How Prayers Get Answered

Imagine this:

You’re a 21st century parent. Not one of those helicopter ones, maybe just a hang glider. You don’t push, you encourage. You don’t pry, you leave your door open. Some days you wake and wonder which weighs more: the amount of love you have for your children, or the pressure to not turn them into Kardashians. You want the best for your kids. You want to give them everything you never had, but you know deep down that you have to teach them the word no. You have to teach them to want. And disappointment and how to face failure. So you pray every day to God, the Universe, to whomever is listening: Please please please let everything be okay…

One day you’re holding a Bundle of Joy, and the next Bundle is a teenager as tall as you, asking for a Kate Spade purse, because, “Hey Mom, they’re 80% off at the outlet mall!” Okay, you think, she’s learned to be somewhat frugal…that’s good. You tack on a few extra chores because a Kate Spade purse at 80% off is still a Kate Spade purse, and you feel pretty good about your hang glider parenting.

Then Bundle of Joy tells you she wants to be a professional ballet dancer. The brakes screech to a halt in your brain. Professional ballerina? That’s a pretty tall order. That’s like a Starbucks Grande-sized order. That’s a dream that will almost certainly bring forth the words no and want and disappointment and failure. But still, you watch Bundle dance across the stage and the Joy that radiates out of her soul moves you to tears. How can you say no? Instead, you pray. Please please please let it be okay….


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So one year you send your aspiring ballerina to a very expensive summer dance intensive, and then another and another, until you can’t do it anymore. You have to throw out the words you hated to hear as a child: “We can’t afford it.” To your pleasant surprise, she understands. She swallows the disappointment and takes it in stride. How very mature, you think. When she hits you with, “Can I still audition to see if I can get a scholarship?” you burst with pride at her pluck and never-give-up attitude. Way to go Hang Glider!

On a cold January day you drive her to the audition, to a room full of black leotards, bunheads and dance moms with Kate Spade purses. You think bitterly that these moms never have to say “We can’t afford it” and life isn’t fair and you question every decision you’ve ever made. But here you are, this is it, this is your lot. You suck it up and pray. Please please please whatever is meant to be, Your will be done…

A week later Bundle of Joy shows you the email:

Congratulations!! We are happy to inform you that you have been accepted to a 2016 ABT Summer Intensive!

Only, it is not the one you prayed for, the one to North Carolina on a scholarship. Actually, it is better. She has been accepted to the New York City summer intensive. New York City. Where her dreams are aimed straight like an arrow at a bulls-eye. Where your husband has an aunt who has an apartment and sure, you can stay there for free. We CAN afford it! Prayers answered!

Prayers, yes. But something else. You prayed, but your daughter did this. She did this because she’s the one that worked for it. She’s the one that stretched and sweated, bandaged her blisters, and texted you from school: can I take an extra dance class tonight. She’s the one that went into that audition class and tamped down her nerves and awe at seeing Julie Kent and just danced. You drove the car, but she did this.

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The days flip by and now you find yourself on a train platform and the 168 from Baltimore to New York’s Penn Station hisses and clangs and starts to slip away. You want to run beside the train like a war bride, waving your handkerchief, yelling, “Stay safe!” and “Eat fruits and veggies!” and “Don’t forget to bruuuuush yooouuurrrr teeeeeeeth!!!”

But you don’t. You stand there stock-still until the silver line becomes a blip that disappears on the horizon. Then you walk steadily back to your Hyundai and drive away. You flick on the 80s XM station because you want to sing very loudly, songs that you know, songs that got you through it all Back Then. The first voice that reaches your ear—believe it or not—is Jon Bon Jovi, and he tells you very succinctly:

We’ve gotta hold on to what we got / It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not

Yes. This is it.

Your voice screams out of the sunroof:

Woah, we’re half way there / Woah, livin’ on a prayer / Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear / Woah, livin’ on a prayer

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Achieving Brilliance with One Simple Word

Writing for Fluent Magazine has allowed me the privilege of meeting some pretty exceptional artists. Their stories, like their disciplines, vary, but one thread binds them. They all WORK. That’s it, the dirty 4-letter word that separates the wannabes from The Masters. W-O-R-K. Every day. Passionately. Without distraction. Without fail.

Shepherdstown artist Michael Davis drove this great truth home: you don’t pick up a brush and paint a masterpiece the next day. Or the next week, or the next year. It takes YEARS of training, years of practice, and yes, even years of failings.

“Everybody wants it to be a very fun, creative process,” Davis said, “but a lot of it is just sitting down and working when you don’t want to work. People that make it are the ones who do that. People that don’t are the ones that only work when they feel like working.”

There are people who like to paint and there are painters.

There are people who like to write and there are writers.

Fill in the blanks: dance, swim, sculpt, figure skate, sew, run a 5K, lose 15 pounds…. There is a point of separation between the casual and the committed. The amateur and the pro. The successful ones, the masters in their field, are the ones who realize that whatever the dream, whatever the passion, it’s not going to come easily.

Of course, talent helps. But talent is only part of the equation. Einstein (and a thousand others) said it, but in the quick-fix, instant-gratification times we live in many people still ignore it.

“Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work.”

Yep.

But here’s the thing: if it is truly your passion, your calling, it is not going to feel like work. It is going to be FUN. It’s going to excite you, inspire you, make you ignore the housework and television, make you send your children away, text excuses to your friends. That’s when you know you’re doing what you’re meant to do.

Even when it gets hard, when you think it’s not worth it, when you’d rather play Spider Solitaire, DON’T GIVE UP.

And trust me, you will find your reward in the work.

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[unintelligible yelling]

Can't we all just get along?

Can’t we all just get along?

You may have heard this story before. That’s okay. It’s worth hearing again.

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson though about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”

Is it me, or does there seem to be an over-abundance of food out there for our Evil Wolf? E.W. only needs to turn on the news or the internet or look at his Facebook feed, and he will be treated to an All You Can Eat Buffet—the main courses being anger, lies, superiority, and ego. It is sad. It is scary. And it makes me seriously question the future when the closed captioning of a presidential debate reads: [unintelligible yelling].

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So far this year I’ve been pretty good with my New Year’s resolution to resist Fear, Outrage, Judgment, and Complaints. But lately I’ve been having a hard time with that first one. It’s hard not to have fear when it sounds like there’s a pack of hungry wolves outside your door. What happened to everyone’s Good Wolf? G.W. is starving. He is skin and bones, panhandling on the side of the road, begging for a scrap of kindness, empathy, truth, peace, and always, always, love.

Please. Let’s try to feed G.W….the better angel of our nature.

Yes! We can get along. (source: PRGUITARMAN.tumblir.com)

Yes! We can get along. (source: PRGUITARMAN.tumblir.com)

 

 

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Some resolutions worth keeping

First, the usual resolutions:

*Less binge watching; more writing.
*Less wine; more walking.
*Lose 20 pounds; gain more Twitter followers.
*Feed the kids more vegetables.
*Keep the bathroom cleaner.

Now some special ones:

I have a new book to write. Chapter One. . . . two exhilarating/terrifying words. After a year of editing and plotting, I feel like a bull behind the gate, one foot kicking at dust to bust out of the stall. This new book is number three of a trilogy. The beginning of the end.

*In 2016, I resolve to write the first draft.

Speaking of terrifying words: Querying. It’s time to knock on agents’ cyber doors again. Nothing makes you feel more like a real writer than receiving a form rejection letter in your inbox.

*In 2016, I resolve to be tenacious with my querying.

Finally, there are four words I’ve had enough of: Fear, Outrage, Judgment, Complaints. The biggest of which is FEAR.

Yesterday, my daughter asked, “Mom, what are you going to hashtag leave in 2015?” Those four words sprang to mind. Though they weren’t always spoken, they ruled 2015, the instigators behind breaking news, trending social media, inciting political rhetoric. Enough.

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*In 2016, I resolve to:

1. Reject the onslaught of fear mongering.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
—Isaiah 41:10

2. Ignore the new fad of being outraged.

“Seal up the mouth of outrage for a while,
Till we can clear these ambiguities.”
—William Shakespeare

3. Withhold judgment.

“Love is the absence of judgment.”
—Dalai Lama

4. Swallow complaints.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
—My mother

Wish me luck.

And have a blessed and joyous 2016!

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A Belated Thank You

I’ve had many blessings this year, many things to be thankful for, but my thoughts lately circle back to my grandparents. They were immigrants—refugees from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, escaping political persecution and seeking economic opportunity. Interesting coincidence: both of my grandfathers were named John. Both grandmothers, Catherine. John and Catherine Macinga, and John and Catherine Menosky. The inspiration for my name is no secret.

John and Catherine Menosky on their wedding day, September 17, 1928. Catherine was just 17 years old, 8 years younger than John. She came to the US on the Queen Mary when she was 9 years old.

John and Catherine Menosky on their wedding day, September 17, 1928. Catherine was just 17 years old, 8 years younger than John. She came to the US on the Queen Mary when she was 9 years old.

My maternal grandfather, John Menosky, died when I was six months old, but I was blessed to have the others in my life, to know them and hear their stories, and to witness their hard-work ethic that made it down the bloodline to me. They came to this country as farmers, but became steelworkers in Northeast Ohio, in the rust belt where an influx of mostly Italian and Slovak immigrants settled. During World War II, my grandfathers made steel for tank treads and ramps for landing crafts. Catherine Menosky worked as a welder during the war, even though she had six children at home. Catherine Macinga took on laundry and sewing jobs. At one point, when the steel mill issued layoffs, John Macinga dug graves at a cemetery—whatever it took to make ends meet.

John and Catherine Macinga were married in Czechoslovakia on June 28, 1928. Catherine was actually born in Michigan, but her family moved back to Czechoslovakia when she was a baby. She had to come back to the US before her 21st birthday to retain her citizenship. John followed when he had saved enough money for the trip.

John and Catherine Macinga were married in Czechoslovakia on June 28, 1928. Catherine was actually born in Michigan, but her family moved back to Czechoslovakia when she was a baby. She had to come back to the US before her 21st birthday to retain her citizenship. John followed when he had saved enough money for the trip.

Along with their work ethic, my grandparents brought their traditions to this country. I grew up eating kolachi (nut or fruit rolls), haluski (cabbage and noodles) and halupki (stuffed cabbage). The smell of boiling cabbage always takes me right back. John and Catherine Macinga had a plum tree in their backyard on Youngstown’s Northside, and I remember seeing them in their basement taking turns stirring a huge kettle for 24 hours to make lekvár filling for kolachi. Both families also had small gardens in their backyards, with clinking tin cans on strings to keep the animals away. I have yet to taste any tomato or cucumber that is their equal.

I lost my grandfather John Macinga in 1988, and both grandmothers have also passed. The family is scattered now, but I remember spending the holidays at my grandparents’ homes, cousins playing, chicken soup simmering—and cookies! Plates and plates of cookies. Thinking of all of my first cousins, second cousins, nieces and nephews, I sat down and did the math. Combined, my grandparents had:

  • 8 children
  • 31 grandchildren
  • 44 great-grandchildren
  • 14 great-great grandchildren

That’s a total of 97 descendants and counting. It’s not just a number, of course. Out of that 97 came teachers, doctors, nurses, soldiers, accountants, a police woman, large and small business owners. And a writer. Blue and white collar workers, all contributing somehow in their communities.

My grandparents lived simple lives. Went to church every Sunday. Hung their sheets to dry on the clothesline. Grew their own vegetables. They were law-abiding citizens who cared for their families and neighbors. They weren’t seeking fame or fortune when they came to this country. They sought a fair wage for honest, hard work, and freedom from ethnic tensions and religious repression. They sought a country where their children would be born with those freedoms. I didn’t understand this when I was growing up. They were just my grandparents who spoke funny words every now and then and had bottomless candy dishes in their yummy-smelling homes. I never got to thank them for their courage to leave their homeland, to get on a boat and travel across the ocean to a start over in a country that didn’t speak their language. How many of us would be brave enough to do that?

So thank you, John and Catherine Macinga and John and Catherine Menosky. Your courage, hard work and sacrifices are the reasons I live this blessed life.

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