Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Hug Can Save A Life

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When I throw a party, I find myself kissing and being kissed by people I’d never dream of kissing otherwise. I don’t like the insincerity of an air kiss, the wetness of a cheek kiss, and don’t even come near me if you are a lip-kisser. If you absolutely need to kiss me, then blow one. Those are cute. If you want to come in for a big bear hug, I’ll absolutely oblige. Hugs save lives. You can Google it and see examples from dogs avoiding euthanasia, and a hero mitigating the number of deaths by a suicide bomber, all with a hug. We don’t need to give heroic hugs but everyday hugs can make someone’s life a little bit better.

Recently, I’ve had two remarkable and inspiring hugs. The first was from my oldest son over winter break. I had been haranguing him about a housekeeping issue. He wasn’t responding the way I wanted him to, so I got a little meaner and realized that I owed him an apology. I said I was sorry and looked at him waiting for a response. Next thing I knew he opened his arms and gave me a hug. That is the first time I’ve ever known that one of my apologies was truly accepted. Shortly after that, my dog of fifteen years died, and a neighbor I don’t know that well pulled me into a hug in the middle of the grocery store!

Historically, I’ve never been a big hugger but I became interested in hugging for a few reasons. I learned that if you maintain a hug for more than four seconds, your brain releases two of your body’s “happy chemicals,” serotonin and oxytocin, which makes you feel good. While eating chocolate causes a release of dopamine, another happy chemical, hugs won’t cause weight gain! My new interest in hugging, led me to read The Ten Essential Hugs of Life by Roy Spence. Mr. Spence claims to have gotten rich by hugging pretty much everyone he encountered in his life from waitresses to CEOs. Lastly, my hairdresser made a comment that confirmed my suspicion that hugs may well be life saving.

Rebecca and I were discussing the new Illinois law that requires all salon workers complete domestic violence training in order to maintain their licenses. Rebecca said that the Listen. Support. Connect. training would be helpful. “Do you know that for some of my clients, my touch will be the only kind touch they get every six weeks?” No. I’ve never considered that. As a wife, and mother of four kids, and two dogs, I never thought about people living alone with little physical contact, or living in an abusive home, with unfriendly physical contact. My four-second hug could make someone ‘s life a little better.

I wasn’t comfortable just giving people hugs, so I had some stickers made up that say, “I Give Hugs.” Whether people read them or not, I don’t know. The kids in my classes loved them but I found that they didn’t work in the outside world. One woman suggested that people aren’t comfortable reading things affixed to a woman’s chest. So in addition to wearing the stickers, I began asking people if I can give them hugs, and all of them have said yes. I injured my knee recently and have taken to asking my doctors for hugs before they give me news about my prognosis. One doctor had no problem with the hug; the other gave me a “Christian Side Hug.” I don’t know how they felt about the hugs but it made me feel better, and I just so happened to get good news. I find that I now like to say hello to my friends with a hug. I prefer it to a handshake or the dreaded kiss.

As far as greetings go, the handshake is said to have originated as a sign of peace to show you have no weapons, and social kissing, in addition to being gross, has too many rules, and permission is never asked. The hug is great, no germs spread and unlike with kissing, the huggers are on equal standing. The beauty of the hug is that they are so all encompassing that you don’t think of anything else while giving or receiving one. Both huggers feel safe and loved in that short moment. So besides the release of feel-good hormones, and the prospect of getting rich, the last and probably most powerful reason to start hugging is because you may give someone a moment of comfort.

No hugmaker’s kids here! I’ve started to hug my kids more, which initially received a chilly reception. Like one of my doctors, they try to give me a Christian Side Hug but I pull them close. The other night my seventeen year old came up to see me while I was brushing my teeth. I looked at him to see what he wanted fully expecting a request for a special breakfast or money for something. “I just came up to give you a hug.”

The Perils of Picking A Book Club Book

IMG_1724 Last December, I picked Pussy: A Reclamation by Regena Thomashauser for my book club. As part of our evening we made pussy ornaments for our Christmas trees. I had no idea that a month later my pick would be legitimized, by women wearing pussy hats and marching in solidarity around the world. Was the book a success? Not really. I’m the only one who read it in its entirety but my craft project was a hit. I’ve been in various book clubs for more than a decade and so I’ve developed a thick skin when it comes to my picks.

A couple of years ago we met to discuss Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. It was an easy summer read and we talked about the characters and such. Some of the group didn’t particularly like it, including me. “Who did Ms. Hawkins sleep with to get this published,” I remember asking. On the way home someone asked if any of us thought that the negative comments offended the book picker’s sensibility. The answer is probably yes.

We all seemed to forget that she chose a light book because we did short stories the month before. On a whim while planning that book club, someone said, “Since we are reading short stories, why don’t we all try our hand at writing one?” After a few glasses of wine we all thought this was a good idea. Everyone participated and it was an emotional experience as we all read our stories. An easy read seemed in order for the next month.

Picking a book for your book club can be fraught with peril. Some people don’t want to risk looking foolish so they pick something from the twenty-five hardest books to read list such as Ulysses by James Joyce; others pick something popular but lacking in literary merit like Fifty Shades of Gray. Most pick whatever is hot in other book clubs.

Years ago, when I belonged to my first book club in New Jersey, I chose the book, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll by Jean Nathan. It is a biography about Dare Wright, the eccentric author of The Lonely Doll books. I chose it because I had recently come across my decrepit copy of Edith and Mr. Bear, and at the same time I read the review of Nathan’s book. It seemed to me that the universe was telling me to choose the book.

So with trepidation, I assigned the biography and bought copies of Dare Wright’s other books to share with everyone. Each of her book covers has a photograph of Edith surrounding by a gingham print, so I made a pink gingham headband for myself. I served cookies and milk. What I remember about the meeting was that some people were not happy with my choice and I felt kind of dumb.

I have since belonged to four more book clubs in two more states. In Tennessee, it was a very loosey-goosey club. Every time we met at the chosen restaurant there was a new set of faces. As a group we weren’t able to develop any chemistry or rapport, an important factor in the workings of a group. It was here that I read my first James Patterson book. I went to the library to see if they had it and the librarian replied, “Patterson publishes a book every Tuesday, which one are you looking for?” It was through this experience that I realized that not everyone was an English major in college.

Upon moving to Illinois, I was invited to be in a lunchtime group. When it was my turn to pick, I chose the riskiest book ever in my book clubbing life. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. I barely knew these woman when I suggested Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, And Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex, edited by David Henry Sterry and R. J. Martin Jr. I was a little uncomfortable with my choice and tried to legitimize it by showing everyone its New York Times book review. Two members in the club were morally offended and refused to read it or come to the meeting (ever again, I think)! It was a fascinating read and we had a lively discussion about a billion-dollar industry none of us knew anything about.

In my quest to find a book club as perfect as my first, I kept joining them until I belonged to three at once. One was filled with lawyers who liked to stay on point, so that was the first to go by the wayside. In the other, I suggested the book Tiger Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso. One of the members contacted me and told me she wouldn’t read it because it was too disturbing. I was so rattled that I ended up scrapping it and choosing a cumbersome book about puppetry. I wished that I stuck to my first choice.

I finally committed to the first club. When it was my turn to host again I chose the chick-lit book, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos. She lives locally and I thought it would be interesting to have her come to our meeting and talk about getting published. It was a fun read and Karen was very generous with sharing information about her journey to getting published. During the meeting, while we were getting drinks, one of the members pulled me aside and asked, “Who picked this book? It is not book club material.” Yikes! I sheepishly replied, “I did.”

I’ve always felt that belonging to a book club is an opportunity for us to read something we wouldn’t normally, open our minds a bit and socialize with others. If you don’t like the book, don’t shoot the book-picker; shoot the author, the editors or the publisher. If you are the one who picked a bad book, don’t worry about it. Move on and know that you can wow everyone with your next choice. Just Google “the top ten most difficult books, pick one of them, and everyone will think you’re damn smart.

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Activism Doesn’t Require Marching!

I will be wearing “I Give Hugs! stickers to see if I can spread a little love.

I recently asked a couple of people what activism meant to them. My husband said, “Raising awareness of and attempting to improve or solve the problems of an issue.” A dear friend and avid marcher said, “Activism is rooted in a sense of justice and I feel that no matter how small the actions I take, they will have impact. My seventeen-year-old son put it simply, “To promote change through action.” But what does action look like? I’ve always thought that activism was something all consuming, heroic, and a little bit crazy, which I’ve learned is called “front-line” activism.

Front-Line activists are people like Mahatma Gandhi, who went on a hunger strike in protest of caste separation, Julia Butterfly Hill who lived in a tree for 738 days to protest the clear cutting of forests, and Rachel Corrie, a pro Palestinian activist, who was killed while blocking an armored, Israeli,  bulldozer. I’m no hero, and never felt strong enough about any issue to devote my life to changing it. But with the presidency of The Great Galvanizer, Donald Trump, I have discovered that the activism spectrum is long and broad and goes from subtle to front-line activism and art to volunteer activism, and all of us are probably activists for something important to us, somewhere along the spectrum.

When I was a kid, my mom took my siblings and me to meet a family friend, Sister Mary Dolores. She was a cloistered nun with the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, New Jersey. Her convent took up an entire city block. The sisters rarely left the convent because they spent there time praying. We were able to visit with Sister Dolores but were separated by a lattice screen as if visiting a prisoner in jail.

The legend in our family was that Sister Dolores could perform miracles. I thought it was odd that she could do this without ever leaving the convent. My mom told a story about a school that needed about twenty-five typewriters and they asked sister Dolores for help. She had some good mojo because shortly after the request, twenty-five typewriters showed up at the school. Now looking back, I realized that she practiced subtle activism through prayer and meditation and perhaps a little of something else.

I think 2017 will be known as The Year of Activism. January saw women band together all over the world for The Women’s March. No only did the travel ban bring out protestors but lawyers came out in droves to help stranded travelers. Unprecedented numbers of people are calling their senators and congressmen with their concerns on topics from the Affordable Care Act to education, and churches are offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants. Aside from the activists responding to the policies of the current administration there are people responding to all kinds of ills and problems, such as gun violence.

Every couple of weeks, I get an email from Nicole Hockley, the mother of murdered first-grader, Dylan, on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise, asking for support. There is Martin Zimmer’s production of On The Exhale, a one-woman show inspired by the Sandy Hook School shootings. Denise Gathings, a Chicago police officer has written and is directing a play called, My Soul Cries Out: Stop!

There are medical activists such as Dr. David Fajgenbaum who was diagnosed with Castleman’s disease while in medical school. He has devoted his life to finding a cure, which includes experimenting on his own body. This list is endless and anybody can be an activist if they feel strongly about something. You don’t have to step outside your comfort level and you can use your talents to bring about change.

I prefer small-scale activism. I’m not interested in tackling the big issues. I’m currently working on spreading kindness because I believe that is where all positive changes start. Since I’ve unlocked my activist self, this is what my day looks like: A constipated kid comes to my art class and asks to work on the floor. I show him some yoga twists and suggest he drink a big glass of water when he gets home. I tell his mom how much I love my Squatty Potty and how helpful it is in avoiding constipation.

When I saw a neighbor on the street who’s husband just died, I offer to help her with her dogs or drop off a meal. I’ve taken to hugging people outside my family and have just designed and ordered I Give Hugs! stickers to indicate I’m happy to give a hug. My passion is writing and I use this Artist’s Eye column to share information about topics that are important to me. That is the whole point of activism. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

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