When Kids Talk, Adults Should Listen

Dad and me on Easter Sunday

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” ~ Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.” ~ Jane D. Hull

I think learning to communicate is a rather difficult thing to do, especially if you are constantly being told to shut up and listen. We are supposed to learn communication from our parents and siblings. Some parents are fantastic at teaching this skill, others not so much. But I believe most parents want to have clear lines of communication with their children, they just don’t know how because they were never taught.

My youngest sister, Celeste and I have been talking about writing a book about how we learned not only good communication skills, but critical thinking, and understanding human behavior from our conversations about movies and TV with our father.

When I suggested writing this book together, I didn’t have a clear idea of how we could structure it, except to reconstruct the questions Dad used to ask us after watching a movie. This morning it came to me what genius practice my father, and mother too, used to keep the lines of communication open with us even through our teen years.

The secret is: They were truly interested in our opinions.

I was proud of the fact that we had the “cool” parents. Our church, and even school friends liked coming over to our house and hanging out because our parents were interested in them. They wanted to know what they were doing in school, what their passions were, and what their plans were for the future. Our friends loved that they could ask questions on any subject and our parents were willing to talk about the ins and outs of any problem. That wasn’t always the case for them at home.

My father in particular was fantastic at exploring every facet of an issue. He was never afraid to say that he didn’t understand all the implications of a situation. And he and my mother were also willing to tell us when they had been wrong.

I think Celeste will agree with me when I say, I always felt safe in our home, because I was a valued by my parents.

One of the primary ways our parents taught us good communication skills was by watching movies as a family and then discussing them. It was a fun and non-threatening way to examine why people do what they do, how to look at the deeper implications of events and then try to find meaning in them. And it gave all of us an easy way to learn to communicate with respect for every family member’s opinions.

Because our father watched movies with us individually as well, Celeste and I watched the news with him. It wasn’t particularly comfortable watching the news when we were growing up. There was lots of unrest with the Civil Rights movement, and all the violence surrounding that, the Vietnam War and the protests against that, and the women’s movement for equal rights. There were so many opportunities to ask questions and discuss current events with Dad that we learned to think critically about the motivations of politicians, business owners and even everyday people who did not want things to change.

The thing I remember most about having a discussion with my father was the constant questions he would ask himself and me as we watched together. His questions invited both Celeste and me to think and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.

So, Celeste and I are going to write this book. We’re not sure what we’re going to call it yet. It will be part memoir, part guide to talking with and listen to children. I’ve learned from my students that sometimes they have more wisdom than we give them credit for. And as far as Celeste and I are concerned, we can always use more wisdom in the world.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. Have a glorious weekend, and if you live in the U.S., don’t forget to vote.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Let’s Chill Out!

Stressed Out.

“Our culture encourages us to plan every moment and fill our schedules with one activity and obligation after the next, with no time to just be. But the human body and mind require downtime to rejuvenate. I have found my greatest moments of joy and peace just sitting in silence, and then I take that joy and peace with me out into the world.” ~ Holly Mosier

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” ~ William S. Burroughs

“Stop a minute, right where you are. Relax your shoulders, shake your head and spine like a dog shaking off cold water. Tell that imperious voice in your head to be still.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

This morning at 7:00 a.m., on the day I’m writing this, I got a ding on my phone. I wasn’t even out of bed yet, because my husband doesn’t work on Fridays and it’s a sleep in day. It was a long Facebook message about Social Security and how I needed to pass this along so that we can protect Social Security … etc., etc., etc. I ignored the message knowing that things may look dire, but I believe I live in a friendly universe, so no matter what, I’m going to be all right. Some people may think I’m delusional. That’s okay. I just see the world differently than they do.

One of the privileges of growing older is the fact that I’ve seen and experienced a lot of stuff. When I was younger I used to get upset when things seemed to go wrong. I’d bend myself out of shape, and make myself sick with what I THOUGHT was going to happen. As it turned out most of the time, what I had imagined never came to pass. I had made myself sick for nothing.

So now I know that, first, nothing is good or bad except thinking makes it so, to paraphrase Shakespeare. And second, especially where governments are concerned, nothing happens over night. They may pass bills to gut Social Security, or take away our health care, or yada, yada, yada, but none of that is going to happen tomorrow. AND there are always people whose purpose it is to safeguard our rights and I can rely on them to prevail.

Over the last few months, I’ve withdrawn from groups on Facebook and other social media that continually post dire warnings. I do this because I don’t see the world the same way they do and I don’t need their negative energy clinging to me throughout the day.

Don’t get me wrong, I will stand up for people in my daily life when they need it, but I’m not going to waste my time ranting and raving about the big stuff that happens, because I am thoroughly convinced that change happens from the ground up. Each individual who chooses to chill out, to get a new perspective, to go with the flow, or even point out inequities, helps us create a friendlier, more stress free environment a little bit at a time.

I think there is an ebb and flow to history. We happen to be in a time when there is a great deal of turmoil. But if you look back at what has happened in the past, it’s often those times, when people with differing ideas clash and cause the most innovative advancements to happen.

Here’s an example. I’m reading a novel right now that takes place in 1150. The church had tight control on almost every aspect of life. One of the characters in my book builds a paper mill. That may not seem like such a big thing, but in 1150, most people did not read, so the church controlled information by telling people what to think. With the advent of readily available inexpensive paper, more people began to have the opportunity to learn to read and write, and not pay the church scribes to create their documents, and make copies of or write important books. Of course, the church did not want this to happen and took drastic measures to retain their control on the flow of information. The creation of inexpensive paper did lead, eventually, to the invention of the printing press. That broke the stranglehold the church held on education and the flow of information. Boy, have things changed since then. Now almost everyone can not only read and write, but the entire world is connected by the media and the most ordinary person can express their opinion for the world to read.

There was a great deal of struggle involved to get us to where we are now. Lots of people died in that struggle, but would you want to go back to having the church control information? I don’t think so. As a result, I thank those who volunteered to push for change both then and now.

Having written all of the above, life is a mystery to me. I don’t know why I’m living a happy fulfilling life, while millions of people are stuck in refugee camps, or live under oppressive regime’s, or on the streets. What I do know is that we each have our part to play, and it seems to me that mine has to do with spreading as much joy as I can.

I know that in the long run if a situation looks really bad, it’s just not worth getting upset about. I’ll do what I can to help, of course, but most of the time, as my dad used to say, “In a hundred years, it won’t make any difference.” And the things that we will remember one hundred years from now will be worth the sacrifice.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Perceptions and Filters

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad

I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” ~ Viola Davis

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ~ Aldous Huxley

“Our minds influence the key activity of the brain, which then influences everything; perception, cognition, thoughts and feelings, personal relationships; they’re all a projection of you.” ~ Deepak Chopra

One thing I’ve learned is that we each see the world from our unique perspective and often, because of our personal filters, what we think is true, isn’t true at all.

I first began to consider this through someone else’s story. This woman is a kind of mentor figure to me and she told me of an incident with one of her children. They were reflecting on some event when he was young and she said to him, “And do you remember the love?” to which he replied, “No, what I remember is the condemnation.” This was, of course, a shock to her.

As she and I talked I understood that no matter what happens to us, we interpret the events through the filters of the way we feel about ourselves, and through our responses or reactions to what has happened to us in the past. My friend taught me to take a step back when I was in conflict with someone else. I had to take a breath and ask myself, through what lenses am I seeing this situation? Is my perspective affected by my reaction to past events? Asking those kinds of questions is a vitally important communication tool.

With that in mind, here is another short section of The Space Between Time. In this scene, Jenna and her new friend Jack, have gone to a barbecue with some of her high school friends. Here Jenna finds that maybe she had been wrong about her mother’s reasons for being distant. Perhaps her mother did love her and one of the ways she showed that was to support Jenna’s school activities. There is more to that backstory, but you get the idea.

Let me know what you think, and don’t be afraid to point out any errors, or improvements that I could make.

 

During dinner, Jenna was surprised when the conversation turned to her mother.

“Remember the sleep overs your mom let us have?” Matt said.

Jenna crinkled her brow. “Sleep overs?” She had no idea what Matt was talking about.

“Well that’s what we called them. You remember, when we had a deadline for the paper. Sometimes Mr. Stevens would have to go home to be with the kids because his wife had the night shift at the hospital. When that happened, we’d go to your house to finish the mockups.”

Gina chimed in, “Those were fun nights. All our parents knew if we were at your house, we were okay. And your mom was great bringing us snacks and making suggestions. She would stay up all night with us, then feed us breakfast before sending us home to get ready for school.”

Jenna was stunned. She didn’t remember those times at all.

Fred said, “You had the cool mom. We loved hanging out at your house. It’s sad she’s not here to see you become a writer. I think she would have loved that.”

“Yeah, I miss her,” was all Jenna could choke out. I had the cool mom? Why had she blocked out those memories? The swirling telescoping feeling she had the day she stood on her mother’s front porch after the funeral came back. Guilt engulfed her. I have blamed you for my unhappiness all these years. She couldn’t wait to get home to her journal to process her tumultuous emotions.

 

I wanted to include this little scene in my book because I, like many of us, blamed my parents for things that happened in my childhood. But, as children, we never know what our parent’s are dealing with. We don’t know their whole story. We forget that they have challenges and emotional baggage too. Most of them are doing the very best they can. I wanted to show that Jenna was finally growing up and able to understand her mother a little better just as I did my parents.

By the way, I had the “cool parents,” and I loved that.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Deep Listening

Woman Listening
Woman Listening

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” ~ Bryant H. McGill

“The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.” ~ James Cash Penney

“Efforts to develop critical thinking falter in practice because too many professors still lecture to passive audiences instead of challenging students to apply what they have learned to new questions.” ~ Derek Bok

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ~ Adrienne Rich

Every few semesters, I revamp the classes I’m teaching. I think it’s boring to teach the same thing over and over again. I’m in the process of revamping the acting class materials for this fall and I decided to incorporate more exercises in listening. It’s a great skill for acting and for life in general. In fact, my first instructor in good listening skills was my father. That skill has served me well both in my work in the theatre, but also in teaching, and in life.

To me listening is much more than just hearing the words someone is using to express their ideas. Deep listening involves matching what the person is saying with their body language, facial expressions, and the emotion behind their words. In a way, listening involves our entire body. Empathy is part of it but trying to decipher all the physical, emotional and cognitive messages is part of it as well. It’s such an important skill I wish we were using it more.

It’s sad to say, but in a way we read the memes, or the one liners coined by the media and think we understand what someone is saying. We think we understand their point of view. But what my dad, and theatre have taught me is that there are many layers of meaning behind what someone says, and you can’t sum it up in a headline. When we do that, we belittle that person in our mind. It’s disrespectful. That’s why it’s important to listen to what people from a political, religious, or social group are saying, and to actually consider their point of view and why they feel the way they do. Which means critical thinking is a big part of listening. It takes a great deal of worthwhile effort to even remotely understand another person’s perspective. When we take the time to try to understand another person, even if we fail, it honors both them and us because we learn something.

Listening also helps us distinguish between propaganda and persuasion. When I taught American Lit at the high school level, I designed a unit on the difference between the two. Sometimes the lines between them get blurred. We all fall into those traps of believing the propaganda, thinking that we know the truth. The bad thing is, propaganda is subtle brain washing. That’s why listening and critical thinking skills are such important things to teach ourselves and our children. In my opinion, not knowing how seductive propaganda is might be part of why we’re in this weird situation this political season.

I won’t go into all of the propaganda techniques here, you can look them up for yourself, but advertisers, the media, and politicians use propaganda to get us to buy their product, believe what they are saying or vote for them. It takes a lot of diligence to sort through the red herrings, attempts to divide us, or buy into their false causes.

Images can also be propaganda. I showed lots of examples of posters which use images, mostly from WW II, to skew the audience’s thinking about the enemy. Now we have social media to spread images which divert our attention from the real issues at hand. And that brings me back to deep listening.

It’s important to watch people as they talk, and to try to understand exactly what they’re saying. What emotions do they express? Does their body language and do their facial expressions match their words? Are they really saying anything of consequence? If we practice deep listening in our work places, with our loved ones, in chance encounters, and to people in the media, we might learn something important about them and ourselves.

So, I’m making it my mission this semester to teach my acting students better listening skills, and I hope that they use them long after the class is over.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments and hope you share this post with your friends.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Snippet #3 The Space Between Time

Cochise Campus Flower
Cochise Campus Flower

This is the third installment of segments from my upcoming novel, The Space Between Time.

Set Up: Jenna has moved back to her hometown to recover and regroup. In this segment, from Chapter 7, She’s unexpectedly confronted by her ex-fiancé.

“She hadn’t been out of the house much since the funeral. No doubt on this little trip she’d run into old friends, and renew acquaintances. It was still difficult receiving condolences, but being cooped up in the house all the time wasn’t good. She grabbed her purse and keys, opened the door and ran into Sam.

“Hi Babe.”

Jenna’s stomach clenched, “Sam. What in the hell are you doing here?”

Leaning on the door jamb so she couldn’t get out of the house, he said. “You hung up on me, Babe. I needed a chance to explain,” Jenna wasn’t fooled by the look of mock contrition on his face.

“About what? That you were cheating on me? And don’t call me Babe.” She pushed him out of the way. Then shut and locked the door. She brushed past him starting for her car wishing this encounter would soon end. But Sam’s car was parked behind hers. She’d have to deal with him.

Knowing he’d trapped her, he smirked. “I always call you Babe.”

Jenna turned, walked back to him and put her face close to his. “I’ve told you time and again I don’t like it when you call me that.”

Surprisingly he took a step back. “I don’t remember that.”

“Of course not, because you never listen,” Jenna said through clenched teeth.

“Now, Babe,” The look on Jenna’s face made him amend his approach. “I mean Jenna, aren’t you gonna let me talk to you?”

Oh, if only he’d go away. Keeping her eyes on his face and putting her hands on her hips, she said, “What for? You said it yourself. Neither one of us was happy, so it’s over.”

Pulling himself taller to pretend confidence, he said, “I know I said that, but, I’ve been thinking. I might’ve been wrong.” He had that I’m-innocent-of-whatever-you-think-I’ve-done look on his face she’d learned to hate long before the break-up.

She looked at him, trying to formulate the response that would make him leave. The moments slowed. For the first time she noticed muddy waves emanating from and surrounding his body. Her instinct was to back away from the unwanted onslaught of his murky energy, but before she could do so, it touched her own energy field. She nearly fell over as dark feelings of self-doubt swept over her. The image of a wounded wolf flashed through her mind. Somehow she knew exactly what had happened that brought him to her doorstep. “Ah, what happened, Sam? Did she leave you? I know you hate to be alone.”

The dark energy was sucked into Sam’s body and he stuttered “I – I don’t k-know what you’re talking about. There’s never been anybody but you.”

“Oh? But, you know I heard her in the background when we talked on the phone!” She faced him square on, “Now, please get in your car and go back to L.A.”

Suddenly Sam took Jenna by the arm, and clamped down hard, “It was a one night stand thing. I was hurt that we broke up.” Dark gray and brown energy shot out at her again. This time she thought to shield herself and her own aura in red, orange, and yellow shot out to block what was coming from him.

Gasping from the pain, she tried to get her arm free. “You were hurt? Oh, yeah, I see that now. You’ve been wounded from the very beginning, but I was too dazzled by the bling to notice. Now let me go!” They struggled. Sam grabbed for Jenna’s other arm. She tried to back away, and slid on a mossy patch on the sidewalk forcing her to sit on a porch step.

Just then an unmarked police car drove up. Sam’s back was to it as Detective Spade got out of the car, putting his hand on his gun.

Walking toward the struggling pair, Detective Spade said, “Let go of her, Sir!”

Sam turned around, still holding onto Jenna’s arm. “Who are you to interfere in a private matter? She’s my fiancée,” Sam said as Jenna continued to struggle to get her arm free.

Advancing on Sam with his hand still on his gun, Detective Spade said, “That’s not what I heard, Sir. Now back away from her.”

Sam puffed up like a rooster in the ring, but he let go of her arm. Jenna moved away. Sam turned toward Detective Spade saying, “What you gonna do, shoot me?” Jenna heard the fear underneath the bluster for the first time. With a snarl, Sam said, “We’re having a private conversation. That’s all.”

Detective Spade had stopped a few feet from Sam. “It didn’t look that way to me, Sir. Is that true Miss Holden?”

“Miss Holden? So, you’ve met before. Who is this? Your new boyfriend? You didn’t waste any time,” Sam said with a sneer.

Detective Spade was surrounded by a clear yellow and green aura. He was relaxed, though cautious. Jenna knew she could trust him, but Sam was getting angry. She saw the wounded wolf image surrounded by dark gray and muddy brown fog emanating from him again, and knew if she didn’t do something he’d become dangerous. She saw that Detective Spade knew it too.

She took a few steps closer to him. “Sam, are you drunk or something? He’s a police officer, and he’s got a gun. Do you want to get arrested? What’ll that do to your precious career?” Sam’s countenance changed, and the swirls of muddy energy retreated close to his body.

Now that she looked more closely at him, Sam did look a little unsteady on his feet. She hadn’t smelled alcohol on him, though, so it must be drugs.

Taking a deep breath, Sam said. “I’ve been on the road for twenty hours with not much sleep before that. I guess I’m crashing from the wake-up pills,” he said as he sat abruptly onto a porch step.

Taking his hand away from his gun, Detective Spade gently took a hold of Jenna’s arm and moved her behind him. “I’ll need to see those pills, Sir. Are they in your car?”

“Yeah, go ahead. You won’t find any drugs. They’re the over the counter kind,” Sam said as he ran his hands through his hair, then deflated like a balloon and rested his head on his arms.

“Sir, is the car unlocked?”

“Yeah,” came the muffled reply.

Detective Spade looked over at Jenna and indicated with the jerk of his head to follow him as he went to Sam’s car. He kept his eyes on Sam. She opened the driver’s door and moved back so Detective Spade could investigate. He’d put on latex gloves, pulled the trunk release, then examined the open briefcase that sat on the passenger seat. The pills were in the briefcase. After searching the car and trunk, he approached Sam. “You’re telling the truth, at least. Did you read the instructions, you’ve got to be careful not to take too many of these things. How many did you take?”

Not lifting his head, Sam said, “I don’t know, one or two whenever I got tired.”

“Just as a precaution, I’m going to take you to emergency to get you checked out.” Detective Spade took Sam by the arm and led him to the police car. Miraculously, Sam didn’t object. Putting Sam in the front seat, he turned to Jenna. “Is it okay if we leave his car here?”

“Sure, I’ll move it. I was on my way out. Does he have his wallet?”

“I got the wallet out of his briefcase. The keys are in the ignition. Do you want me to make sure he doesn’t bother you when he comes back for his car?”

The adrenaline was beginning to wear off and Jenna was feeling shaky. She tried to lighten the atmosphere by saying, “Feeling protective, Detective?”

“It’s my job, Ma’am,” His handsome face lit up in a big smile.

Smiling back, Jenna said, “I’m much obliged to you, Sir, but I think I’ll be fine.” Then breaking the spell of their moment, she said, “Say, why did you come?”

Sounding disappointed, he said, “Oh, I came by to tell you you can pick up the things we found in your mother’s car. Just come by the station anytime and sign for them.”

“Oh, I thought maybe one of the neighbors called the police.”

“No. I was in the neighborhood, and thought I’d stop by.”

The look on his face made Jenna think there was more to it than just a friendly call, but she let it go. “I see.”

Looking at his rugged face, a tingling sensation started at the top of her head and moved down. Ripples of clear lavender, yellow and green energy swirled around him. She felt safe. Even so there was an awkward moment as if they each had something they wanted to say. Sam broke the spell by yelling something incoherent. She looked over at him. Detective Spade turned toward the car with reluctance. Jenna said. “I know he’s a jerk, but thanks for taking him to the doctor. You don’t have to stay with him do you?”

“No, he hasn’t committed a crime … yet.”

Jenna laughed. “No, he’s not the type. He’s insecure, but also very ambitious. I don’t think he’d do anything to harm his precious career.”

Detective Spade looked back at Sam leaning his head back against the head rest. “He doesn’t look too tough right now.”

Laughing, Jenna said, “No, he doesn’t. Will tomorrow be okay to stop by the station? I’ve got an appointment with Jim Marshall at the paper. I could come by after that.”

Smiling, Detective Spade said, “That’d be fine. I should be there most of the day.”

“Great. I’ll see you then. And thanks for the rescue, Detective.”

“My pleasure, Ma’am.” Detective Spade tipped his nonexistent hat and got into his car and waved as he drove off with a wilted looking Sam in the front seat.

She moved Sam’’s car then left on her errand.”

There is a scene between these two segments, but for the purposes of this post I cut it.

“When Jenna got back to the house, Sam was leaning on his car. Jenna still had the keys. Her heart sank. This wasn’t over. As she got out of the car, Sam came up the drive. “What’d you do, break bail?” Jenna asked.

“You’re boyfriend got me checked out right away. There wasn’t anyone in the waiting room. All I need is some sleep. Can I crash here?” Sam put that, aren’t I irresistible, look on his face that Jenna hated so much.

“Nope. There are some nice hotels downtown, or you can find a motel out by I-5.”

He frowned. That look usually melted women. “So, I’m not yet forgiven.”

Jenna rounded on Sam and poked him in the chest as she backed him toward his car. “Not even close. But even if you were, I still wouldn’t let you stay here. You cheated on me! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past couple of weeks. I let you walk all over me because I thought we loved each other, and that’s what I was supposed to do. Now I see things differently. I deserve better, someone who knows who he is and loves me just because I’m me.”

Jenna was surprised that Sam was letting her poke him without fighting back. Maybe meeting Detective Spade made him cautious. He looked around to see if any of the neighbors were watching. Jenna jabbed him three times as she said, “That’s not you. Now, get out of here.” Sam started to interrupt, but Jenna cut him off. “No! It’s over! Now I’ve got work to do, so you can just take your keys,” she put them into his hand with a slap.  “Get yourself back to L.A, and may you be happy there.”

Sam just looked at Jenna for a second, then twirling the keys, his expression changed back to his usual expression of self-absorption. “You’re a bitch! You’re blaming me for everything. I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You’re pathetic. I hope you’re happy with your sad little life and your cop boyfriend. I’m off to bigger and better things. You’d only drag me down, BABE!” He got into his car and screeched off, leaving the smell of a burned up relationship, cremated into vapor.”

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015