Prepare to be Amazed!

Dear Readers,

My daughter and I really enjoy the Disney movie, “Meet The Robinsons” and watch it frequently. I should clarify, I watch it and she will watch and then walk away and then come back and watch, she is almost three years old and a bundle of energy.

I was delighted to find my world as a manager and my role as a mother intersecting, (as they so often do!) because as I watched the movie for probably the 100th time, I was struck by a character’s line, because about two months ago, I heard it in a Ted Talk by the marvelous interviewer, Celeste Headlee-

In her talk, she gives 10 ways to have better conversations and as someone who feels passionately about deeper conversations, I paid rapt attention. I love all ten tips but the one that I heard in her Ted Talk AND in my beloved “Meet The Robinsons” was this. “Prepare To Be AMAZED. The character is talking to the board of directors and pitching his “great idea” and when Celeste talks about it, she is referring to every conversation being an opportunity to learn something you didn’t know about the person you are talking to. I love this idea, and am doing my best to incorporate it in every single conversation, even people I already know well, such as my husband.

A few weeks ago, we had a rare and treasured date night and after we agreed not to talk jobs, kids, or house stuff, we jumped in with a question to each other, “Tell me something I don’t know about you”. I was amazed to discover that there are definitely things about my partner that I didn’t know. Charming things, lovely things, AMAZING things. It was a wonderful revelation and it reminded me to take this approach in all my conversations and just yesterday I was in the middle of listening to a colleague (who I previously attributed to being in her 20’s) talk about her daughter, and I said, “She sounds lovely, how old is she?” Expecting the answer to be “9 or 10”, I was AMAZED to hear her say, “17”. I was assuming instead of listening.

Tbe opportunity to “Be Amazed” is within our grasp every day.

I encourage you to “Prepare To BE AMAZED” in all your conversations. Try it and see what happens. What do you have to lose?

Think About It.

 

 

 

 

Can A Hug Heal Your Heart?

Dear Readers,

On this blog, I have often talked about my traumatic childhood and the lengths I have gone to in order to overcome it.

Every once in a while, I am reminded of what has gone before and how difficult it was to grow up in a house minus a lot of hugs.

About a year ago, my friend Nikki’s church advertised giving “free hugs” on Pride weekend to those people who wanted them because for whatever reason their parents didn’t embrace their life choice to be who they are. I thought this was an awesome idea and said, “Sign me up”

Well, my husband, sweet and supportive man that he is, decided we could do better than that, so we asked a few friends if they wanted to join the “Hug Team” and they said yes and we had about 9 people hugging. He also had some rainbow letters put on shirts for us and Vivienne and we wore them so everyone knew that “free hugs” were on offer.

We were not even to the parade route before we ran into Dylan, (who was my first Hug)

He was our own personal angel, because we noticed that Vivienne had lost her hat and he took off at a sprint and ran 2 blocks over to retrieve it, popped it on her head, and in a flash, he was gone.

We made our way to the main area of the parade, running into more people we hugged on the way. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would feel weird or awkward, but I didn’t, it was so great to just hug people and have it not be “weird”

I felt very blessed and privileged because no one has ever ostracized me or discriminated against me for loving the opposite sex. I have never had to hide my preferences or worry about losing my job or being attacked or even killed because of who I love or am attracted to.

Truly, my favourite part of this whole experiment? Watching Vivienne get loved on by everyone she met. We watched as she charmed every person and they all just loved her and she was having a great time just socializing.

I think my best hug “moment” was when I hugged this woman and she said, “Oh wow, that was like a real “Mom Hug” ! I got a little misty and said, “I am so glad”

I am aware of the healing properties of a hug, lots of articles, like this one posit the science behind why it helps.

Got Hugs? The Healing Power of a Good Embrace

The part that surprised me the most was the looks on people’s faces after we hugged, I think we did a lot of healing, and some of it actually healed me too.

I was not expecting that and it was a nice bit of lagniappe (French for extra) for sure.

Now I know we can’t go around randomly hugging people but it sucks that you can’t, because I think it would solve an awful lot of problems. Certainly not all of them, but a few, to be sure.

So what’s the point? Simple, who can you hug that might need it and taking it a step further, who can you get a hug from that might just heal your hurting heart?

Think About It.

 

 

Embrace Differences. That’s how learning occurs.

Dear Readers,

I find myself sad and angry and uncharacteristically pessimistic as I sit down to write this week’s blog.

Another shooting. 22 people dead.

22 people who will not wake up again.

22 people who had plans and dreams and wishes and now none of them will ever come true.

I am thinking a lot about that as I put my little girl to bed tonight. I don’t know the answer or the way to solve this but I do know that one thing we can do is embrace our differences and talk about them and listen to each other. It sounds simple and it is.

It’s also extremely difficult to consider another person’s opinion, life experience, and point of view when we are so enamored without  our own.

I was reminded of the importance of this as I watched my husband work on his poster for the upcoming PRIDE Parade. He was carefully outlining the words and plotting out his design and strategizing like an architect building a magnificent edifice.

In stark contrast, I looked at my poster board, and threw some elements on it, wrote out the theme, “The Answer Is Love” in loopy hand and called it done.

Our daughter colored on her poster board with no direction or plan (that we know of) and that was fun to watch.

What does all of this have to do with the shooting and how we stop future shootings?

Quite a lot, I think. To better illustrate it, I will utilize words by another writer

Aaron Sorkin as he talks about “how to beat the terrorists”

Learn things. Be good to each other. Read the newspapers, go the movies, go to a party. 
Read a book. In the meantime, remember pluralism. You want to get these people? I mean, 
you really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Keep accepting more than one 
idea. Makes 'em absolutely crazy.

What different way of thinking will you embrace today, right now to help

you learn something you didn’t know before?

Who can you listen to?

Think About It.

No, Let’s do better. No more thoughts and prayers.

Go Do Something.

 

Why can’t the bridge be pink!?

Dear Readers,

I am constantly amazed at the things I learn from my daughter.

A few months back I talked about how I have learned to better appreciate nature because she loves it so much. I wonder if she will love camping (Daddy would love that!) and then I will have to get over my loathing for that one too!

Vivienne has recently discovered the joy of drawing and while it’s not my strength, it’s something I like doing with her. I am an artist, but drawing is not really my jam.

I can’t tell you how much fun it is to discover how much she loves it. I have no idea where she gets it and that’s fun too. It’s a mystery I don’t have to solve, and it’s fun to wonder about it.

When she was first born, a lot of people I love got me “adult coloring books” and they sat there gathering  dust I didn’t really think of coloring as something I was going to do despite having it suggested as a method of relaxation.

As it turns out, I like to color and she does too. For her, it’s more about going to a page and making shapes and then turning to the next page, but it’s also about picking her colored pencils to choose what she will color with next. I really enjoy watching her deliberate and decide which color she will use next. I like to imagine her thought process and then it hits me, she probably doesn’t have one, she is probably responding to the color that “speaks” to her and then she just uses it.

I was struck by how quickly my mind was moving to “but the bridge needs to be brown” – I try my best to be intentional with the things I say to her so thankfully I didn’t say it, just thought it, and then just as quickly said to myself, “Who says the bridge should be brown or gray or really any other standard bridge color?” – Why can’t it be pink? The answer – NO reason at all.

We have so much power in the things we say to lift or lower, to limit or expand.- Professor Haston

I could have completely diminished her choice and stifled her creativity based on my own limiting beliefs about bridges.

Yes, I realize that bridges as they occur in nature are not typically pink, but she doesn’t know that yet so why would I take away her joy in making things any color she wants? Not to mention avoid caring about the coloring inside the lines. Who came up with that anyway? Seems like a good time to give that one up too!

Creativity is known for solving problems so in a way, this is the beginning of her starting that process. How cool is that? I am just happy to be along for the ride. Teach me, sweet girl. Color that bridge any color your heart desires.

What color is the bridge for you?

Think About It.

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Join me? Stop Posting Perfection!

Dear Readers,

This is one of my favourite hashtags, I came up with it about 2 years ago after realizing how much we are all posting perfection and putting our best life and times on social media and while that’s the nature of the beast, I decided I wasn’t buying into that idea any more. It’s definitely going to take more than one hashtag or picture to accomplish this, but most movements start small, right?

There is nothing wrong with taking a pretty picture or posing for selfies, but don’t get so caught up in the picture you lose the person.

There is hope.

I am starting to see more REAL posts about miscarriage, breastfeeding, and the occasional “unedited gym selfie” so let’s build on that. Join me, be interesting, be real, be vulnerable, be YOU.

You can “show” your best life or “live” your best life.

Think About It.

 

 

It Only Takes A Minute, To Go The Extra Mile. Take it!

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Dear Readers,

It only takes a minute to go the extra mile. Sometimes not even a minute, just a few seconds.

Of late, I have been struck by several acts of “extra” from others.

About a month ago, my good friends Gab and Julia came to visit and not only did they meet with us while pressed for time, they brought a coloring book for Vivienne, definitely a kind gesture from very kind people, just seeing them would have been enough and that was a lovely “extra mile” thing to do. Thanks Gab and Julia!

This Sunday, while we were at Costco, we had a nice encounter with one of the clerks. Jeremy is actively teaching Vivienne to thank people who serve us, and I love it. As we were leaving the store, he had her hand the checker our receipt, and instead of just checking it and marking it, he took it from her and he drew a pink flower on the back of the receipt. Thanks Jonathan, you helped make her day special.

At work, we get lots of free food and snacks, already a great experience right? Two weeks ago, I mentioned to Kimberly (one of our servers) how much I liked the white cheddar chips and yesterday, as I was sitting at my desk, she brought me a bag to enjoy. Thanks Kimberly!

This Sunday, my husband and I went to a nice restaurant to celebrate our eight year anniversary and I mentioned it to our server, Oscar. He lit up and gave us a free dessert, and offered to take pictures and really made it a boutique experience. Thanks Oscar!

It is our anniversary today, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband who takes going the “extra mile” to a high art. Thank you, Jeremy!

I am thinking a lot about the extra mile right now, because someone who I love deeply is suffering from cancer and he is fighting it and has a great support system and we all know that isn’t always enough, I am thinking about that because, Joe, is one of my fathers of choice, and this relationship is characterized by multiple instances of “extra mile” walking.

He and his wife were unable to come to our wedding in 2011, so not only did they send us a wonderful gift, they gave us a priceless and unforgettable second honeymoon in Portland, Oregon.

Already special, it was even more meaningful because we were in the process of getting out of debt, and they were so proud of us, they wouldn’t let us pay for a thing.

Thanks Poppa Joe and Momma Mo’, you are so dear to us, and we love you very much.

Their middle name should be “extra mile” because it’s in EVERYTHING they do.

But back to you, my dear reader,

What can YOU do to go that “extra mile” today? Maybe you can notice the front desk at your job, introduce yourself and ask if you can get them anything, since they do that all day, every day for others.

(For me, that led to a lifelong friendship, I love you Dr. Keya Litt)

Maybe, you can notice the barista who makes your coffee and ask how they are doing, since they always ask you, right? Maybe it’s a friend that you can have some groceries delivered to because it’s one thing off their plate. There are opportunities to “go the extra mile” and be a little kinder every day. What can you do today?

It actually doesn’t take money or time, it just takes intention.

Think About It.

 

Artist to Artist- In The Moment with Jennifer Haston-

Dear Readers, This week we take a trip into the head, heart, and soul of, Me!

FOMOEntryticketsPreviously on the blog, I interviewed a few of my artist friends about what it means to be an artist, and it was so much fun, I wanted to see how it felt to be an interviewee, so without further ado, my artist interview with Professor Gab Peña!

The following is a condensed version of my interview with the artist known as Jennifer McKenna Haston. In the following paragraphs G is Gabriel Peña (me) and J is, of course, Jennifer.

G – Simple start, your name: What is it?
J – Interesting story. Jennifer Mckenna Haston is my name now. I was named “Jennifer Rose” for a soap opera star. When I got married it was important for me to take my husband’s name. I’m very proud to be Jennifer McKenna Haston. My name is a piece of who I was and a piece of who I am now. I always watch the credits at the end of a movie, to honor all the people who worked on it. It happens every now and again, I will see McKenna and I tried to shrug it off as “not my name any more” and my lovely friend (Dr. Keya Howard Litt) reminded me that I should be proud of that, even if not all of my childhood was something I want to claim, it doesn’t mean I have to throw my whole past away. There’s also no hyphen between McKenna and Haston, I legally changed it so that McKenna is my middle name. It’s all part of picking up your identity and deciding what it will be.

 

G –  What role does preparation play in your artistry?

J – Two things in equal measure-Improv and Preparation- which sounds counterintuitive- Improv was the first level of acting I learned about and I love the lesson of “permission to fail” and the sense of play you have in improv. On the other side believe preparation is key. Richard Robichaux (previous acting teacher) talks about lazy actor syndrome. I think many people believe actors are lazy so I want to show how actors are actually VERY responsible and hard-working.. There is so much planning and preparation involved in being an artist, you have to prepare to audition, (rehearse for said auditions) and when a casting director or agent asks you if you will consider nudity, you have to know your boundaries and know your limits. You can’t answer that honestly if you haven’t prepared what you will say when asked. In preparation, you find peace. If you’re not fully prepared you know it, you feel it. I’ve experienced it. When I showed up prepared to “play” for Richard’s (former acting class) it wasn’t a difference of night and day it was like a whole other country. The same goes for any audition or interview.

G – How do you define your artistry? You wear many hats, an actor, stage manager, director How do you identity yourself, what do call yourself?
J – Since taking Richard’s class I identify as being an artist. People know me as a director in this town (Austin, TX) and I make it clear I’m an actor first. So the biggest change, since taking Richard’s class, I’m no longer afraid to audition for lead roles. Richard’s class helped me put it in perspective, by saying, “I train leads, if you want to be Horatio, great, but I train Hamlet.” It also helped me clarify that I had a talent to offer.  It allowed me to treat this as a career I am committed to, not a hobby.  When I’m directing I want to be acting or if I’m stage managing I feel that desire to be on stage. But when I’m treading the boards there is no where else I want to be.

G – What was your first artistic love? Film, tv or theatre?
J – Theatre. In fourth grade they changed the name of the play we were doing so I could star in it. They changed the “boy” in the title to “girl” for me. That was it, I was hooked.

G – Is there a particular type of show you love doing?
J – I have to say musicals. I love to sing any chance I get. I had a singing lesson earlier that was amazing and it’s a chance to be creative in my life right now, my instructor is amazing and I love singing so much more now that I have been working on getting better. I have auditioned for “The Voice” four times, and each time, I feel like I get closer and closer, and that’s because of Cara. She is wonderful! I am better in her air, it’s as simple as that.

G – What is a piece of advice that you would give others interested in the arts?
J – I’m gonna borrow from Michael Shurtleff’s book “Audition” and say, “make sure this is something you have to do”. Knowing what your limits are is so important. It’s important, if you want to pursue it, to ask yourself “why?” If you want fame or to make a lot of money there are easier ways to do that. If you want to be part of the family of artists, however, you have to know why you want to do it.

G- Wby do you do it?

J- I do it because I love honoring stories. Because I love learning. Because it opens a place for me that I just don’t have otherwise.
G – Critique/Feedback comes up in the arts, what is your relationship to it?
J – I’d love to be say, “I love feedback, it’s great, it’s amazing, I have no problem with it and crave it” but I will tell you, criticism is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life, it’s only in the process of preparing this TEDX speech (in the last 2 years) I’m getting better at hearing it and applying it.

G – Can you tell me about that work, what it’s about, what it means to you?
J – Sure, It’s about communication.  I see TED as applying a mix of artistic skills. I am going to try hard not to get emotional here and likely fail miserably, which is fitting, because when you think about something as important as a TED talk, you SHOULD get emotional, you SHOULD be invested. My Ted Talk is about communication, and when I think about communication, I think about my daughter. She’s been struggling to communicate with us. I think about the visions I had for her and me talking and talking which is still in the future, and it’s not now. I am REALLY struggling with the “not now” part of that.  I figured that at almost 3 years old, she’d be talking a mile a minute now and she isn’t, that’s the reality. I mean you always have expectations around your kid, and I have come to realize, she DOES communicate, with her eyes, hands, and sign language. It just looks different from what I envisioned.  Something I’ve said since she was born was that she was born with her own timeline. It’s a good lesson that everyone has their own timeline. I think it will make it so much richer when we do have those conversations in the future. I didn’t want to be a mother for a long time because of my traumatic childhood, but now, I cant imagine my life without her and being a Mom is so wonderful and awesome and hard and awesome and hard and awesome and it’s exactly different every day.  Circling back to communication, …In society I think we’re lacking in communication. There are digital detox camps. It’s an acceptable addiction. People don’t look at each other in restaurants, they’re in their phones, and understand  though I’m speaking about this, I really struggle with this personally. We’ve substituted digital connections for real connections.

G – Okay Jennifer, time for the speed round: Greatest artistic strength? Greatest Challenge? Favorite Artist? And, lastly, any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
J – My greatest artistic strength is my willingness to learn. Something I want to do better is dancing. Being a strong triple threat. And, aw woman, my favorite artist is…most consistently, Kermit the Frog. The heart of Kermit is what I connect to. He’s the one to pass on good news or to prop up those who need it. Jim Henson said Kermit was the best parts of him. He’s an incredible character because he is more than felt – Kermit is an amazing idea brought to life.

G- Final thoughts?

The final words I want to share…that I hope my legacy as an artist, mother, and friend is that we all have a story to share. My blog title is “Nobody has a voice like you”, truly truly you should use YOUR voice. Your words have value and the thing you say or write could touch someone to make their own art.

What can you share today that might inspire artistry in someone else?

Think About It.