The Fiction Aisle

We all have them. That place we go to feel safe or when we don’t know where else to go. That place that offers comfort on good days and bad ones. That place where we find ourselves perhaps without even thinking much about it. That place we drive to and enter its doors, as familiar and easily as though we are coming home. That place that soothes or excites our restless spirit. That place we go to when we are seeking … something.

For me, it’s the Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Oh, I like the beach as much as the next guy … feeling the sand between my toes and  gazing out at the water is glorious. But, I don’t have a beach nearby. Or forests or mountains. But, I do have a bookstore.

I actually had one in my own town, but well, that’s a long story and we won’t open up those wounds.

When I don’t know where else to go, I find myself driving to Barnes & Noble. There’s something about the feel of a book, the smell of a bookstore, and the aisles and aisles of stories waiting to be opened that beckon to me. I raised my kids there. In fact, one day when we were all sitting in the cafe enjoying some snacks, a gentleman who had seen us there a few times asked if I home schooled my kids.

As if!?!

Anyway … I still venture there with my kids. I think they feel very similar to what I feel about that place. We split up, after a stop at the cafe for treats, like oil and water, venturing down aisles we each enjoy and eventually settling into a chair with a book or a magazine that speaks to us. And we’re not alone. The bookstore is always busy.

I have special memories there. Too many to list. Many that include my kids. Others that feature blurred memories of times shared and moments past that can still bring a smile to my face.

See, I have friends there … friends who I know intimately … friends whose thoughts are open to me, not a mystery. I have met them over the years and even revisited them in many cases. Some have had great film careers. Others exist purely in my imagination, uninfluenced by the designs or direction of another mind.

I met Mr. Darcy in high school, and I shall be ever grateful to Judy Lebryk for providing that introduction. Lizzy Bennett and I found ourselves frustrated by and drawn to him. Long before Colin Firth donned a white puffy shirt and dove into a lake on the Pemberly Estate, I had found Mr. Darcy an enigma I enjoyed unraveling.

Heathcliff, that dark and dangerous cur and romantic brooder, fascinated me. Like Catherine, I roamed the moors by his side. His damaged nature drew me to him, seeking to understand and shed light on all that I didn’t understand. The way his tale was told … his deep, profound love — or obsession — with Catherine and his so very dark nature kept me coming back to Wuthering Heights over and over again.

Maxim de Winter and Mr. Rochester both intrigue me. I guess I’m drawn to gothic, romantic tales and figures, complex and layered.

My friends at Barnes & Noble include detectives like Hercule Poirot, though I have to say Lady Darby & Sebastian Gage, Lady Julia & Brisbane and Veronica Stockwell & Stoker offer me many adventures. Jamie & Claire Fraser and their time-bridging love story is a notable repeat visit for me — eight books read and re-read so far at least twice each. I’ve been to Shannara and back and spent quality time with vampires and witches — the Cullen Family as well as Matthew Clairemont. And I’ve met Christian Grey as well.

Jay Gatsby will always hold a place in my heart. I revel in Secret and Forgotten gardens. And must admit that Mac, Barrons, the MacKelter clan along with their Fae friends have spent many hours by my side. I’ve had one-night stands with simpler tales that avoid a sequel (thank you!) and tell all in 300 pages. I’ve taken a spin on the Wheel of Time until I finally jumped off, dizzy from the turns.

I could go on and on about the friends I meet in the hallowed halls of Barnes & Noble. Kisses in the fiction aisle that I’ll never forget. Magic once known only at Hogwarts that has touched me deeply and taken me places I’d never anticipated.

“When I’m down and troubled, and I need some loving care … when nothing, nothing is going right,” I close my eyes and find myself there. Carole King’s words connect me with new friends and old … I’ve Got A Friend in the written word. They dry my tears, make me laugh, inviting me to encounter new adventures and dream new dreams.

Dr. Seuss perhaps phrased it best …. “Oh the places you’ll go.” Well, dear Barnes & Noble, dear friends on pages and of flesh, thank you for all the passion, joy, laughter, mystery, adventure, romance, tears and endearments we have shared together.

Stop by. Grab a friend to take to the beach … Barnes & Noble beats a singles bar! Within its walls, you can get fixed up with whoever and whatever you are looking for …

                                                                             — Jenni

 

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Because It’s Wednesday

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m wearing a new dress — something fun and flirty, something different.

Because it’s Wednesday, I put on lipstick — one of my favorite MAC shades, Rebel.

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m wearing gold liner on my top lashes and extra mascara.

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m going to meet my BFF for one Dance Mom’s Drink, wrapping up the Dance Year with our favorite bartender Jasmine. And, because it’s Wednesday, I will text another friend — just to say Hi and check in. Because that’s what friends do.

Because it’s Wednesday, I reject casual intimacy in favor of loving and experiencing unlimitedly — Because it’s Wednesday, I’m making up a word.

Because it’s Wednesday, I am wearing something sparkly and something lacey. And because it’s Wednesday, I’m not telling more 🙂

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m wearing Paris AND my Open Heart Angel — silver and gold on my neck — and assortment of Alex & Ani silver and gold on my wrists.

Because it’s Wednesday, I will forgive someone and look beyond perceived slights. I will be Kind.

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m wearing my Kindness MudLove Bracelet.

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m not going to worry about being thin. I’m going to eat that Red Velvet Cupcake with the White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and enjoy every bite.

Because it’s Wednesday, I will write a letter or send a text to someone I care for. I will snuggle my cat and just enjoy hanging out with my family. I will sweep up the hair (my hair) on the bathroom floor, which I know irks my husband, and wash the dishes after dinner — my least favorite household task. I will give hugs and support. I will look beyond myself to the world around me. I will accept the things I cannot change and seek serenity.

And, because it’s Wednesday, I will go outside to my Patio Sanctuary later tonight when it gets dark, sitting under dancing fairy lights and counting my many blessings.

Tomorrow will be Thursday.

I don’t know what Thursday brings. Tuesday was pretty terrible. Monday had some icky moments too. But today is Wednesday, and I’m not waiting to wear a new dress or spend time with the people I care about. I’m not waiting to forgive or love or smile at a stranger — at someone who just may need my smile even though they don’t know me.

I don’t need to shop or seek outside myself to make Wednesday a stunning day. I don’t need to fall into regret or find problems. There comes a time in your life when you need to look past “drama” and surround yourself with joy — with people and adventures and moments that lift you up. There comes a time when you learn to let go of the things that drag you down and rejoice in the times and with the people who add color and laughter and revelry to dull and special moments alike.

Life is too short to wait for Friday at 5pm to find your Happy.

I glance around at the people who pull out their phones to check a text or message, missing the life before them. Because it’s Wednesday, I will be present.

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m going to do those things on my list that I procrastinate doing — the things I put off or create excuses not to do.

Because it’s Wednesday, I’m not going to waste time on regret or save something for later. I’m going to drink from a crystal Tiffany mug or a rose-shaped glass. I’m going to seize the day …

It’s Wednesday … what are you going to do today?

— Jenni

What’s Next?

Did you know trees never stop growing? Though you can’t see them changing, it’s happening all the time. They grow taller … they grow wider … they require nourishment and care … they lose bark …

Trees are a lot like people.

The other evening, I sat across from a friend, beer in hand, and he asked me what I view as a very profound, serious question: “What’s next for Jenni Clark?”

See, I’m a goal oriented, organized, forward-looking person. I like to have hopes, projects, goals and direction — something I’m planning or aspiring to do or see or audition for or change or accomplish — in my sights. I’m a list maker who still carries a Franklin Planner. And, I like to see down the road. I’m the girl with the plan.

Sound familiar?

But, right now, I’m stymied. What IS next for Jenni Clark? Where am I going? What show will I audition for next season? What new project will I begin? What blog will I write? Where will this year’s vacation take me? Who in my circle will stick around and who will go? What needs to change and what should be left alone?

This question has been on my mind a lot at this time in my life, and it’s unsettling. I’m a relatively happy person, I’d say. I enjoy life — my life — and learning and growing. I’m authentic and genuine and comfortable in my own skin. I choose to see the good around me, selecting kindness and compassion over judgement and fault-finding. I opt for joy over arguments, and enjoy in-depth conversations and laughter over coffee, tea or a good beer and other fun beverages. I embrace life — and those I care for — with two hands and live richly.

I like to explore and discover, try new things and even get messy at times. I may look all girly but I’m wild, unpredictable and adventurous too. There’s so much I want to partake in … to experience. I’m a doer. I like to be busy. And I get restless. And, if people are like trees, then I’m a Sycamore Tree.

There was this tree in my grandparents town: Martinsville, Indiana. It was an enormous Sycamore Tree on a sidestreet near the downtown. Seriously, it was huge. The root system may not reach as far as China, but it must go deep. I was always fascinated by that tree. So strong. So solitary there in the square. So majestic and alive.

What’s notable about Sycamore Trees — and I’m pretty sure I repeat this to my kids every time I see one — is their bark. See, a Sycamore Tree has really thick bark. But, as it ages and grows, the bark falls off, leaving this mottled white/grey soft skin-like bark in its place.

It’s messy and imperfect … and it’s beautiful.

A Sycamore Tree keeps growing, keeps changing. It’s been thru stuff and sheds its bark. It’s like how humans rid themselves of things or people that we don’t need or that no longer serve us or have moved out of our life. Like a Sycamore Tree, we rid ourselves of “stuff” and shed the pain associated with it. Yet, even without that protective bark, the Sycamore Tree keeps growing. And its rich green leaves are beautiful, whether it has that thick bark or a mottled grey exterior — or even a few wrinkles (aka laugh/smile lines), a thicker waist and a couple super, super ash blonde hairs …

Just like us.

When you look at a Sycamore Tree, you can tell that it has lived a great life … and that no matter how old it might be — and you really can’t tell that anyway, it’s still growing.

So, What’s Next for Jenni Clark? I don’t know. Maybe it’s this … a little simpler, quieter time. Maybe it’s focusing on being a mom, hanging out with my kids or going out to hear a band with my husband. Maybe it’s reading a book in the sunshine or another Barre3 or yoga workout. Maybe hanging out with my cat — my fellow early riser who wakes me every morning — is cool for now. Maybe King Lear and Shakespeare Royal Oak with my son and Confirmation and Lindsey Stirling with my daughter are what’s right for this time. Maybe a new knitting project, time cleaning my house and a new playlist are what I need. Maybe dance-mom drinks at Cantina Diablo, an unexpected invitation to a play, and time comfortably spent with a girlfriend and her cats are what’s best. Maybe it’s not a calendar filled with rehearsals or things to go to/do but rather a spacious time to grow and experience something I don’t even see coming yet.

Trees never stop growing. And like that tree in Martinsville, I have lost some bark and been through some stuff. I’ve shed things that don’t serve me and nourished myself with people and moments that help me grow stronger. Like that tree, I’ve weathered storms and raised my arms on beautiful sunny days, reveling in the light.

I’m the Sycamore Tree that’s still growing. And whatever comes next, I’ll meet with my feet deep in the dirt — I’m messy like that. I like surprises. It’s okay not to see too far beyond the horizon — even for a Type A planner. I’m just going to stay present and await whatever adventure the “What’s Next” brings … or takes me on.

I’m not done yet, that’s for sure. I’m still growing, learning, and discovering.

What about you? If you were a tree, what kind would you be? Think about it …

                                                                                                          — Jenni

sycamore2

 

One Small Change

My niece started visiting colleges this past week. Abby is a well-rounded high school junior with a high GPA from an excellent, challenging school system. An asset to any college lucky enough to get her (Yes, I’m completely unbiased!), she has an impressive and diverse list of extracurricular activities that includes music/choral performance in a tough music program and editor-in-chief of the high school’s award-winning yearbook. She’s just not sure of her career direction yet which makes determining the colleges to visit a bit more difficult. Her first visit included Vanderbilt … a college with Ivy League aspirations as well as a 9% acceptance rate, gorgeous campus in a much warmer climate, the potential for highly engaging, challenging classes and an annual tuition around 60K.

The college/university search process is not an easy one. My son went through this not so long ago.  The biggest difference between the cousins is that Jarod KNEW that he wanted to study film since he was 10 years old. His career goal had been defined, so he embarked on a more direct approach to identify the post-high school educational location that would best support his aspirations as well as the environment he could thrive in. Determining business and film was the goal, he made his choice. And he never looked back.

It’s interesting. The thought process and criteria that become important in selecting the university — or program — that takes you to the next level. And, as I listened to Abby describe her trip, I couldn’t help but think back to my own choice and wonder.

What IF I had chosen differently? What would that one small change have meant for my life today?

I think back to 17 year old me … I recall that girl very vividly. Prior to the summer of my college visits, I’d been pretty certain I would attend Indiana University and study theatre. I’d grown up visiting the campus. It was my parents’ Alma Mater. And, the theatre program was exceptional.

But the guidance counselor at the school where my mom taught suggested I consider some smaller schools. He thought maybe small town me might be better suited to a smaller campus.  That instead of getting lost in the crowd, a smaller school might help me stand out and experience opportunities a large school might not accommodate. And, at 17 despite my growing independence, I was influenced and curious about his suggestion.

I visited several campuses, including DePauw University — which I decided was too Greek too fast for me since I didn’t want to decide my friends and lifestyle before I knew anyone during the first week of school  — and Kalamazoo College — which I very, very quickly determined had too rigid a curriculum calendar for me. I visited Bradley and met two great friends while I was there. We hung out the whole time. My parents loved it but I left and didn’t look back … Can’t remember what turned me off there but I knew it wasn’t the right fit.

I visited Butler University. It was the top contender in my mind. Butler was just outside the up-and-coming city of Indianapolis. I’d visited Indy a lot, what with my grandparents living there. I’d been very interested in Butler’s programs … access to a big town would have been a bonus. But … it poured down rain during my visit and the campus seemed dated, drippy and tired. Bottom line, I didn’t find what I thought I would.

Next came Albion College. Albion reminded me of William & Mary in Williamsburg, a gorgeous old campus filled with history. Lots of old buildings, a beautiful quad, a Greek system that began second semester and did not require its members to live in the sorority houses, and a strong theatre program.

See, I’d wanted to study theatre … I’d auditioned for scholarships at the International Thespian Society and received several great offers, but none from any nearby universities. And I had just enough doubt to hold me back … to suggest I should choose a safer path where theatre was a sideline vs. a focus. And, Albion College offered accessibility to all the opportunities and programs I wanted — plus, it was far enough from my hometown to help me exert my independence.

lifeThere was something else, if I’m honest. Something that sticks in my mind. The final stop in our tour was the Methodist Church, located centrally on campus. Up in the front was a beautiful large wooden cross suspended from the ceiling … reminding me of one of my favorite hymns. The day I visited that campus was beautiful … the sky radiant and the temperature perfect. The stars seemed to align. And the rest, I guess, is pretty much history.

My education and experience at Albion College were excellent. I made wonderful friends. I performed in numerous theatre productions with leading roles. I joined a sorority and held an office every year. I worked as a tour guide and Residential Assistant. As an out-of-state student, Albion sort of pursued me. I received a great scholarship. And, I made the most of every moment, even though I didn’t get to every football game as I’d planned. I took an off-campus semester in Philadelphia. I truly thrived during my time there.

Albion gave me the college experience I wanted, despite the fact that it was located in a nothing town. Somehow — even before the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — when the first Mac was only just released, I didn’t get bored. I was challenged, and I had fun. I graduated top of my class and made the most of everything I could.

Yet, I still wonder …

Albion was — still is — a liberal arts college. I had my eye on Communications and sort of stumbled into an English Major as well. I loved pretty much all of my Communications and English classes and the professors. But, when it came to finding that elusive career after graduation, I struggled. Career placement wasn’t Albion’s strongest feature at the time in the field I had chosen. Oh, I found my footing eventually, but it wasn’t easy.

I wonder …

If it hadn’t been raining, what might Butler and the thriving town of Indianapolis have offered me? What might I have discovered in those hallowed halls? Did I shut the door too quickly? Did I thwart destiny or make the wrong choice?

As I listen to Abby talk about Ball State — one of her other campus visits — and the fact that she didn’t think there would be enough to do there, and as I listed to Jarod tell me how he’s considering an apartment next semester since the dorm food and hours don’t always accommodate his schedule, I wonder … Is it different now? The college experience I wished for my son … that I hope for Abby, is it “out of date?”  What teenagers want and seek now seems so out of sync with what I wanted and what I found. I’m learning that “the college experience” is different for everyone — each of us seek something very personal. Each of us find something unique.

Albion had The Keller, where I studied and hung out with friends eating fries and chicken strips. Now it has a Taco Bell and fancy, updated buildings. It’s not the college I knew. It would not be the college I chose today …

So I wonder. What would that One Small Change have done? How would my life and its course have altered? Did I make a tactical error? Was the college experience I found the best I could have had? Did I give up on my dream too quickly?

My son is set to graduate in three years — he says he doesn’t need or want the fourth. Abby is focused on four years somewhere, followed by Grad School — doing what, she’s not yet sure but she’ll figure that out. Times and the selection criteria are different. But the discovery and growth that comes from “the college experience” are mind-blowing. They changed me … they shaped me. However you chose to live it, you leave different from how you arrive. I can see my son growing and changing … it’s fascinating, being on the other side and watching it happen.

How might I be different with four years at Butler?  One Small Change in my path. One giant shake-up in my now?

As I listen to Abby, I can’t help but wonder. So, if she asked me, I’d say … It’s a giant decision. Don’t base it on the weather. Base it on how a school might help you, guide you and support you as you shape your dreams and your future.  Explore … discover … take your time.

Most importantly, I’d ask her: What do YOU want from your post high school experience? Chase the school that offers that — whatever it is. It’s okay if you don’t know everything right now. You fall through a few rabbit holes on your way to Wonderland. But once there, dig in. Embrace what the college has to offer. This choice, the friendships and the experiences you have there will impact the rest of your life.

No pressure … It’s an exciting time. I’ll always be here to support you and promise to send you cookies. Good luck.

                                                                                                                       — Aunt Jenni

 

 

I Stand with the Students

Today, for the first time — inspired by my daughter, I exercised my First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. #IStandWithTheStudents

Today, I gathered around the flagpole at my daughter’s middle school, with other parents and students, to take a stand against gun violence. As I stood there silently in the cold for 17 minutes and listened to students read the names of those who senselessly lost their lives in Parkland, Florida, I was moved to tears. And I am unashamed to state aloud that I would like my government to reconsider its stance on guns in this country.

My daughter was part of today’s protest. She is the one who mentioned it to me. But she was not outside with me as our school district did not support the idea of students leaving the school during the day. They want to keep our kids safe. And I respect their stance.

But, my daughter has a right to make a statement … to protest … to take a stand. Her voice is as important as any other in inspiring change. So, we found an option to keep her safe, to honor the school’s rules AND to give her a voice.

Students who wished to participate stood up quietly, left their classrooms peacefully, and were directed by staff in the hallways to gather together in the auditorium. They didn’t make a lot of noise. It was a reflective moment. They were reminded before they left their class that they were safe in their room. But they were not prevented from participating in this nationwide protest.

Oh, it wasn’t encouraged, promoted or even well known. The email from our superintendent was murky at best. But Paige felt strongly. So, I reached out to the principal for clarification and then offered her the option to assemble — if she so chose — while still respecting the school and its policies.

So Paige joined the protest and took a stand against gun violence without disrupting the school’s educational focus.  And I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Today her text to me was powerful — I like to think the Founding Fathers would nod their heads in approval.

text

Before today, I’ve never been part of an assembly like this. I’ve never done what my daughter chose to do. I’ve never gathered around a flagpole or taken this kind of stance. I’ve never marched in a protest. But today, I chose to stand against the violence in our schools — violence brought on by careless leniency in gun regulations and the too easy accessibility of assault weapons in this country.

I stand against gun violence. I have no issues with those of you who like their guns. Rifles for hunters or handguns for home protection are fine by me.

But when the 2nd Amendment was crafted, our Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the “arms” our country could create — or that these arms would be used in random acts of violence such as are happening in our schools.  Semi-automatic weapons — weapons that should be in the hands solely of our military — those do not need to find their way into the hands of troubled teens or dysfunctional adults. Something must change.

We said that after Columbine. And we say it again today.

Access to weapons of this magnitude — the ones killing our students — must stop. I don’t personally see how that could infringe on the rights of people to keep and bear arms. I don’t believe our Founding Fathers would have written this amendment to allow the types of weapons causing the problems in our country today.

Oh I know. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But, if access was better regulated and laws adhered to and respected, I still don’t believe the weapons in question belong in anyone’s hands but “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State.”

I know. I’m naive. I don’t grasp all the large scale issues surrounding this touchy subject. But, I know that something is wrong when 17 kids die at a school as a result of a 19-year-old with a grudge finding easy access to an assault-style weapon.

So, I Stand With The Students. Enough is enough. How long will it take? Perhaps the answer is around the flagpole or in the gathering place with our students. They’ve had enough.

Perhaps true change comes with their generation.

I can only hope …

                                                                   — Jenni

Make Me a Mixed Tape

It’s March, that month that comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. A crazy snowfall arrived here March 1, messy yet lovely. Now it’s gone but the brown grass outside my window features spotty clumps of a snow-like substance.

March is always a difficult month for me personally. It’s the month between Winter and Spring where the hobbies and activities of the cold months lose their lustre. It’s the month I find myself restless and lacking focus, looking around as though gazing through a tunnel, not sure what’s ahead or what I want or what I want to do.

Ever since I can remember, music has been a source of happiness, peace, joy and excitement for me. Music speaks to me. It calms my spirit, revs me up, motivates me, and even directs my energy. I select certain tunes and think of people when I hear a specific songs. As I sang on stage a time or two, “My heart will be blessed with the sound of music.”Well, my heart is blessed by music. But, during March, suddenly I find the music that typically calmed, brought happiness or inspired me doesn’t resonate as it once did.

In my younger days, I recall fondly making “mixed tapes.” Pardon me while I date myself, but there was something about selecting the music from one tape and transferring it with the push of a few crazy buttons to record on the second tape. I had several favorites. I played these tapes until they ran thin, or broke.

The mixed tape creation practice was methodical and fun for me. I would painstakingly select songs that I enjoyed — songs that I wanted to share with a friend or songs that held a special meaning or songs that offered a particular message — and gather a stack of tapes to help me create that one Mixed Tape. The first song to play was always key … and then the final song anchored the message. Because, for me, music has always held meaning and power. And creating a mixed tape was like writing a poem for someone I cared enough for to invest this crazy amount of time and effort.

The challenge with the Mixed Tape was timing … I mean, you had to get it right or the tape would cut off a song or end too abruptly. I recall starting over more than once to get that timing right.

The days of the Mixed Tape are long gone. Cars no long hold tape decks and if you can find a stereo system that has one — or a tape to tape “boom box” — you’d be hard pressed to actually find a tape to put inside. Oh, I have one — a blank tape. A friend of mine found one in his possession a few years ago. And I keep it in a special box … you know, the box that stores treasures only you truly understand.

Anyway, now we make “Playlists” and have iTunes and Spotify. Well, I have iTunes. My son uses Spotify. I follow him — that’s what we do nowadays and it’s not creepy or stalker-esque — to see what kind of music he listens to and to find new songs that speak to me or that I might enjoy as well. He makes lots of Playlists … playlists for Vacation driving or specific people, playlists for the month or to study by. So, the tradition of the Mixed Tape carries on to the next generation, just in an updated format.

Here I am in March, typing this blog, and listening to Spotify on my phone. I don’t have a membership. I purchase all my music through iTunes since the thought of renting music through Spotify and losing it should I end my membership or Spotify fade away into the darkness prevents me from making that transition, despite my son’s advocacy for that program. Anyway, I can listen free on my phone or computer. I just can’t control what I hear when I’m listening from my phone.

But that’s okay … that’s what I’m seeking. Something I haven’t heard. Something new to me. Something that speaks to me and makes my spirit soar or explore or leap up to dance. So when I selected Billy Joel’s “Fantasies & Delusions” album on Spotify, I find myself hearing random Billy Joel music I hadn’t heard before. And it delights me.

So, help delight my spirit … help me find new songs to entice, entertain, intrigue and lead me through March and on. Make me a Mixed Tape — or a playlist. Burn it to a CD. Or share it on Spotify. Oh, I have a few Mixed CDs, including a selection of 6 CDs my brother painstakingly created with all the music played during each season of Lost, a CD of Bathtub Tunes from my daughter to relax to and a CD gift from a friend that features music with songs that bring a smile to my face every time I play it. The power of Music and the message if offers is very personal and very profound.

Heck … make a copy for yourself too. Discover that transformative ability of music!

Abraham Lincoln once said: My Best Friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”

Well, I’d take a suggestion there too! I’d love a new book to read and always treasure recommendations. Books have the ability to offer great adventures and transport the spirit as well.

But, for now, guide me to some new music to delight my heart and help my spirit dance, soar and explore. To offer wonder and tease my curious side.

Make me a Mixed Tape, a CD or a Playlist and share it with me. Or help me find songs from your own favorites, so I can create one of my own! It has power, music. Over the ages, people agree about that …

Poet Henry W. Longfellow wrote: “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Hans Christian Andersen said:  “Where words fail, music speaks.”

And Johnny Depp once stated: “Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.”

Well, I’m not going to argue with Cap’n Jack Sparrow. So, help me find a musical treasure to take me on a new adventure and make exciting discoveries …

Savvy?

– Jenni 

My Own Worst Enemy

I enjoy watching the Winter Olympics. Something about the white backdrop, I guess, and the sports that this season’s competition highlights. Maintaining strength, composure, power and grace against the slippery nature of snow and ice is compelling to me.

Mostly, though, I like to watch the Skating.

Over the past few years, as my regular Corner readers know, I’ve come to enjoy skating and spending time on the ice. So this year, as I watch the athletes perform on that glassy surface, I truly, truly appreciate their strength and ability. I mean, I’m just content to skate around in a circle at a steady speed and not fall down. The idea of the speed they move and how they maintain composure and balance as they leap and spin once, let along three or four times, is mind-blowing. The thought of skating alongside a partner, jumping into their arms and trusting them to toss me about … all I can say is WOW and BRAVO! Ice skaters are brave and beautiful.

My issue about this event — and many sporting events to be honest — is the Commentary. I just want to watch them skate. I don’t need to hear the accompanying critique about their “incomplete rotation.” Obviously, I can see a fall when it happens so I don’t need to hear about that fall obliterating their medal chance. I don’t require some “expert” to tell me about deductions and jump height. Every time someone ventures out on the ice — or up a snowy hill — I hope for a clean, flawless performance — their best performance. When they fall doing a trick or spin they’ve probably done hundreds of times without error, my heart aches for them. But, falls and mistakes and under-rotations happen … on the slopes and on the ice. I could really do without the endless critique against the music and pretty scenery.

I could mute the sound, I suppose. But I like the music and the cut the skates or skis make when they meet ice and snow. That’s a strangely peaceful sound to me.

Anyway, Shut Up! Let me watch and enjoy.  Stop criticizing, pointing out flaws and imperfections. Stop analyzing or commenting on every move these individuals make.

But wait. Don’t we do that to ourselves? Think about this for a moment, how many conversations do you have with your Inner Voice? And … how many of those conversations involve your Inner Voice telling you all about what you’ve done wrong? What you’ve said wrong? How many of these conversations involve your Inner Voice identifying and brow-beating you about some flaw or mistake or choice or decision? And how often do you allow these comments to get to you?

Imagine for a moment your Inner Voice — that chatty commentator — sitting across from you at your favorite Coffee Shop. Create an image, body and tone for your Inner Voice. Can you see it sitting there? Do you hear it talking to you? Is it a kind, supportive voice? Or, is it hassling you? Be honest. Would you really be friends with this person? Would you even permit her (or him) to come in the door? What conversations do you have? Is your Inner Voice a Cheerleader or an Olympic Commentator?

My Inner Voice has a lot to say. I hear about how I could stand to lose a few pounds. How I shouldn’t have eaten or drunk that. My Inner Voice tells me I lack talent when I don’t get a role at an audition. She tells me how an outfit makes me look fat. She is a conveyor belt delivering criticism and reminding me of my flaws, unwise decisions and weaknesses. Oh it’s all her opinion but she has no problem sharing it. When I make a mistake on stage or in dealing with a situation, my Inner Voice tells me over and over what I should have done. She’s kind of repetitive and corners me when I’m vulnerable. My Inner Voice is a know it all … she’s relentless and she insists she knows what is best.

And I listen to her!

Heck, during a yoga session when I’m focused, calm and peaceful, my Inner Voice breaches the quiet to criticize me when I fall out of a pose or can’t balance on one leg for 3 minutes … as if she could do any better. Well, she tells me she could … duh.

My Inner Voice has something to say when I pay bills or balance the checkbook. Shouldn’t have bought that, she says. Did you really need that sweater? I mean, instead of a manicure or an updated kitchen you could have saved that money or spent it more practically. Oh, how I could improve or simplify my life if I’d just listen to her.

My Inner Voice questions the way I deal with my kids and interact with my friends. Shouldn’t have said that. Shouldn’t have gone there. Shouldn’t have mentioned that. Shouldn’t have made that choice or decision. Why did you do that? Shouldn’t have worn that. You’re weak for allowing that. You’re a fool for believing that nonsense. She debates my choices and my decisions. She challenges me at every turn.

Okay … my Inner Voice is kind of a bitch.

She’s my own personal commentator pointing out my Falls and Under-rotations. She analyzes and analyzes my choices (be they good or poor ones) and questions me at every turn. She is My Own Worst Enemy.

I try to mute her. I just want the nice music as I skate along. I just want to Roll with It, Baby, Breathe and Let It Go. I want to find my inner Angel and celebrate all that I am. I really try not to let her or her opinionated, know-it-all, critical voice dominate me. I often send her to her room and work on finding ways to shut her away. But, she finds a key and a way back somehow and reminds me of my imperfections, challenging me when I’m vulnerable. At times I feel strong enough to ignore her. It’s something I’m working on. My journal helps … a daily dialogue to get those doubts and negative thoughts out of my head.

We all have our very own commentator inside us — our own worst enemy. And, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t be friends with someone who talks to me and criticizes me and debases me the way she does. I wouldn’t meet her for coffee. Heck, I’d unfriend her and block her.

So, each day, I seek to celebrate what I do well. I offer my best and try to silence the whisperings that want to undermine me. I may fall on the ice. But, I remember I’m human, that I’m offering up my best, and that every fall gives me a chance to learn something …

And to get back up and try again.

                                                                                                             — Jenni

The Greatest Showman IS The Greatest Show …

The Greatest Showman is a perfect film.

Yeah, I know it may not be historically accurate to the true-life story of the legendary P.T. Barnum. But it doesn’t claim to be anything but what it is … a movie. There’s no “based on a true story” at the beginning of the film. And come on, The Perfect Storm made this claim years ago … a true story? Seriously? With no one living to tell the tale? Please.

In a world that spends too much of its time focusing on the negative, The Greatest Showman is Hope. It’s Joy. It celebrates Uniqueness and welcomes the Outcast to the big screen. It’s Kindness. It smears the line when Racism divides. It admits Mistakes and offers Forgiveness. It Dreams. And it does so in Technicolor with an infectious musical score that I bought on iTunes only moments after returning home from the film … and my daughter and I play constantly.

The Greatest Showman is a phenomenon, drawing more people to the theaters weeks after its initial debut than during its initial release. And why is that? Because in a world where drama, dissatisfaction and intolerance seems to abide, people want to remember there is Joy, Hope, Forgiveness, Kindness and Acceptance. They want to know that despite their scars, darkness, mistakes and individuality, they are still welcome … that the world will not stifle what they have to offer.

Many years ago, my family took a summer vacation to Washington DC. We did all the “standard” stuff, touring the Smithsonian, monuments and historical sites. Then, one day, we decided to visit The Kennedy Center. During our tour, we were admitted to take a look at the revered Lincoln Theatre. And what met our eyes was truly miraculous.

The entire theatre looked like a circus. The stage glittered with color, decorated in the grand style of all things spectacular — including a tightrope, a unicycle and a high-flying dangling trapeze. The tour guide explained to us that the musical Barnum, starring Stacy Keach, was performing that evening. My dad didn’t hesitate. He headed to the box office to purchase tickets for the show immediately.

I was in junior high at the time, but there are many things I recall about that evening. I remember walking in to The Kennedy Center and feeling as though I had entered a carnival. Magicians, fire eaters, jugglers, clowns, balloon artists, and tumblers surrounded us, dressed in red and gold and all the magical colors of the rainbow. My brother and I was mesmerized. Quickly, he was collected by a magician to assist with a trick … you know the one. They have rainbow colored streamers in their mouth and you help pull it out … and out and out and out. Jeff pulled and pulled and pulled, fascinated. And I giggled beside him.

Soon, he wore a balloon hat. It looked fabulous with his blue leisure suit. I have a photo of him in that hat, holding a Barnum banner — a banner that hung in his room for many a year. I have a framed poster of the musical on my wall. The production was magical. The prince of humbug, PT Barnum, reminded us that there’s a sucker born every minute … that we crave surprise and magic … that we long for bright colors and production numbers to brighten our days. He walked a tightrope. He sang. He juggled. And he sported that Red Coat with the gold trim and a top hat.

Now, it’s been a long time since I saw that production. But the memory of that darkened theatre and all the pageantry that arose once the lights came up is as vibrant as ever.

Hugh Jackman fought for The Greatest Showman for seven years. He fought to bring a musical to the large screen. He fought to bring the colors and message of this story to an audience. He recognized that The Greatest Showman belonged on the big screen … that it is just the kind of movie and story that our world needs.

The-Greatest-Showman-92b5014And that’s the key. The colors, the uniqueness, the oddness, the strangeness, the scariness of following a dream and daring to believe that you will be welcomed — or at least accepted — by others resonates with each of us no matter who we are. The PT Barnum of The Greatest Showman embraces individuals prone to hide in the darkness and invites them to a place in the center ring. A showman who brings razzle dazzle to the outcasts — and his audience — and reminds us all they we can be celebrated for just who we are. No more hiding in the shadows.

And just when all is going well, Barnum gets caught up.  A cavity in his soul opens and he loses site of his intention, his dream and his true friends in an effort to win approval. The vulnerability of a poor man’s son who was never good enough in the eyes of the world (or his father-in-law) takes the stage, and Barnum looks outside for validation.

See, Barnum was an outcast too. And he longed for the acceptance of those who thought him unworthy. And in this quest, he loses site of what is truly important. He abandons his friends to “Get in” with the very people who cut him down to dust. Yet when everything comes apart at the seams, he realizes that it was these outcasts he brought together who were truly more important to him. This family he brought together was true and real. He realized that he had been chasing the wrong thing. And that only by accepting and loving himself as he was could he find that missing piece of his own puzzle.

He comes back. He admits his mistakes. He owns his poor choices. And, he is forgiven and offered another chance. And together, this band of outcasts creates The Greatest Show on Earth.

So, no matter the critics arguments that PT Barnum was no Hugh Jackman … I mean, who is? Jackman’s PT Barnum is the conveyor of dreams. He offers us a marvelous spectacle AND acceptance in a time where many of us are still prone to hide our own imperfections from the light of day. He invites the outcast we hide inside to come into the light. He celebrates our uniqueness and reminds us that though there will always be those who fight and flee from things “different,” there are so many others who find true joy in our world’s amazing carnival.

Each of us has our little oddities and idiosyncrasies that we hide in the darkness. The Greatest Showman reminds us all to honor, accept and celebrate our own glorious individuality. No, I may not be a bearded lady who hides behind a screen when she sings. Nor am I a pink-wigged trapeze artist fighting prejudice because of my color. But, I have my own bruises, scars and quirky uniqueness.

Hugh Jackman’s PT Barnum reminds us that we are Glorious … that it takes all kinds and colors to Rewrite the Stars. That we’re all walking a Tightrope with A Million Dreams. And that This is Me … and I’m good with that.

The Greatest Showman can change your life. Let it …

                                                                                                                 — Jenni

The Rest of the Story

Well, it’s back. I’ve embarked on the #ClassicsChallenge2018 with a few friends and my brother along for the ride. All are welcome! The January assignment was Mystery/Suspense. In February, with Oscar Nominations top of mind, we’ll read a Book turned into a Movie. But for now, let’s talk Mystery.

During my Tween to Teen transition, I adored a good mystery. After all, I’d begun my exposure with The Bobbsey Twins and moved on to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. But, after a while, I craved a little something more … grown up.

Enter the works of Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt. These were atmospheric tales of adventure and suspense, blended with Gothic tones, angst-ridden heroines and handsome, dashing men with names like Evan, Giles, Joss and Brandon. And they fascinated my younger, romantic self. Each book was set in some exotic or enticing location, too, adding to their attraction for a teenager living in Northern Indiana.

So, when it came time to select a Classic Mystery, what better than to pull out Phyllis A. Whitney’s Lost Island.” Yes, I did read it before. But it was … er … um … well at least 35 or so years ago. The publish date of 1970 makes it just shy of our group’s Classic status of 50 years old. But, a friend had given me a First Edition copy for Christmas, so I threw caution to the wind, grabbed a cup of tea and a cozy blanket, and settled on the couch with my #ClassicsChallenge2018 mystery.

Lost Island is set on a remote, apparently privately owned island off the coast of Georgia. And Whitney’s excellent use of imagery and description invites you to smell the sea air and feel the sand on your toes. Like Daphne du Maurier — who probably inspired Whitney, Holt and others of the time — the descriptions are often a bit over the top, There are some dated character descriptions and references  — not just ones found in gabardine pants or windbreakers. And, Lacey — our heroine for this novel — is a bit of a drama queen and always gazing off into the horizon. (Probably why I related to her and loved her so much in my Teen days!)

Quick plot summary (Caution for Spoilers). Lacey spent summers raised on her family-owned Hampton Island.  Her mom had run away from said island years before but her silhouette seems to throw a shadow over the island —  even though she married, moved to New York and has since passed away. Yet Lacey was always drawn back to Hampton Island … very clearly it was the handsome Giles Severn that was the attraction. But her cousin Elise was ever the rival.

But Elise is a head-strong girl and leaves the island to sow her wild oats before her eventual, expected settling down as mistress of the island named for her family, leaving Lacey and Giles to …. (you know this …) fall in love. Lacey of course gets pregnant. Elise returns to discover her destined husband — Giles — didn’t wait or pine for her. In fact, he’s no longer in love with her at all. She manipulates everyone, driving a wedge between Lacey and Giles, until Lacey runs away. Once Lacey is out of the way — as always expected — Giles and Elise get engaged. But … remember … Lacey is pregnant!

Elise and her mother, Lacey’s Aunt Amalie (see, everyone in these books has a unique name!) convince Lacey to give up the child and form a plan to make it seem that Elise, who has recently married Giles but is unable to bear children, is the baby’s mother. And, that’s where the story technically begins … 10 years later, Lacey is invited to visit the island by Elise, spends time with Giles — and her son Richard — and realizes what a devastating mistake she made all those years before.

Enter the mystery and suspense. There are attempts to scare her away, by someone. There are even attempts on her life. And as the dire nature of the “relationship” between Giles and Elise become apparent, Lacey’s feelings rev up and rekindle the romance and the love she denied for all these years. Eventually, as in all Whitney/Holt mysteries, someone dies. The story has many twists and turns before reaching the denouement. And the ending is a surprise.

I enjoy the atmospheric, melodramatic feel of these books. And I enjoyed Lost Island. The book — and others I read by the same author — sparked and continue to spark my creative energy and imagination. As a teen, I always imagined myself in the heroine’s place. I wanted to change my name to Lacey or Lyndall or Courtney or Skye. Something more unique and romantic than “Jennifer.”

But the books always seemed to end rather abruptly and I found myself curious as to the rest of the story. What happened to Lacey and Giles after the final page turn? To Courtney and Evan in The Golden Unicorn? (my FAVORITE Whitney novel) Heck, when I read du Maurier’s Rebecca, I wanted to know what happened to Maxim and the unnamed only known as Mrs. de Winter after the burning of Manderley.

I do that now, too … When endings come or people move on, out of my life or away, I wonder … what is the rest of their story? What happened after they walked out of my “movie?” What happened after goodbye or the burning of Manderley? What’s in the next chapter after they turn, walk off into the sunset or drive away? It’s not as though their lives stop after they leave my scene. What secrets don’t I know? What subtext did I miss? What happens next? What IS the rest of the story?

I’m curious that way. And I guess that’s why these Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries appealed to me as a teen and continue to appeal to me now. Exotic, romantic places and people fascinate me. Incomplete tales are so real. And though the pages of a book tell me what’s going on, when I close the book, I know there’s always more to the story.

Life is full of mystery and suspense … surprises and fascinating people. I don’t need Whitney or Holt or even Dan Brown to show me that. I just keep turning pages … not knowing what’s coming next …

— Jenni

Lessons from Miss Spider

On my way to the mall for one of my many shopping trips over the holidays, somebody honked at me. I was momentarily startled and felt as though I’d been taken before the principal. Happened again … same trip. And that warm feeling of shame spread inside me one more time.

Now, I am a good driver and I don’t recall doing anything stupid during those two occurrences.  I wasn’t checking email or texting … my daughter chastised me for doing so at a red light once and it stuck with me. I wasn’t even scrolling to select music. My new car enables me play my iTunes by voice, so there is no need to even touch my phone.  No, I was just driving.

Perhaps I didn’t accelerate through the light quickly enough for someone. Perhaps in my effort to respect the speed limit, I wasn’t driving fast enough. Perhaps my lack of urgency en route to the mall as I enjoyed the sounds of Christmas carols through my 9-speaker sound system did not take into consideration another driver’s tension level or desire to rush. Whatever the case, the honking upset me. And I carried that with me as I walked into the mall.

After stopping to drop coins in the Salvation Army Kettle, I felt what I needed was a little pick-me-up. So, I went to Starbucks and treated myself to a Gingerbread Latte. The barista substituted for a therapist. I shared my experience and we commiserated a bit. She helped me put it in perspective while she made my coffee. And I walked away with a lighter mood.

She offered a little Kindness and it altered my day.

The sense of urgency in our world is intrinsically self-centered. Heck, as human beings, we are extremely self-oriented. Sitting at my ground floor office desk, the Royal Oak streets are alive — with the sound of honking. Does no one consider how that action affects another?

I’m not just talking about horns here. It’s bigger than that. In our fast-paced, “me me me” world, do people genuinely take time to consider what an action, a careless or cruel word, a dismissive, critical comment,  or a harsh post/text/email does to another person? Is our sense of self-importance, self-preservation or just plain “self” so important that we negate the impact of our actions on the feelings of another being on this planet? I read somewhere about a “Golden Rule.” You may or may not have read or heard about it. If memory serves it goes something like … “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” How does an uncharitable, mean-spirited, callous, unfeeling, selfish or just plain careless action resonate now?

Yes, self-care is important. We need to take care of our own spirits … our own selves. And we need to have compassion on ourselves. Sometimes we get overwhelmed or into a bad place. But, oftentimes we don’t get there alone … and lashing out at another doesn’t make things better for us. We need to examine our own actions, connect instead of isolate ourselves, and recognize that our treatment of others has consequences. Our world needs a higher dose of courtesy, respect, and kindness.

So my word and focus for 2018 is #Kindness. I will shine its light into my own heart — what a brilliant power it has! And with Kindness as my focus, I will make more of an effort to show compassion to others as well as show compassion to myself and my thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams and needs. I will honk, react and judge less.  I will slow down, show courtesy and listen more.

It’s amazing how focusing on Kindness changes how I phrase statements, how I work with others, how I get up in the morning and look at my day, and how I spend my time. Oh, I still get impatient, annoyed and sometimes frustrated with life and with others. Even my cat isn’t immune to my moods when she mewls at me for something … I can’t tell what she wants which is soooo frustrating. But then, I can’t always tell what other people in my life want either.

So … I can choose to respond with Kindness instead of annoyance. Since I’ve made this conscious choice, I’m slower to “react” and pause before I “respond.” I find it easier to be gentler and more accepting when I take time to remember that I don’t know what others are going through at this exact moment and that even if I don’t agree or understand them, I can Choose to respond with Kindness. No matter what is going on with me, I can speak in love and think first of someone else. It’s a choice. Kindness.

I read a book to my kids when they were little. It was called “Little Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch School.” There was a message in the final lines of that picture book that I emphasized for them … and that I repeat to myself like a mantra. See Little Miss Spider was struggling to find out what she was good at, where she fit in, and how she could get along with all these bugs that were so different from her. One day, she helped a struggling bug out of a water spout, and she found her special talent …

Our gifts they are many,

We hop, fly and crawl.

But Kindness, he said, it the greatest of all.

Kindness is a talent. It is a skill. And it must be nurtured and cultivated.  It must be chosen. After all, we call them “Acts of Kindness.”

On this planet, we are all different. But if we choose to be Kind to those around us … choose to consider how a quick, flippant or dismissive response might negatively impact another individual … we might just begin to shape our world into a more accepting, more considerate place to live.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the world I would like to live in … and to nurture for future generations. Kindness … it’s a gift.

Oh, and should you run across a spider, consider just letting it go. It might have a lesson or two left to teach …

                                                                                                        — Jenni  #Kindness2018

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