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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How many faces do we really have?

Recently, someone I know called me mean, unkind and a not nice person.  While I know this opinion is not true it's bothered me immensely.  Primarily I feel offended because it's the kind of petty name-calling that I should not be subject to in a professional setting.  I'm offended because the statement was made in front of other people who's opinions and judgement matters to me (or so I thought...) I wasn't defended and the person wasn't told to shut the front door immediately - which should have happened the moment the words came screaming out of the mouth.  I'm offended because the words had an echo of someone else - another person with whom I had a contentious interaction and who turned out to be a toxic, self-centered, self-serving egomaniac person who thought she was better than everyone around her.  Lastly, and most hurtfully, being called mean and unkind unleashed a trigger of childhood/adolescent memories for me of my mother basically telling me that I was a terrible person.  To quote, "You're not that great.  You aren't special.  People should only know the real you, then see how much they like you...They don't have to live with you, so they don't know what you're really like..."  Kind of hard to shed this sort of verbal abuse when you heard it regularly for 17 plus years.   

Since the outburst was said under duress and in the heat of an emotional outburst and stressful day, I've mostly been able to set the words aside and focus on the incident itself to see that a) the words are not true and b) some sort of weird projection thing was going on with this individual.  One of my prouder behavior moments in my life was the way I handled the outburst - with a calm, steady silence.  Initially I shut down and didn't let the words penetrate me.  However, the words got inside my head a great deal.  This happened several weeks ago and it's taken me all this time to find a way to  write and deal with this emotional turmoil.  Of course I'm not a mean, unkind or not nice person.  But I'm not exactly warm and fuzzy, full of  sweetness and light.  No one really is. We all have multiple personalities.  The key is that our true essence remains consistent throughout all of our faces.  How many of us can truly admit to being genuinely nice person all the time? 

Given my history of depression and introspection, I'm keenly aware of my moods.  Growing up with a manic/depressive narcissistic mother who skewed towards mania and anger, I'm all too familiar with how moods or behaviors affect those around you.  A therapist once told me (She told me repeatedly over the course of a decade or more) that when a child such as me grows up with a personality like my mothers - volatile, aggressive, delusional, that we feel responsible for the mood and behavior of everyone around us.  It's more than being a care-taker, people-pleaser or peace maker.  I feel personally responsible for the behavior of those around me, almost to the point of wanting to control it even though I can't or couldn't.

I might not, in the hot emotional moment of one of me temper flare-ups be able to discern how uncomfortable I've made my co-workers, friends or family.  I'm too blind to anything else around me.  But once I've calmed down, or rested, or eaten or whatever it is that I need my mind and body to do to get back to the safety zone, I can see how ridiculous I behaved.  I'm getting better at this, whereas years ago I would have lost my temper and created as scene straight out of The Jersey Shore brawls with Snookie, The Situation, Paulie or Sammi "Sweetheart".  I blame it on the Italian side of my family, specifically the South Philly Italian side.  To have grown up emotionally and matured, by spending years and loads of time and money in therapy has allowed me to become a very self-aware woman. I truly wanted to change and undo years of anger damage.  Today, I am fairly successful at controlling my "boisterousness" and loud-mouth temper.  Had I not learned and changed I'd be dead, either from hyper tension or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.

As for the initial mean-spirited statement, I think it's best that I somehow shed it from my life.  I don't want to list all the ways in which I'm not mean or unkind or prove how nice I can be and usually am.  Do I have to puff myself up and be a loud-mouth braggart, telling everyone within earshot about how I helped some old person cross the street, gave directions to some tourists in Philadelphia; returned money I found on the floor at the bank; or any number of other ethical, moral or otherwise decent things I've done as a good citizen of the world?   No, although I just did!  I might not have bought into the drama soap opera of this person's life, and I haven't validated the behavior in a way that was desired.  I may be cool at times and a bit short-tempered, but in no way am I a mean, unkind or not-nice person.  If I were, I doubt I'd have spent the past few weeks trying to figure out a way to forgive and forget the outburst and not take on more than my share of the burden of the blame.  
If someone called you the things that are anathema to who or how you are, what would you do?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Send A Kid to CAMP

The Neighborhood Bike Works is a local Philadelphia organization with several outposts in Philadelphia.  The mission of the organization is to teach kids how to fix bikes.  In the learning process, there's an earning process - kids "earn" a bike by attending the program.  Other learning skills are at work too, social skills, mechanical, fitness and camaraderie.  As an avid and long time cyclist, I support and advocate any program that will promote biking for people, especially children and show them the joys and freedom of bicycling.  I started riding a bike when I was six years old and until I learned to drive at the ripe age of 42, my bicycle was my only mode of personal transportation.  It's still my preferred mode by which to commute and of course, I try to get my exercise and training in by cycling every day, biking upwards of 60 to 100 miles a week in the riding season.

In my email in-box today there was a plea for donations to the summer camp program at The Neighborhood Bike Works:

Neighborhood Bike Works is gearing up for another Summer Bike Camp! We use kids’ natural love of bikes to teach practical life skills, mechanics, environmental and social awareness, fitness and nutrition. 

This summer marks the 10th year of our Summer Camp at 40th Street; in addition, for the first time, we are offering Summer Bike Camp at our North Philly site. We hope to offer the valuable experience of Bike Camp to 72 campers this year, but we need your help to do it!

In addition to our Earn-a-Bike curriculum, we take campers on field trips designed to show them the positive educational and recreational opportunities in their neighborhoods; the bonus is they learn how to get to all these destinations by bike. We also provide breakfast and lunch for all campers, every day. 

For $25, you give a child a bike helmet and a lock for a bike.  $75 will sponsor field trips for a camp season.  $225 will send a kid to camp for half a day for a whole season; $450 will send a kid to camp for a full day all season.  All kids will be fed breakfast and lunch, every day.  Biking and food - it's The Bicycle Chef's ideal charity!  

Neighborhood Bike Works is in need, The City of Philadelphia is in need, and the kids of Philly are most in need.  I'm asking readers of this blog to make a contribution to their summer camp fund in the hopes that we can send a kid to camp for a full day all season long.  Any amount is always appreciated, even $5 will make a difference.  
July 14, 1977 - That's me, 2nd row, on the end left - 10 years old in the Hill Top cabin 

Helping to send kids to camp is an ideal way to pay it forward.  When I was a kid, I spent three summers at "the poor kids' camp".  Two years were at a camp in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, down the road from a prison!  The camp was a girls camp, for girls from single-parent homes.  It was run by the Legionnaires, and cost families at most, $20 to send their daughters to camp for 2 weeks each summer.  We were given clothes to wear, bunks in which to sleep, blankets and all the other essentials for our camp duration.  We learned to swim, make "gimp", "god's eyes" and other crafts.  It was an okay camp, clean, with friendly staffers, but even at the age of 8 and 9, I knew that we were poor kids from broken homes.  

When I was 10, in 1977, I went to a different camp, a bigger camp for boys and girls, but still for kids from single-parent homes, who were also on the economic margin of society.  This was a much better camp, we brought our own clothes, the activities were more fun, the camping trips were elaborate, the pool was bigger and the sports program was very thorough.  I learned archery that year and shot several bulls-eyes in my early tries.  Still, my camping experience was somewhat lacking.  I didn't form that camp-bond on which so many people wax poetically.  I wasn't interested in going back to camp after that  year.  I didn't make many friends and some of the girls were really tough! I did learn to swim and I developed a love of nature, birds and the wild outdoors of Pennsylvania.  More importantly though, I did get to go to camp for three summers of my life, thanks to the donations of churches, Armed Forces Veterans and whatever other generous supporters there were back then making sure that under-privileged kids like me would have the chance to get out of the city and into the woods.  

My camp memories have lasted my entire life. Just thinking about my experience and wanting to help other kids makes me get a little weepy.  Liz just said it's because I see things with the experience of being a mom and not through the eyes of the child I was.  I guess that's true.  Another true thing is that I think it's important that kids know that there they can do more with their lives if they are given a chance.  Having a bicycle is one way to get a kid out of a neighborhood and explore the world one mile at a time.
Make a contribution to send a kid to camp, learn to fix a bike, earn a bike and learn valuable social skills.  When you make a contribution, let me know - leave a comment here, send me a message or write on The Bicycle Chef's Facebook page.  By banding together, our contributions will add up to a lot.  Thanks!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

All-American Parade


My ideal version of small town America includes a patriotic parade.  We went up to Staten Island this weekend to visit family and to partake in the annual Staten Island Memorial Day Parade.  They hold it early to capitalize on having a lot of the community of Great Kills participate in one way or another.  Plus, by holding the parade a few weeks early the township avoids conflicting with other Memorial Day festivities and saves the cost of over-time money for the police and city workers.  It's a win-win situation.

We went down to watch the kick off of the parade with not many high expectations. We figured there would be a few cars, some older armed services men and women walking along the parade route and bystanders waving flags.  We'd see some cars, a few fire trucks and hear plenty of high school marching bands.  I also thought there would be a lot of kooky photo opportunities.  Boy, was I wrong.  What I came away with was so much more than a cache of photos and a few stories.  I saw people at their best and most real.  I found pride and patriotism without the hokum and grandstanding as seen on television.  I met an  88 year old war veteran still going strong; saw youngsters giddy with their newly found civic pride - holding flags, wearing their girl scout and cub scout uniforms with pride. I witnessed a community happy to come out to celebrate together.  In short, I found my idyllic small town America.  The video above is a few of the photos I took today, set to the music of Simon and Garfunkel's song, America.  I think it captures the spirit of what I saw and felt today.  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Music and Memories

Music has the power to take me back in time, stop a moment, revive me and lift my mood.  I'm sure the same could be said about scents, tastes and sights, but for me, music is my most powerful memory enhancer.  On a recent walk home, I was listening to my favorite ipod mix of funk and disco music.  An instrumental piece of music from the soundtrack, Saturday Night Fever, came on and instantly I was a child again in 1977, watching my mom get ready to go out "clubbing."  It was Manhattan Skyline, by David Shire, (it's playing in the background of my video collage I posted above) a quintessential 1970's big orchestrated instrumental disco song.  The music is full of long violin bowing, big horns, a funky bass guitar and there is a long interlude chorus to transition the music from one mood to another.  The song builds up in repetitive crescendo, begging for a disco roller skating moment to happen.  It's a time capsule piece of music from the disco era in the same way The Hustle is - you can just see the dancers and specific steps to this music happening.  Or if you are like me, you can see John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney dancing to it in the scene where it is played in the movie.  I see my mother being happy and in her element, impeccably dressed and looking radiant and carefree.

Normally I refrain from sharing my childhood stories - they are too dark and depressing. I don't like to write about my mother; I get too angry and upset.  But this piece of music brought back happy memories for me.  I have so few memories of my mother being happy and not crazy.  The best times in my childhood and teen years generally involve parties and music.  My mother was (and probably still is) a huge clubber and dancer.  Her best times and subsequently my best times, were when she was having a successful night out at a club in Center City in the mid to late 1970's and early 1980's.  Second Story, Lickety Split, The Black Banana, Catacombs, The 2-4-7.  My mom was into the gay night club scene years before it was fashionable or normal.  Her stories were legendary about the escapades in these dens of dance and drugs.  I heard stories about the famous and semi-famous; saw photos taken by the celebrity photographers of the day, a few in which my mother was photographed.  Donna Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor, the Saturday Night Fever album (double record, with cool fold out cover) were the albums and soundtrack of my childhood.  Don't Rock the Boat, Me and Mrs. Jones, any song by Chic, are on a constant loop in my head, pulsating and playing in my mind's cassette mix tape (or better still, 8-track tape!)

My mother was her best when she was having attention lavished on her.  I think she was only truly happy when she felt pretty and svelte and had men wanting to know who she was.  She was a master of creating the allure of a 1940's femme fatale.  When I can keep my bitterness towards my  mother in check, which is rare, I describe her as a cross breed of Joan Crawford - that forward thinking, broad-shoulder-padded woman from Mildred Pierce;  add in a generous helping of Liz Taylor from Butterfield 8 with her good looks, eyebrows and too many men; top this off with a touch of Greta Garbo's mystique.  My mother was from the hippie generation yet she embraced the 1970's disco culture, glamour and style.  Those were her best years of my childhood.