so that she has time to consider it outside of what is sure to be an emotional encounter and so she has it to refer to as she goes through aspects of loss that she is bound to go through. The pain will ease. You will be ready when the right woman comes along.
Very truly yours, Someone’s Mother

Dear Deb,
I have an elderly but very computer-savvy aunt who I rarely see, but I visited with her at the recent funeral of a family member. She asked for my e-mail address, which I gave to her, but I very politely told her that I don’t like to receive jokes and forwarded items at all, and she said she totally understood and wouldn’t send me that kind of thing. I didn’t see anything from her for a couple of months and now all of a sudden my inbox has two or three forwarded e-mails from her every day. Do I say something or just “delete, delete, delete?” I feel like because she is my elder I should cut her some slack and just delete them, but it is irritating because I feel like she ignored my request. Any advice? Thanks, Confused

Dear Confused,
This is a problem readers frequently encounter with people who are like “one trick ponies” with the computer. Back in the early days of e-mail certain people discovered they could amuse themselves and others without having to think up anything to say by sending jokes, recipes, cartoons and idle gossip to a whole slew of people on their mailing list at once and elicit all sorts of communication in return. All this at the click of the mouse! I have several of these individuals on my “when in doubt, delete” list. Now, most of us are on the social networks and can take it or leave it when people post material. These strictly e-mailers are clogging our in-boxes instead of our Facebook home pages. I don’t recommend opening a discussion with this aunt about these messages. Her actual personal attention to you may be more annoying and require more of you than these forwarded “ditties.” Just read the subject line, decide if you have any interest, select and delete. Keep her on your mailing list for anything you might send to a general audience that seems interested in your observations and goings on. Maybe she’ll get annoyed and take you off her list. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

 
Love Language: Reflections on a Valentine | 3.11

A short deadline this month has me writing this column just before Valentine’s Day. Naturally I’ve been thinking about love and how we see ourselves vs. how we’re seen, and how that affects communication and, in fact, entire relationships. A friend recently directed me to refresh my memory about the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (1992). I’ve always felt the concept was pretty simplistic but now realize a basic reference point, choice of five options, is quite helpful. The book offers exercises to help the reader determine their love language. If you do the exercises with a loved one, you can compare love languages, and, the hope is (I think) that you can let the people you love know what makes you feel most loved and treasured in relationships. You learn what makes your loved ones feel most loved and, if you keep that in mind in your interactions with others, they feel loved by you and you feel loved by them.

Recently my daughter-in-law and I were discussing love languages. It was interesting to me that she guessed my love language was SERVICE. I said, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. What makes you say that?” She said something like, “Well, you’re always doing something, taking care of someone or something….” I hadn’t taken the quiz to determine my love language at the time but I felt strongly that SERVICE would not be number one. I did understand that, since she sees me in the role of grandma and mom, homemaker, wife to grandpa, and doesn’t have much occasion to view my life otherwise, she would likely have a very different view of me than I have of myself.

In truth, I love almost nothing better than a quiet, easy, reciprocal time in the company of a person or people I love or a quiet, focused time in my studio or with a good book. I like to think I’m a gracious hostess and I do like to create a welcoming, inviting atmosphere around me. That focus could seem like one of service, but I think of it more as an aspect of my attitude toward beauty, comfort and joy. I do very little out of a sense of service to anyone or anything, though I hold the hope that by “being the change I wish to see in the world” (Gandhi), I bring pleasure and joy to the lives of others.

My husband and I took the test, compared scores
Mine: quality time (laughing, talking, playing, working, studying together) 33%; kind words and affirmation (being heard & cared for) 30%; physical touch 23%; acts of service and receiving gifts, 7% each.

My spouse: physical touch, 33%; quality time 30%; acts of service (giving and receiving), 20%; kind words and affirmation, 17%; receiving gifts, 0%.

I think our scores are pretty much right on. Want to take the test? Here’s a link so you can do it online, instant and free: afo.net/hftw-lovetest.asp. Tell people you love how you want to be loved and listen to them tell you. HAPPY LIVING & LOVING!

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Time for Resolutions | 2.11

Is it that the beginning of a new year is the time for resolutions and trying to make things better that brings out the conversations about shame, self-disgust, feeling let down or like we’re letting someone else down? I don’t know how many times since Christmas I’ve had someone say something to me that’s made me think, “Hey, take it easy on yourself, dear one...” I think that because I want to be able to give myself a little wiggle-room and find ways to forgive my own lack of perfection. I’m wanting to know how you, Dear Reader, let go of self-recrimination and rise to a place of being your better self. I’ve talked to people this month who’ve overspent, hurt people with their words, overeaten, drank too much, become too angry, didn’t exercise enough and watched trash TV to excess. So I’m making this topic the QUESTION TO READERS this month. Let’s help each other out.

Dear Reader,
What techniques do you use to help yourself return to serenity? How do you let go of the desire to control what you can’t control? If you’ve succumbed to behaviors that make you feel ashamed, what’s your technique toward self-forgiveness and even compassion toward others who’ve failed you or themselves? Seems to me “‘Tis the Season” always. There’s not a particular day or time when we’re absolved of our desire toward perfection nor a season when there’s no need to let ourselves or others off the hook. Since we’ve all been there and done that (whatever our failings…) let’s share our secret tools for success at forgiveness of self and others. Talk to me. Talk to each other.

Last month’s column elicited some interesting responses. One reader offered some advice from her St. Paul neighborhood. “As to your neighbors who like to party, our block has struggled with St. Thomas students for almost all of 40 years. We called the police often when things got out of hand after 10 p.m. Just be consistent in dealing with them and set up ‘Neighborhood Rules.’ We had some success with the police, but it was a real pain keeping on top of the kids. Also, get a number for the mom who set up the rental and find out if there is a lease. It might be a good idea to write up rules to be followed and consequences if they don’t comply. I’d add that the mother should be called when the ‘rules’ are ignored.”

Another reader offered this for the Habitat “Lady”: “Isn’t it unwise to ‘bond’ with applicants that you may have to judge for home ownership? Don’t know myself but I would consider that future advice.”

Dear Deb,
I enjoy reviewing cultural events, books, movies, music and theater and find I mostly have something positive I want to share. Recently I attended an event I fully expected to love but came away having pretty much hated the thing. Still, I would like to share my opinion of the event but wonder how the human being on the end of the “criticism” will be affected by my negative comments. I often read the work of critics and wonder how they live with themselves after some of the cruel blows they deal. Your thoughts? Blogger in Waiting

Dear Waiting,
Having been on the receiving and giving end of some criticism my advice is the same as if you were face to face with a person with whom you disagree. Let kindness rule the day. Use “I” statements and simply be aware one person’s perfect cup of tea is another’s idea of a reason to run gagging from the room. It’s a big world and there are lots of viewpoints out there. My advice, wait no more! Your opinion is as valuable as the next guy/gal’s.

If you want to be acknowledged for your letters, let me know. Otherwise all will remain anonymous. Send your responses and your new questions for Deb, to editor@communityreporter.org or by mail to Ask Deb, c/o Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St., St. Paul 55102.

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Weaving In and Out of Expectations | 1.11

So, Readers, how were your holidays? Mine were a fine dance of weaving in and out of expectations I have that I can provide sugar-plum fairies, warm and tender quality moments for an extended family approaching fifty-some in numbers, meet professional/community commitments, be my husband’s dream-lover, take great care of myself and, get this, never touch a “drop” (if you know what I mean… Yup, that’s what I mean all right). ’Tis the season for me to become a near tea-totaler. I’ve relished the coziness of a fire, a good book, hot cups of tea and the proverbial “thou” — whoever that may be at the moment, as in children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and dear friends. Long live the Holidays! Now, let’s get this New Year going, eh?

Dear Deb,
I live in an old house just off West Seventh. I’m in my early 20s and haven’t had a full-time or regular part-time job since I left high school at age 16. My mom rents this house for me, and she lives across town with my stepdad. Since the house has three bedrooms and I can use the money, I let my buddies stay here with me and they have to help with some cash and food. Here’s my problem. It seems like the homeowner neighbors are out to get my friends and me for just being young and liking to stay up late and party. They’re always calling the cops or just walking out their doors and standing there staring at us like we’re freaks or something. Seems to me as long as the rent is paid they should just live and let live and just mind their own business. What do you think? Minding my own business

Dear Minding,
I can kind of see your point of view. Especially if your behavior and that of your “buddies” is considerate, respectful and neighborly. I’m guessing there are some things you’re not telling me though. I hate to make assumptions, but if you are out of work, young, left school and prone to partying, you may unwittingly be disrupting the peace in your neighborhood. People who go to school and have jobs usually like a quiet neighborhood by about 10 p.m. Is that about the time you and your buddies shut it down and go inside and turn your voices and music down? As a homeowner myself in a neighborhood much like you describe yours, I know I’m uncomfortable with cars stopping in the middle of the street in the middle of the night for a loud argument filled with angry expletives and apparent drug deals. I may be wrong, but if I even imagine there are guns or drugs or domestic violence involved, I call the cops. I suggest you check yourself because perception is everything. If you look like your behavior is out of line people are going to call the cops and they are going to stare at you like you’re a freak and you simply aren’t going to get a very friendly welcome in the community. You may be a fine upstanding citizen but if that’s not apparent to the neighbors they can make you pretty uncomfortable. Take a minute to think about how you can change that perception.

Dear Deb,
I advocate for candidates for Habitat for Humanity’s housing and am required to make recommendations to the Board about the suitability of the candidates. There are certain criteria each one has to meet before signing on the dotted line. A recent candidate, a single woman with two small children and a baby on the way, seemed ideally qualified and was truly excited to do the work necessary to have a Habitat home. Since filling out the paper work, though she’s moved out of her grandmother’s house where the children were getting loving care, and she’s lost her job and moved in with a man (not the father of the coming baby) who lives with his mother. I asked her if this man plans to become part of her household and she said he’d like to be and wants to sign as the father for her new baby. When asked why she left her grandmother’s house she said, “They didn’t want me to have any fun.” If she were to file an application under the current circumstances she would not be considered for a Habitat home. I really like her and want so much for her to turn her life around and become a homeowner but I’m worried her recent behavior makes her a huge risk for this program. I’ve bonded with her and am not sure how to tell her I can’t, in good conscience, recommend her to the Board. Any ideas? Habitat Volunteer

Dear Volunteer,
It can be difficult to separate the emotional from the necessary practicalities when dealing with nonprofit organizations and those who benefit from them. I suggest sitting down with her and telling her the specific Habitat criteria under which she would have qualified and asking her if she is willing to abide by them now. If she seems wishy-washy or likely to be more interested in “fun” than the responsibilities of home ownership, tell her you no longer feel you can recommend her to the board. Wish her well and let her know she’s welcome to reapply at a later date if her circumstances change. It’s tough love, I know, but I really think it’s the most respectful way to hold this woman accountable.

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Please email if you want to be acknowledged for your letters. All others will remain anonymous. Send responses and questions to editor@communityreporter.org or mail to Ask Deb, c/o Community Reporter, 265 Oneida St, St. Paul 55102.

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