Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lessons from Whitney

Today was the day of the funeral for a super star, a woman who was known around the world for her singing talents.    Not too many of us will ever have our funeral streamed live on the internet but for Whitney Houston, this was one last hurrah as her life story goes into the archives of time.   And she received the big send off one would expect for someone of her fame and notoriety.   Speakers, mainly from the entertainment world, came to offer tribute to her life and the impact she made on their lives.   It was a moving service that I am pretty sure she would have loved but perhaps would have been surprised at the depth of feelings and out pouring of love for her.   

The Whitney Houston most of us know is the person who sang with a voice that many have called a gift.   Beginning at a very early age and with famous relatives to guide the way, she came naturally into the world of entertainment.   She had world wide fame, material wealth, body guards and an entourage of people surrounding her.   But she had her heartaches and trauma also played out on the world stage.   Privacy, even for the most terrible aspects of her life, was not to be hers.    Her life with all of its wonders and treasures, triumphs and failures was the subject of gossip and innuendo and even in death, she could not escape the whispers and hints of terrible secrets going on behind closed doors.   

For me, one of the most surprising revelations from today's funeral service for Whitney came from a friend and fellow actor, Kevin Costner.  Most of us probably think of all the people in the world who should have had self-confidence and assurance about her ability as a performer surely  Whitney Houston must have ranked high on the confidence scale.    After all, she had been performing since childhood, had trophies and awards to fill walls and whole rooms.    But what he revealed was that Whitney was a lot like many of the rest of us.    She wanted to be accepted and loved. She wanted our approval.   The problem was that she had self doubt, even with immense popularity and super stardom, that somehow she was not good enough to win approval.    

In the world of psychology, there is a concept called the Impostor Syndrome.    It is what happens when a perfectly talented, gifted person has sometimes crippling doubts and insecurity about their ability to perform.  It is that nagging feeling that somehow you have "gotten by"  with your act but this time, for this event, you will be found out.   The truth will be revealed that you've been a fake all along and do not really deserve all the accolades you have gotten to this point.    It is a painful thing to experience because no matter how much success you have, no matter how many awards hang on your wall or straight A's you have on your report card, the feeling persists that you are one test away from being found out as a fraud.    I know this is true because this is something I battle and have struggled to overcome since I was in graduate school.    

Today as I listened to Kevin Costner talk about his relationship with Whitney, I cried as he described her first screen test to be in the movie, "The Body Guard".     She was already a star, a well known singer but had not ever done a movie, other than videos for her music.    She had plenty of evidence that she was talented and recognized for her ability to sing, but that old fear, the shame of being found out was whispering in her ear.    And it nearly cost her the chance to be in the movie.    If not for Kevin Costner who already knew he wanted her as his co-star, she likely never would have been chosen to be in the movie and would have lost her chance to prove to the world that not only could she sing, but she could act as well.    He intervened in what could have been a meltdown of epic proportions to encourage her to regroup, take a few minutes to calm down and then do the screen test again.     She was able to overcome this and did go on to pass the screen test and was the co-star of the movie.    

Listening to him recount the story of her screen test and how close she came to blowing it all because she was afraid no one would like her and that she'd be found wanting when it came time to act really struck a note in me.    I realize that often times those of us with this problem deny ourselves the chance to prove our abilities mainly out of fear we won't be good enough.    We don't trust the empirical evidence that surrounds us and reassures us that yes, we can do this.    It's the voice in our head that urges us to not try because we'd probably fail anyhow.    Because this is the time the truth comes out and our weakness will be revealed.    Oh, for once if only the voice could be silenced!   

The title I decided to give this blog post is "Lessons from Whitney".       And yes, there is a lesson here.  The lesson for me is that even the greatest among us can have this issue and for Whitney, there is a good chance that this problem may have played a role in her death.    Seeking perfection when you already have it but do not recognize it or accept it is a sure path to unhappiness and even self destruction.   My heart breaks for Whitney Houston and her family as they struggle to come to terms with her death at age 48.     But I also know for me that the lesson is pretty plain:   Start working on yourself, kiddo.    Learn to love yourself for who you are and what you have to offer the world.    No, I am not talking about a self important, conceited kind of love.  We already have plenty of that in the world.    I am talking about acceptance of yourself without adding a footnote of "if only I was......"  Fill in the blank.   Prettier, funnier, smarter, thinner, wiser.    This is about accepting myself the way I am, looking at the gifts and talents, appreciating them and leaving the flaws for someone else to analyze.     

Being a self diagnosed "impostor" (I can check every box on an impostor syndrome scale!), I know what it's like to have the cold sweat of fear that creeps into my head when it's time to get graded on a performance.   I know only too well the irrational feeling that this time the truth will find me hiding behind my false bravado.  But Kevin Costner's words today about Whitney Houston spoke to me loudly and with authority.   It was easy to see how profoundly this problem affected her life.    I do not want to spend another day of my life feeling this way.     

When people have told me that they enjoy reading things I have written, I am grateful and do enjoy feedback.    The problem is that with each blog post, each story I write, I worry and fret that this is the one that will be my undoing.    My intention from this moment forward is to spend my energies writing (and doing art and other things I love to do) without listening to the voice in me that tells me what I have written is no good.   Or the art I create is somehow lacking....or lame, as my grandchildren say.      The lesson from Whitney is that all of us have gifts and talents to share with the world, even if we're not super stars.     The key to understanding that is to be your own best fan to start with.     Learn to love who you are, believe in yourself and you will have a much happier, peaceful life.  

I hope that now Whitney has found peace and understands what she gave the world.    And I hope I can hold on to the feeling I had listening to Kevin Costner telling the story of her struggle.  It made me cry, but it also gave me a wake up call.    I want to use those feelings to help me be happy with who I am, what I am and what I am becoming.   

Happy Trails and Cheers to you as you find your way in this world~~~


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Let the Cold Winds Blow: It's Soup Night!

For some time, everyone I meet has commented on our "lack of winter weather".    It's not that we haven't had any cold weather, just not very much.    In fact, so little that I still have a few vincas growing in flower pots around the yard.    Most of that stuff gets nipped back after the first good frost and won't show a single leaf or twig until spring has arrived.    Larry planted a pineapple top way back last year and even it is still hanging in there even though he forgot it a few nights when it was pretty cold.     And to add to the confusion, many azaleas and red bud trees are already starting to show their lovely pink blossoms, even though they should still be keeping those things well tucked away for a couple more months.   

For some reason, people seem to assume that since we live in FLORI-DUH, land of eternal sunshine, palm trees and sandy beaches, we don't have winter.    What they may not realize is that we live in Northern Florida---northwest Florida to be exact.   So by rights, if things had been fair and square back when they were divvying up acreage, Alabama should have gotten the very spot where our house is built.    And come to think of it, Georgia got gypped, too, when you look a little bit east of here on any good U.S. map.    So while we often have mild winters, that is not the same as NO winter.    If you want to live where people often don't even have heaters in their homes (since they seldom need them), you gotta go about 900 miles south of here to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami.    

So the season we call winter has been here since last December but our weather has been anything but normal this year.    We've had many days that were more like spring than the cold, shivering type of weather we would expect.    In fact, it has been so warm, that I suspect the beach has seen a surge of locals driving down to watch the surf roll in since that is only a 25-30 minute drive for most of us in this area.    And while they were there, it's a sure thing that they'd have seen a group of hearty surfers in their wet suits livin' it up while the sun was shining and the temperature was mild.       

In the middle of this past week, I thought I heard the weather man say that a cold front was coming our way.    But about as often as they say that, they turn around in a day or two and say, "Never mind. It won't reach us."     What that means is that we have to pay close attention as the time gets closer just in case they change their minds at Weather Central....AGAIN.    And that is exactly what happened.    

Yesterday we happened to flip the TV over to channel 324, which is the "Local Weather Scan" ...a handy little feature of The Weather Channel.    It runs 24/7 with only local weather, changing screens every few minutes to tell you the pollen count, what kind of Golf Index we're going to have, what the tides are running and, OH, yeah, what the temperature, winds and forecast is expected to be for the next few days.     And there it was:   Bright orange background, bold letters....Small Craft Advisory and Freeze Warning.    Expect near RECORD LOWS tonight!    

Once again winter has pulled a sneaky trick on us and has let us know that winter is still here and has not retreated to the far north.     The winds all day have been out of the NNW at a brisk 20-30 mph which means there are white caps on the Bay, leaves flying in 40 directions and tonight, with no cloud cover to hold in the heat, it's gonna be cold, Baby, cold!    I suspect with the wind chill it will easily be 20 or so.     I don't know about you, but for me that is cold and means one thing will work for supper.    Soup!!  

After checking out the pantry and refrigerator, I found the makings for a simple soup that we like called Turkey Sausage, Bean and Kale Soup.    It only takes a few minutes to chop the veggies and then you can add some fully cooked turkey sausage, chicken broth and let it simmer.    When it's almost done you may add some kale and a can of beans.   I use the curly leaf kind of kale but I guess almost any kind would do.  You could probably use fresh spinach, too, and it would be delicious.   

So here is the recipe for Turkey Sausage, Bean and Kale Soup:

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
2 large cloves of garlic (not pods!), chopped
2 carrots, sliced or diced
Fresh Parsley, chopped
1 link of Smoked Turkey Sausage (I used Oscar Mayer brand for this batch)
  (add more if you like more sausage)
1 tsp. of Curry Powder (I used McCormick Brand)
32 oz. chicken broth (Fat Free and Low Sodium is what I use)
1 TBS. of Chicken Base (I use Better Than Bouillon)
1 can Beans (Navy, Great Northern, drained---may use whatever bean you like, actually)
 1/2 of a small bunch of Curly Leaf Kale, washed and chopped

Chop veggies and saute in olive oil until onion is transparent.   Add sliced sausage and cook until it has browned a little.  (Push veggies to side of pot so sausage can touch the bottom of pan.)  Add chicken broth, chicken base, curry powder, pepper to taste.     Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.     Add kale after you strip it from the main rib of the leaf and roughly chop leaves.  You can add the beans at this time, too.  Allow to simmer for 15 or 20 more minutes.    Serve over brown rice, quinoa or by itself with some crusty bread to soak up the good juices.

So there you have it.    A simple meal for a cold winter's night.    Kinda glad this cold snap came along when it did.    We'll enjoy our
soup, have a fire in the fireplace, maybe play some Phase 10 and not let the cold weather phase us.     In a few days, we'll be back to warmer temps and will be marveling at how cold it was just a few days ago.    We're lucky and we know it.    Our search for the good life reminds us again and again that usually it's the simple things in life that give the best rewards.  

 Hope things are going well for you, wherever you are.  And give that soup a try one of these 
 days or especially on a cold, winter's night. 

Happy Trails,