About Stephanie Himango

Welcome to Another Door Opens. I'm a freelance writer and television producer. In Another Door Opens, the idea is SERVICE THROUGH STORY: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds. We can find life lessons everywhere, behind every door, inside every person. Please add your email to FOLLOW and receive a notice with each new post. Welcome. http://anotherdooropens.net -Stephanie

STORY AND HOW IT CREATES CULTURE AND CONNECTION

Too many of us have listened to eulogies. In no instances do we ever hear this:

• When I spent time with S, I knew I’d need to have my walls up, fists too.

• S was cold and mean and unforgiving.

• S loved to make others feel irrelevant.

• S despised kindness of any form and endeavored to live a life that made others feel unseen.

• S thought only about S.

• S never tried to communicate with people who didn’t look and sound like S.

• S was proud of knowing not a grain of detail about anyone else’s life and family and was not about to waste energy in that effort.

No eulogies ever mention these ways of being in the world. Eulogies celebrate the human story. They share ways in which the departed connected to and meant something to the speaker.  In the example of S, these are clearly not celebrated human behaviors. Yet too many of us participate in, perpetuate and protect these ways of being in an organization, on a team or in life.  Why?

Because we lack trust. 

Because we’re scared. 

Because we don’t know ourselves.

It seems a little old school Cobra Kai. (Remember? Karate Kid? Strike first. No mercy). That way is not the way, my friend. The Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso version of Cobra Kai meets Miyagi-do will win in the end every time.

Be the brave one.

Be like water.

Find ways to see each other.

Find ways to be genuinely, kindly curious. 

In organizations and teams, it’s common to see an “About” tab or “Our Story” on a company’s website. Companies want to give the customer or consumer a sense of who they are, what they’re about, possibly where they came from and what they aim to achieve or provide. 

In turn the company aims to understand the customer, anticipate their needs and position themselves for a long lasting relationship. It’s an exchange.

Do you think that same level of attention happens in most organizations internally? Whereby the organizations give the same attention to their employees — to aim to understand them, to anticipate their needs and work toward building a long and lasting relationship? Some do, for sure. But I am genuinely asking, is it common?

What if the same weight was given to the power of story internally as externally? What if an exchange of values and experiences could be playfully incorporated into workplace cultures to make employees feel seen, heard and valued for a long time to come? 

Nothing brings clarity like story. Nothing brings understanding like story. Nothing sparks the imagination like story. You can see it in your mind’s eye— that flash of light that illuminates the eyes and face of someone rapt by a story, connecting to it, being dazzled and energized by it.  Nothing connects and brings a feeling of oneness to a group or organization like story. Story connects in relationship with others and in relationship with oneself. 

The Flipside of Story

But story has a flip side, and I wonder if you see it in your organization or on your team.  

On the flip side of story is: Gossip. Judgment. Conflict. Assumption. Misunderstanding. 

Rather than connecting, it divides.

While gossip gives the illusion of connecting, it’s coupled with a cloud of mistrust that creeps into that falsely delicious space and a subconscious crevice forms. Connection formed through gossip is built on a faulty foundation. It’s temporary. It’s unstable. 

To gossip is to weaponize story. 

As leaders of our families, our companies, our organizations and our personal lives, how can we foster an environment that encourages — in a healthy, constructive way — connecting through story?

Where would you begin? 

What creative ways can you dream up that would be unique to you and your situation?

I can offer one starting place:  Ask a question. Then listen like you love each other. And listen like you care.

One day, we will find that we do love, and we do care, in spite of ourselves.

IMPORTANT NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: FRIENDS: MY PAGE IS MOVING. PLEASE COME FOLLOW ME HERE: https://www.stephaniehimango.com/newsletter

Lessons In Self-Expression

When it comes to fresh perspective, the new year feels like the sparking of kindling wood. Energy growing, crackling, moving, and shifting.

I think creative self-expression feels like that. Making this uninhibited photo felt like that.

I hope the start of 2023 finds you with tangible reminders of the love in your life and acutely aware of the blessings that surround you, even in the face of extreme hardship and unbearable pain. 

Last time I wrote to you here was 2020. I was excited. I’d created a podcast variation of the Another Door Opens space. I wanted it to last forever. But I chose to end it. Are you thinking, “Why is she advertising that? Why put your failures on blast?” Because. There’s no shame in trying. There’s no shame in falling short if you put in your all. 

To me, that interpretation of ‘failure’ is true only in the world of comparison and judgement. Even in a science lab, a failure is a finding. In the world of creative self-expression, it’s a step on the road each one of us builds, stone by stone. To be self-expressed is to live.

So back in 2020, I put my audible voice on ‘record’, along with the voices of my special guests. Using my physical voice was not a natural step for me. I’ve worked in broadcast television for my entire career, but not as a face you see or a voice you hear. 

On a shoe string, I started. Like many other people. As of January 2023, there are upwards of five million podcasts in existence. I never intended to stop despite the millions of choices listeners have. I love the knowledge and the self-expression so many skilled creators are displaying. Keep it coming! I celebrate you all. 

For me, I wanted my guest list to go on forever. To continue to shine a light on good people in the world.  But I did stop.

I will tell you that making it in the first place meant traveling about 100 miles outside of my comfort zone. And I was willing to make that trip. If you listened to any episodes, I suspect you sensed it through my delivery and shaky voice.

I’d decided to say what I needed to say.  And what I needed to say was: “I’d like you to hear the ideas from these people who are generously sharing their intellect, insights and wisdom. I’d like you to learn from them and see yourself in them.” 

I also was saying, “I’m going to stop hiding. I’m going to try this thing, despite my own insecurity and fear of judgement.” 

In a recent interview on We Can Do Hard Things, Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, said that when she was a little girl watching her mom on stage in a sparkly dress, she understood that Diana Ross was saying: “This is me.” She was not saying: “Look at me.” I couldn’t love this distinction more. Those words describe what I was trying to do in my non-sparkly way. Also, I do love sparkles.

Knowing When to Keep Going and Knowing When to Stop

In his book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, author Michael A. Singer talks about the dog that runs for freedom which lives beyond the perimeter of the yard … only to be shocked when running into the invisible electric fencing. Freedom was on the other side of that invisible shock. What the brave dog understood was that feeling the discomfort of it, and withstanding it… would lead to freedom. 

In the example of my podcast, I was willing to walk or run or slog through the pain of leaving the perimeter of my comfort zone and make it past the shock of leaving the yard. 

You could use the example of a cold plunge or any other illustrations of moving directly  toward pain to relieve pain. We not only have to leave our comfort zone to create change — we need to march into the unknown.

I know that you, like me, have been that dog. We’ve been the dog that let the shock (or prospect of it) stop us and keep us in our place. And, we’ve been the brave dog that knows it’s going to hurt, but it’s worth it, and we do it anyway.

So, was the podcast worth it?  Yes, it was absolutely worth it. 

Did I gain my freedom? Somewhat. But not entirely. 

I expanded my boundaries through self-expression. And when you are more honestly self-expressed, that is a form of freedom. 

Silent Self-Expression

I’m accustomed to silent self-expression. When I move my body while doing martial arts, I feel silent self-expression. When I paint, I feel it. When I do photography, I feel it.  And when I write silently as I’ve done as a career for more than 25 years now, I feel silently self-expressed. Occasionally I write from my own voice, like I’m doing here, but mostly, I write words for other professionals to say out loud. My voice, when writing, is a voice in my own head or a channeling of someone else’s voice. 

Recording my voice on the podcast was not something I could do silently. I did it to the best of my ability at that time in my life. Listening back to my guests now still makes my heart sing. Listening to my own voice makes me cringe. I suspect most of us have that in common.

And that’s ok. Making the Another Door Opens weekly podcast while working full time and traveling proved to be more than I could do sustainably over the long run. So I decided to slow it down, then to stop altogether. I didn’t stop because I thought it wasn’t good enough. My guests were exceptional, engaging, entertaining and enlightening. And I know that with more practice I’d have become better at back and forth exchanges and offering some more of myself.  I stopped because I needed to take care of my health. And sometimes something has to give.

So did I fail? No? Yes? It doesn’t matter, because I’m proud of the guests I featured. And that is what it was about for me. And what did I get out of it? Service. Discomfort which led to growth. A new form of self-expression. And a new connection to some of you.

How Do You Feel Self-Expressed? 

What does self-expression look like for you?

I invite you to think about the ways you feel creatively self-expressed and how that makes a fresh vibration in the world. Is it a ripple of kindness, light, mood, brilliance, wanderlust? Is it a ray of something zany, funny, thoughtful, clear, stirred, or purely energizing to this wild world? 

What makes you feel alive? What actions open your internal doors to self-expression? 

If you read this far, we are on the same page, you and me. I want you to know that in this next phase of the Another Door Opens space — a written space for now — this will be an opening of internal doors, exploring the interior spaces we all share, and finding out what lies within each one of us by taking a journey inside ourselves.

Wade into your own means of creative self-expression with me. Let it heal you. Let it nurture your soul. Let it warm you like a bonfire. Let it be a salve for those around you. Just let it BE.

Note: I’ll be moving this blog site, so please watch for notice about where to find this blog going forward in 2023.

Invitation to the Podcast

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Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

If we had the advantage of getting a glimpse into the private life of every person we encountered every single day, we’d live our days with more understanding, compassion, and love, and with less judgment and less division.

When we see each other as people — with lives and stories and personal hardships…

When we see each other as people  — with love and grace and joy and sorrow …

When we have the selflessness to remember the world does not revolve around us

Only then can we find common ground.

Only then can we experience empathy.

Only then can we allow our minds to wander into the shoes of another.

Only then can we wake up to the reality that we all want to live free, happy, fulfilled lives without ridiculous barriers erected by archaic thinking and the subversive false pretense of human hierarchy.

Only then can we learn that success, joy and power are not zero sum.

If you view me (or others) as less than, remember this:

My/their success does not diminish yours. It supports it.

My/their joy does not diminish yours. It supports it.

My/their power does not diminish yours. It supports it.

My/their light does not diminish yours. It supports it.

Through zero sum lenses, there is conflict and division and separation, and this planet is cracking as a result of trying to balance a world of pain on top of a shoddy now crumbling false foundation.

As I recently heard said, it is time to do right, not be right.

It’s time to reach out to one another in love, not fear. It is time to listen.

The Another Door Opens blog is officially a podcast. I want to invite those of you who follow me here, who have not found the podcast yet, to come visit over there.

It is called Another Door Opens with Stephanie Himango, and each week I interview a different guest about part of their life, and most of the time, some type of turning point when they experienced struggle or hardship, self-reflection or pain, and the strength and resilience and life lessons they drew on or discovered through the process of that transformative moment or time.  You will see yourself in each person. You will find connection.

The idea is exactly as you find here — a series of guest-centric interviews that over time will represent a beautiful cross-section of people with all different types of backgrounds and experiences.

I hope you come visit the podcast and keep coming back, to listen to my guests, one week at a time.  I hope you leave uplifted.

I hope you experience an opening: of heart and mind.

Thank you and sending you all peace & love.   Click here to go to the podcast

My Blog is Becoming a Podcast

It was the tennis great Arthur Ashe who said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I followed that advice when my heart told me to start the Another Door Opens blog back in 2013.

I started where I was. (New Mexico).

I used what I could.  (An idea, a recording device and a camera).

And I did what I could. (Knocked on doors and asked questions of strangers then wrote their stories.)

Passing through those doors into worlds unknown was my search for meaning as much as it was a creative project to give my life some structure. I had left an all-consuming career as a network news producer in late 2012, and after spending time with family, traveling, wandering and rejuvenating, I craved purpose.

Throughout my journalism career, I noticed the lights that flickered on in the eyes of a person who felt seen and heard. I thrilled at learning about them, listening to them, and then reflecting and learning something about myself in the process.

That’s the gift I wanted to provide in creating the Another Door Opens stories and blog. The stories are written to be hopeful, yes, but more importantly, insightful. Listening to the stories of others, we can learn a little about the life of a stranger. We listen so that we may care more and judge less. We listen so that we may find common ground that connects us. We listen so that we can celebrate the differences that distinguish us. We listen not to then say, “You’re wrong, and I’m right.” We listen to learn something and find new perspective. We listen to practice some self-reflection and self-analysis. We listen more to love more.

In this day, when our country feels so divided, we are also hopeful because thousands, maybe millions, of people are taking a good hard unrelenting whack at systemic racism and working hard to break up the sick and oppressive nature of long-standing institutions. Together, purposeful leaders, compassionate thinkers and action-takers are shining a light on how archaic ways of thinking and acting marginalize people and corrupt growth. A light is being shined on how an unspoken caste system creates massive sustained pain, destruction and division. Ignorance of these truths creates yet more division and an inability to listen and communicate perpetuates it. When we open our doors and hearts to dialogue, it’s just possible we may also open some minds.

My small blog is growing up into a podcast. Service through story is still at its core. Subject matter may be light or heavy. But it is all about someone’s personal experience.

The bonus you get when moving from blog to podcast is you get to really hear from the guests — their voices, their inflections, their cadence and energy. Often times their laughter.

As I write this to you, the podcast is nearing its launch date. I plan to have 10 episodes ready for you at the time of launch, and I cannot wait for you to hear from my fabulous guests.  They educate me, inspire me and motivate me to keep knocking on doors and to keep connecting people.

Please check out my Patreon link below to find out more about the podcast and how you can subscribe to become part of the creative process.

https://www.patreon.com/anotherdooropens

Mission: Open doors, open hearts, open minds.  Thank you for being here, and I hope you’ll come along for the metamorphosis.  (Below is a glimpse of the podcast cover art so that you will know what to look for once I launch).

Thank you!

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Flow State

“I’m sitting there in the bank just crying, just reading through all of the things. Oh, look, she paid for the dogs to go to the vet. Oh, look, she bought this. So many times when we would go out to dinner — and I would pay for dinner — she would pay with what I thought was my card, coming out of my account. No. She was paying for it. And she never said it.”

It had been months since Debra died, and the bank contacted Dr. Heather Richardson, MD, on the very same day her friend Debra’s death certificate arrived.

“We were each other’s living will person, and so I went to the bank.”

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Dr. Richardson is a respected and beloved breast health surgeon at Bedford Breast Center in Beverly Hills, California. One reviewer on Yelp writes that she’s a ‘highly skilled and professional surgeon, who also just happens to be a super cool bad@ss.” Breast cancer patients write about how she saved their lives. Office staff smile about the way Dr. Richardson hums and sings so freely and skillfully.

With a passion for the fine arts and science, Dr. Richardson loves her work.

“I have to think three-dimensionally. I have to think about balance, symmetry, aesthetics. I get to talk to people about their fears and anxieties. And usually I get to make them feel better. And they’re so grateful. To connect with people, to use an analytical mind to solve problems, and then to physically have to do something… the artist in me just loves performing surgery. It’s just really elegant. They talk about the ‘flow state’ when you’re doing something and you kind of get lost. I absolutely get in the flow state when I’m performing surgery.”

About five years prior to that day at the bank, Dr. Richardson had been communicating with her friend Debra who was going through a hard time. Dr. Richardson invited Debra to come to Los Angeles to stay in her spare bedroom.

“She never wanted to be a burden, but there was this heaviness to our conversations. I don’t remember the exact day, I told her point-blank: ‘There’s never going to be a right time. Things are never going to be organized and orderly or tidy enough. At some point, you just have to get on a f*king plane.’ We used that moment, that statement, many times after that to punctuate those action thoughts that need to propel us into the next stage of our lives, as paralyzing as it may be to take action.”

They decided Debra would stay for a month or two, rent-free. She could get her feet on the ground, then go. She wouldn’t have to work or pay for anything. Just take care of home life and enjoy. Two months grew into nearly five years, and a sisterhood.

“She was a very bright girl. She didn’t have an opportunity to really get educated. She is just one of the most giving, caring, conscientious people ever.

“I have to have an education because I had to have an education. I can’t do what I’m doing without having gone through the schooling that I’ve gone through. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily think that people that are formally educated are better or smarter than other people. I know a lot of people who have learned what they know just from experiences in life lessons, and they’re so much more capable and smart than a lot of people who are more classically educated.

“One of Debra’s favorite mantras was ‘unexpressed expectations are premeditated resentments.’

“So, if you don’t tell someone what you’re thinking and you don’t communicate anything, then you don’t give anybody an opportunity to try to make it better or fix it.”

They did communicate, effortlessly. And they didn’t have unexpressed expectations.

“We just had this team living approach where I paid for everything and she took care of stuff. So she cooked and cleaned and took care of animals. She had two cats, and I had two dogs. We had like a little menagerie. We were like cousins or sisters.  I would do my thing and work, and she would do her thing and take care of the dogs and the house and listen to podcasts and research everything.

“We didn’t ask for anything from each other, but anything that we needed, we would have given to each other.”

That synchronicity changed both of their lives forever. “She was my best friend. I was her biggest cheerleader, and she was my biggest cheerleader.” Neither could have foreseen what would happen one day in the autumn of 2019.

“She came into my room at four-thirty in the morning and said, ‘something’s really wrong. I have a horrible headache.’ And after talking with her, I figured pretty immediately that something was not right. So we went to the hospital.”

Soon after arriving at the emergency room, Debra seized. “That was her last conscious moment.” Debra died of a brain aneurysm.

Even in death, Debra was as Dr. Richardson described her: giving, caring, conscientious. She donated her organs. Months later, a memorial service was held. The date was February 11, 2020. Debra’s birthday. She would have been 48 years old.

Los Angeles for Healing

Debra came to Los Angeles to heal. And so did Dr. Richardson.

Back in 1999, Dr. Richardson had finished medical school and was in her surgery residency at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. She died in the year 2000. The young physician didn’t yet know what type of surgeon she wanted to be, but soon after, that decision was made. She joined a practice with Atlanta breast surgeon and mentor Dr. Bill Barber.

“I lost my own mom, and I’m sad without her. I wish she was still here. I think the gift in that experience of going through that with her is that I saw what people are going through mentally on their own side of it, the fear that they have, the anxiety they have, how they process information. Learning those lessons through someone who actually went through it, it really kind of gives me a scope of what my patients might be going through. And as much as I would rather be a slightly crappier doctor and still have my mom around, it’s definitely something that I’m making the most of, and I know that she would be proud of me.”

Dr. Richardson’s layers of resilience are as deep and diverse as the intricate paintings she creates.  Her perspective is ever listing toward the light.

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Moving West

“In any scenario, you have an opportunity to make something better for a person… and sometimes that person is yourself.”

By 2014 and after another loss in her personal life, Dr. Richardson needed a change. A place to heal.  It was her own time to get on a plane.

“I was in a very complicated marriage for years and years and years. And my husband took his own life. It was a really horrible situation, and I wish he had made different decisions. But I can’t unmake his decisions. And they weren’t my decisions to make. So I have to just sort of let them go and appreciate that I wish things had turned out differently. I can’t do anything else about it. And all I can do is take what I have from all of that experience and move forward. That’s why I left my practice in Atlanta and why I came to Los Angeles.

“Just start over, just give myself a new place to come. I wanted to go somewhere really different and wide open where there were tons of opportunities for me personally and socially and career-wise. And I just wanted something bigger.”

What did she do during that transition time? Did she have anchors or routines to help her feel grounded? Did she exercise? Hike? Meditate?

“I’m the worse exerciser. I am the worst dancer. I don’t do anything athletic. I’m just a giant klutz. I don’t like moving!

“The most athletic thing I do is downhill skiing and that’s because the mountain does the work. All you have to do really is stand still and go into a controlled fall. At the other end of that is a giant bowl of melted cheese and several glasses of wine!”

Humor is something her mom and dad instilled in her and her brother, Jamey.

“Our family is really funny. Whatever the situation is, it is what it is. And it doesn’t have to be good or bad. You don’t have to put a sign, a dramatic absolute, to anything. Any situation you have, you can take something good away from it or any situation you can make it better. If it’s already pretty good, you can just enjoy it and be grateful for it.

“I just threw myself into my work, and I love what I do. I came here to start with one practice, and that ended up not working out.

“To have a really busy, thriving practice and start over from scratch twice was really sort of a blow. That is really where all of my attention and all my effort went. And it bore fruit. So that was the reward. The reward was in that work: Planting those seeds and then watching everything grow and develop and blossom. I didn’t really think, well, what if I fail?”

She asked herself a different question: What am I going to do with my success?

“Any ingredients that you’re given, you can always make something from it. Any horrible situation that life presents you, presents you with a lesson of your own strength, your own resilience.”

Through her example, Dr. Richardson shares that strength and resilience with every patient she encounters and with all who come to know her caring heart.

“Every stumbling block that I encountered was a rock or a current that sent me onto this beautiful new shore.”

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Trickle, Trickle, Trickle

Back at the bank that day, Dr. Richardson was told that whatever was in Debra’s account was now hers.

Dr. Richardson knew that Debra’s father had left her about $100,000 a few years prior.

“I figured after three years, she probably had like $80,000 left. After sitting for two hours at the bank, they handed me a check.” There were $13,000 left in Debra’s account.  “I was really shocked that all of her money was gone. My first thought was, ‘way to go!’ You haven’t been sitting on a big pile of money that you’ve been waiting to spend. You did everything you wanted to do. I’m really, really impressed!’ Then I thought, maybe she’s put money somewhere, and I need to find out where it is. As I’m going through every month of her bank statement, it’s just trickle, trickle, trickle. The entire time she was living with me, she was putting money into my account.

“I had two bank accounts, and I would move money back and forth between the accounts. And when I would do that, it would just say the name of the bank. And her account was at the same bank. So when she transferred money in, it just said the name of the bank. So I never, ever, ever knew. She did it completely anonymously. The only reason I ever found out was because she died.”

Not unlike donating her organs after death, Dr. Richardson knew how befitting this gesture was of Debra’s character.

“In any relationship, I think people overestimate what they’ve put into it. Whether it’s business or personal, you overestimate what you’ve put into it. They’re overestimating what they’re putting into it. And the reality is somewhere in between. When you give freely and you’re grateful for whatever you get, then it’s complete harmony.”

It takes a selfless heart to recognize and appreciate the depth inside the soul of another person. That’s what they both did for each other. And that is why their sisterhood was complete harmony.

Dr. Richardson says Debra always gave more than she got.

I bet a lifetime of family, friends and patients would say the same thing about Dr. Heather Richardson.

Find Bedford Breast Center on Instagram and Twitter @bedfordbreastcenter and online at www.bedfordbreastcenter.com. Photos courtesy of Dr. Heather Richardson. Shown: Portraits, as well as an image of a painting done by Dr. Richardson, and an image of Dr. Richardson and her friend Debra.

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Just Turn Around

Pippi Longstocking! If she had to pick one favorite book from her childhood, L. Marelle Camel would choose Pippi Longstocking. The adventures… The lack of supervision…

“I just was so taken by this little girl who was raising herself.” Marelle’s smile and tone revealing a bit of envy for the child who was free to get into mischief unchecked. “But also, I was kind of afraid for her because she didn’t have guidance.”

Since those early years, books have moved Marelle. And she wants them to impact today’s elementary aged kids too by presenting reading not as a chore, but rather as a world of exploration, learning and wonder.  Marelle cares about this so much that in early 2019, she founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Camel Kids Foundation.

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“It’s important for kids to really see themselves reflected in books,” she said. “We provide students with free books to introduce them to authors and illustrators and lead characters of color.”

Marelle says it is imperative for children to see books that have someone who looks like them on the cover.  “Especially in children’s books, picture books… that’s important for the little kids to see.

“I want to triumph all of our people of color who are authors because they don’t get a lot of credit. I want to introduce their books to kids.” That also includes illustrators of color. “I think that the children who are not of color can also benefit from reading a story by someone who is of color. Nine times out of 10, they have friends, schoolmates or playmates or people in dance class that are of color. And it’s important for them to know how to relate.”

Marelle knows stories can be formative, and they have staying power. Decades later, the thought of Pippi Longstocking still brings a smile to Marelle’s eyes. (The story was first published in 1945 by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, and it has been translated into 75 languages.)

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Now a 32 year-old actor living in Los Angeles, Marelle embraces all aspects of storytelling, and she has made a commitment to reaching young minds through books.

The mission of Camel Kids Foundation — which Marelle says is currently operating in Los Angeles and New York, and next in Atlanta — has two parts. One part: Visit schools to read and gift carefully selected books to elementary age children. The other part: The Snack Box Project: To provide classroom supplies for teachers and snacks for their rooms.

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An estimated 94% of all teachers buy classroom supplies out of their own pocket, and up to 13 million children nationwide go to school hungry regularly.

The struggle felt by teachers to provide for their students is a reality Marelle knows well. Her mother, Pearl, has been an educator for nearly 25 years. While teaching pre-K and kindergarten, Pearl raised three daughters alone: Marelle, Marelle’s twin sister Lynne Michelle (younger than Marelle by just three minutes) and their older sister Katherine (who is also an educator and teaches K2 at a daycare).

Homework and the Human Spirit

Growing up in Atlanta, Marelle learned the importance of education from her mother.

“She is an educator to the T. So if we didn’t have homework, we had homework. She would give us homework. And even if we did have homework, she would give us homework. Our summers were spent at the library.

“If one of my sisters or I even asked a question, like, ‘I wonder if there’s butterflies that have the same pattern…’ that would be a book report that we would have to do. If you asked a question, you would learn it. You know? And it would be all of us that would have to do that book report. So being the daughter of an educator is hard, but it’s good at the same time because you learn so much.”

Marelle and her sisters learned academic lessons from Pearl. But one of the biggest life lessons Marelle learned was this:

“My mother says, ‘Turn around, child. Just turn around.’

“A lot of people wait until they’ve got Oprah money or Obama money in order to be philanthropists. (My mother) says, ‘Turn around. There’s somebody behind you that could use your help where you are now. You are capable. You don’t have to wait until you have… money to be, like, now I’m going to donate. Or now I’m going to build a school in Africa. Or I’m going to build a school in Europe. You know, there’s something that you could be doing, someone who could benefit from you, if you would just turn around.’”

Marelle thinks about how an organization like the one she has founded today could have helped back then. “We struggled as a family,” she says. “And so now that I’m capable…. (You) can hear the echo. I’ve definitely got to turn around, you know? And help somebody else.”

Camel Kids Foundation primarily serves Title 1 schools, although not exclusively. The basic principal of Title 1 is that schools with large concentrations of low-income students will receive supplemental funds to assist in meeting student’s educational goals.

Learning to Live

After graduating from high school in Atlanta, Marelle left home for the first time in the name of study: to Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. There, she learned that being on her own wasn’t as carefree as it seemed for fictional Pippi Longstocking.

“I had a hard time my freshman year. Wow! I never realized my attachment to my mother until it was time to leave.” Four years later, she majored in Communications and went back to Atlanta to figure out what to do next. From age 21-24, Marelle would search.

“I found that period, that three year period, very hard for me. It was about discovering my identity and who I was as a person, who I was going to be, the things that I wanted to do, the things that I could do and how could I make my goals reality.”

It’s during those times of waiting or searching that we all find our spaces of grace and refuge.

“I did dance — ballet, contemporary and hip hop. I found a love for pilates and yoga during that time…. That was my release. That did … buy me some time and really helped me deeper discover who I was as a person. I’ve always been very creative, and dance is definitely a way to express myself.”

Through her yoga practice, Marelle says she found calm. “It was the stillness about it that really got me to hone in and focus, which I think is necessary as a young adult to have.

“I think that’s what really led me to just pick up and leave after I’d found my focus.”

Unlike that first goodbye when she left Atlanta for Oakwood University, Marelle was ready when she decided to move to Los Angeles to work in production and then pursue acting.

“Leaving the nest again wasn’t something that I feared. It was something that I welcomed. I was ready for change.”

Change Maker

Even as Marelle focuses on her acting career, her mission with Camel Kids Foundation is deeply rooted in family and tradition and turning around for the next person.

I wondered if Camel Kids Foundation had made its way to Pearl’s classroom.

“I go to her class whenever I’m in Atlanta and disrupt,” she laughs. “I teach (teach, she says, with air quotes) to the best of my ability!”  But those visits have been personal visits.

If Marelle brings Camel Kids Foundation to her mother’s classroom — to sit down with students and read to them about characters just like them — it will be a sort of coming full circle,  a circle which has her mother, Pearl, at its center.

Marelle has watched her mother teach and is in awe of the way she’s able to make connections with students and sees the light bulb moments when they’ve learned something. And there is reverence there, but not only that.  “I adore her.  She’s my heart.”

And it is really heart that is motivating Marelle’s movement — to see hearts, to open hearts and to nurture hearts. Perhaps so that every child will one day find it in their own  heart … to also… turn around.

To learn more, to donate or to get involved with Camel Kids Foundation, visit www.camelkidsfoundation.org and follow them on social media at @camelkidsfndn. Email, volunteer, donate, share. Portrait 1 photo credit: Kevin Richardson/Dance As Art. Portrait 2 photo credit: Kirk McKoy. My thanks for permission to use your beautiful work.

la vie en rose

Rose McAleese is a writer and storyteller.

“I’m Nora Ephron if Nora Ephron listened to Kendrick Lamar.”

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Rose has a quick wit and a sparkling personality.

“I’ve been a writer all my life. I did poetry then (music) journalism and then screenwriting. So obviously I like jobs that don’t pay!”

She wrote and published a book of poetry called Strong. Female. Character. She has written for BET’s The Quad. She has been through the Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship program where she worked with mentors, wrote punchlines and gave notes on scripts.

“And I just became a playwright!”

There is a clarity, rhythm and mischievousness to the way Rose speaks, and it’s mixed with deep awareness, compassion and humor.

Her first play was recently performed, and it is titled A Phrasal, Likewise Me. It’s a cool name. Clever too. It’s an anagram. Think about that. And I’ll tell you the answer later.

“I’ve had my words said in a TV show that I’ve written for… and short films. But in theater,  it’s just completely different.

“There’s this magic … ‘on this Saturday we’re all gonna witness something great together and all we can do is try to, you know, describe it to people before it slips away.’”

Rose says her play is a Shakespearean mixed tape.

To remake or remix something requires knowledge and insight into the original thing. In this case: Shakespeare. Rose — raised in Seattle — says she has slept through more Shakespeare plays than most people have seen. (There is a Nora Ephron Sleepless in Seattle reference I should insert here, but I can’t think of one.)  Sitting in the audience to watch her own play A Phrasal, Likewise Me come to life in Los Angeles, however, Rose was wide awake, nervous, excited. 

“It was a series of monologues that were written from the point of view of characters in Shakespeare that Shakespeare writes about, but doesn’t give lines to. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet, the girlfriend before Juliet is Rosaline. Rosaline gets mentioned seven times in the play.

“So I kind of gave Rosaline a speech towards the end of the play. She finally gets to talk. She talks about how Romeo wasn’t really her dude, but she might be jealous, but like, it’s fine.

“So that was one of the monologues. Another one was Miranda’s mom from The Tempest. Obviously Miranda had to have a mother. The mother character never has a name. Her opening line is, ‘I never had a name in any of these stories.’ So it’s from her perspective.

“I feel like every writer has the first storyteller that sparks their imagination. And for me it was Shakespeare. My mother read everything to me, explained to me that if you don’t understand it, that’s the beauty of it. It’s poetry. It’s always up to interpretation.

“When I was 11 or 12, the Seattle Shakespeare Company had a summer camp called Camp Bill. We just put on plays. So I’ve played Romeo, I’ve played  Juliet, I’ve played Puck, which was my favorite. I love Puck because Puck is the quietest meddler.”

The Trouble With Words

To re-imagine the work of her earliest inspiration required empathy, interpretation and imagination. But it also required a great handle on language, and in Rose’s earliest years of childhood, words on paper and the order of the letters…puzzled her.

“I used to be very embarrassed by it, because when they tested me for dyslexia, I was a seventh grader with a reading level of a third grader. But I had an immense vocabulary. I knew what words meant.  I just couldn’t spell the words.

“That’s why I got into spoken word poetry — because no one sees your writing. It was really calming to be like, ‘Oh, I just have to memorize it.’ Memorization comes easy. Most people who have dyslexia or a reading disability have a superpower to do something else.

“I didn’t think I could be a writer if I was dyslexic. I mean, literally, ‘you want to work with words, but you can’t even read.’ But then I got the right resources, had the right mentors, had a really loving family that supported me. And then was introduced to this world that didn’t require actually anyone reading my jumbled up letters or words.”

Once you’ve seen Rose perform spoken word (Google search), you will see what a huge talent she possesses. Her delivery has a powerful cadence.

“Everything is a poem,” she says. “Everything has rhythm. Everything’s a song.”

Diversity in the Writers’ Room

Our personal pasts have a rhythm, a song…. once we choose to see our individuality as something magical. Because we are all unique, a variety of voices are needed to bring drama or comedy to life on screen. All of our favorite scripted TV shows have writers’ rooms. Those writers tell the stories we see.

“I was taught this in the spoken word poetry community: Every single human being has about 10,000 poems that live inside of them. Maybe sometimes you and me might have similar poems. We would write them completely different. You and me might have similar life experiences, but we saw them from a different POV.

“Diversity is important because that’s the natural thing. It just sparks a whole new point of view.

“It’s really important to have people that don’t look like you and don’t sound like you and don’t come from the same city as you to really bring that heavy texture and layers that we need in storytelling.

“I grew up thankfully with a lot of amazing programs that taught me media literacy when I was really young. I was part of a group called Powerful Voices, and they have this program called Girls Rap where we basically went into middle schools and high schools and we learned media literacy. We learned how important ads in magazines are to be, like, ‘What is this telling you? What’s the truth of the matter?’ Like, you don’t have to be skinny. You don’t have to be fair skinned. That is important.”

Rose is a huge fan of Insecure on HBO and Issa Rae.

“Everyone watches TV. Everyone watches film. So you have to have diverse voices to really make these stories sound authentic, to really have this point of view come through where it’s like, no, this exists.

“Being a white woman, my diversity lies in the fact that I’m a woman. But being white in America, that is a privilege. And understanding your white privilege is really important. But then on top of that, I didn’t really grow up rich, you know? And so class was a huge theme in my life.”

Class & Character

Rose is taken back to her childhood in Seattle.  “I guess I didn’t realize that growing up in a bar gave me character.”

Rose’s grandparents own Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub.

“When I was little, my dad was a bartender and even managed the restaurant with his family. My sister and I, we just grew up there.  No wonder I became a storyteller. I was in a bar! It’s music meets oral history.”

Career Path of a Storyteller

“If anyone’s gone into my apartment, they enter it and they go, ‘Oh! This must be what the inside of your brain looks like.’ Because there’s Post-it Notes everywhere. It’s really random and eclectic, and there’s twinkle lights constantly. My dad says, ‘Life is a matter of lighting.’”

There are two quotes that for Rose are guiding principles.

“One, on the fridge, is the Jimmy Breslin quote: ‘Go ask the gravedigger.’”

That is in reference to It’s An Honor, the extraordinary article written by Breslin that highlighted the perspective of the last man to serve President John F. Kennedy: the man who dug his grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Clifton Pollard. The message: See what others are doing, and don’t do that. Do something else. Be original.

“And then the second one, because I love Kendrick Lamar, is: ‘Careers take off. Just gotta be patient.’”

Rose makes it clear that it is quite literally a ‘note to self.’

And it reminds me of a quote I read in Busy Philipps’ book This Will Only Hurt A Little which is similar and applicable to all of us: ‘Be grateful in that waiting room.’ And in that writers’ room. And in that room of your own soul.

Which brings me back to the beautiful juxtaposition of Rose and Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare (whose language perplexed many of us) threw off convention to craft his own bedazzled words and phrases, and he utilized language to his pleasing. And to the benefit of those who are inspired by it. And not unlike her earliest inspiration, Rose McAleese found her own brand of true expression when she was bold enough to unravel the complexity of words so she too could utilize language to her pleasing. And to the benefit of those who are inspired by it.

A Phrasal, Likewise Me is William Shakespeare through Rose-colored glasses.

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Follow Rose:  Instagram: @rose_ettastone  Website: http://www.rosemcaleese.com

A Short Surgery Story

“What is this going to teach me?” I thought. I was shivering, but lying in the operating room version of savasana, the blankets were warm. I was like a duck on the water, staying calm on the outside and managing jittery nerves underneath.

“I feel a little strange. Is it starting?”

From somewhere behind my head, I heard the anesthesiologist smile, “Yes, it is.”

“Okay! Thank you. I appreciate you guys!” And I did. This whole team had been aces from the start. I quickly pictured myself, the OR team, and all my loved ones and friends dressed in Wonder Woman style suits with long swords lining up in a vast field of open space in a show of strength.  My friend, Christiana, told me the post-operative experience is supposed to be better if you picture positive things as you are put to sleep. So I hastened the gratitude and superhero stuff. Plus, Eric — who is my rock and my heart — and I had spent the past two evenings watching kung fu movies to cement a mindset of calm, strength, precision and positive philosophy, so there’s a synergy there too.

Someone was nudging me from the right side, and then I realized I was conscious again. Surgery was done.

I have a small incision on my right breast, some stitches and some bruising. Three days ago, I had a breast lumpectomy, and I’m awaiting the pathology report. From what the surgeon said, the pending result looks very promising.

Prior to surgery, there was an ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy, other ultrasounds, diagnostic mammograms and mammograms. There was waiting time and uncertainty. There were very frustrating insurance-related phone calls.

This experience gave me the slightest, faintest glimpse into the scary and confusing paths so many family, friends and colleagues have walked — people who have had cancer diagnoses, double mastectomies, radiation, chemotherapy, reconstruction, implants, infections, removal, recovery, more uncertainty and on and on. I know that I don’t understand the magnitude of their experiences. Not even close. But my relatively small exposure to this through my personal experience has made me so much more aware of how to treat others going through something.

What did I learn? I wish, in retrospect, I’d been more inquisitive of friends and colleagues if I knew they were going through breast cancer treatments or other health challenges. I wish I’d given them the opportunity to share what they were feeling. I always erred on the side of not saying anything in the name of respecting their privacy. And while every person is different, my overall takeaway is that I wish I’d reached out more. I wish I’d engaged and supported more. I wish I’d shown more concern. My silence was out of respect, but my experience has given me new perspective. If inquiry is not wanted and privacy is preferred, the person can redirect and defer that engagement. But at least the love is shown and they are given a choice. I really felt the love from so many people through this process, led by my family, my love Eric, and my friends. Thank you. I appreciate you. UPDATE: I received a clean bill of health.

GET IN THE RING: The Tale of Bruno the Boxer

Hello friends! Another door has opened.

Years ago, I attended a writing seminar in Lincoln, New Mexico, and the instructor advised us that nothing gets written without putting “butt to chair.” I took his advice, and with a glimmer of an idea, I began.

What emerged is a fable called GET IN THE RING: The Tale of Bruno the Boxer. Even though I had never written fiction or a fable before, somehow it happened.

With excitement, I share with you my first ever fable. It is about a boxer puppy who wants to be a boxer boy. The themes running through this book include overcoming self-doubt and limiting beliefs to living our truth and achieving our highest potential. The messages are universal. It’s a fitting read for adults who enjoy an imaginative simple story with subtle messages, and it’s also a good fit for youth as they dare and dream and discover who they truly are.

Buy it on Amazon.

If you enjoy the book, I ask you to *please* log on to Amazon and give the book a good review so that I can reach people outside of my immediate network. I think the messages will resonate with many people, and with your help, I hope to reach them. More positive reviews, more traction, more people. This was a passion project, and writing this book and putting it out into a critical world was a form of “getting in the ring” for me. Here’s to you getting into the ring too!

With all my thanks and gratitude,
Stephanie

 

In Focus

Lake Superior is his muse.

It’s the world’s largest fresh water lake by surface area at 31,700 square miles. For photographer Christian Dalbec, the lake lavishes inspiration in its ever-changing face and mood. He wakes up before dawn to take pictures and he stays up late to perfect them.

Based in Two Harbors, Minnesota, on Lake Superior’s north shore, Christian makes his photographs with a Nikon camera and insatiable curiosity. It doesn’t matter if it’s 80 degrees or -30 degrees below zero, he’s outside in the elements, in or near the water, capturing nature’s beauty. But more than that, he captures the essence of the North Shore.

You see that in the vibrant red sunsets reflecting off the water’s surface near giant ore docks. You see it in the white cliffs that have been smashed by ten-foot waves and transformed into fantastic rocky ice sculptures. You see it in the low angles of sea smoke rising off choppy waters.  And on a quiet day, serene beneath the glassy clear water, you see it in the polished agates that create the lake’s rock bottom.

But Christian hit his own rock bottom to get here.

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“I probably hit rock bottom all kinds of times. It was all about alcohol. All I wanted to do was drink, all the time.

“I got four DUIs in my life. 1986. 1992. 1998. 2011.”

That time period spans 25 years.

“I was never aware of what was going on in the world. Like the eagles going by and the owl in the tree. I just was never aware of any of that before.”

There is reverence in his voice, and regret.

Christian started taking photographs in earnest in about 2011 and bought his first DSLR camera about a year before that last DUI.  But there was a flash of interest in the craft early in his life.

“I always saw things. I even remember, long before the drinking, as a kid, going out in the yard with an Instamatic and taking pictures of my sister’s kittens. I thought, ‘I’m going to be a photographer.’

“That lasted about a day.  I didn’t like the pictures, so I just gave it up right away.”

The drinking started in high school. “We used to go get booze and then go drive. That was the plan. Tell people that now…”

Christian cringes too.

After high school, he continued drinking and despite working various jobs and playing in a band, there was a constant desire for alcohol.

“All I could think about was getting to the bar. It was just solid.”

Whether he was self-medicating deeper pain, he says he’s not sure. But he admits it’s possible.

“In high school, I didn’t have any self-confidence. I never really did, growing up. I remember being picked on a lot. I didn’t even want to live half the time back then. I didn’t sit there and plan suicide, but it’s like, ‘This is horrible.’” Even though school life was hard, he says his home life was good.

From high school in the 1980’s until 2011, there was a vague desire to stop drinking, but not really.

“There was trouble around every corner,” he remembers.

“I wasn’t myself. There were a lot of car accidents that I crawled out of. I don’t even know why I lived through some of them. It seems like there’s a purpose that I did.”

A Purpose

He tried treatment many times. He spent a weekend in jail. He went to AA meetings. He couldn’t drive. He had a month when he was required to wear a bracelet which limited his movement from home to treatment and two walks with his dog each day.

So he would walk to the water.

“I’d go out and walk around the point and make my way back twice a day, in the morning and then in the evening. It’s not that big of an area, but I found something different every day. I made that an objective to keep going to the same area to find different views.”

Christian went to treatment again, and this time he started viewing that differently too.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Just like they say. It got to the end there, and figuring if you live 80 or 100 years,  I said to myself: ‘I need to see what the other half of my life could be like. Without being tied down to all this trouble.’

“This time, when I got to treatment, I thought, ‘Something’s got to change. So I’m going to listen and do whatever I can to get out of the rut that I’m in.’

“It all just started making more sense.”

Christian says he doesn’t have a day that marks his sobriety. But sometime after that last DUI, a line was drawn in the sand: on one side was the bar and drinking and old ways. On the other side was the camera and nature and a fresh start. After 25 years of trying, he made a change.

Sometimes it takes the smallest glimmer of hope to try again. To fall seven times and rise eight, as the saying goes. Even after years of trying unsuccessfully, you try once more, and that is when you succeed. Like the lotus rising up through mud, it’s the never giving up that produces the flower.

Christian took photography classes and started asking more questions of photographers he knew. He had an eye for good photo composition, but he needed to learn how to manipulate the camera to create his desired effect.  While on a field assignment one day, he remembers saying to photographer John Gregor of Coldsnap Photography: “Hey, I want to know how to put the camera on M and for the water to blur.”

He learned fast, and now shoots everything on M (manual).  His technical knowledge of his camera’s capabilities has become automatic.

He can lose himself in the creative process now that his technical skills are second nature.

When asked to describe the feeling photography gives him, Christian’s eyes light up.

“I just really love it. I don’t have time for drinking or the bar or TV so much either. Something really good happens. An eagle. The right wave. I didn’t grow up super religious, but I still believe in God. Now it’s just like, ‘Thank you, God.’ It feels like a blessing. It seems like God’s shown me things of why I’m here now.”

Now, rather than trouble around every corner, Christian says he finds inspiration there.  His outlook has changed and along with it so has his relationship with the world.

“It’s a 180. I mean, I’m still me. I’ve probably still got bad traits. But all in all, I’m a way better person. And I see more in other people. I just appreciate life more than I ever did. I’m seeing the world. The world right here, right outside. I’m awake. It seems like I was in a coma all those years.”

He owns and operates Christian Dalbec Photography. He makes his living shooting photographs of nature that awe his ever-growing legion of fans. He shares his work online through his website by the same name and his accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  He’s still trying to get used to the attention his photography brings and the second chance it has given him.

“I don’t set a clock. I get up early, around 4am or 5am. It seems like I’m not getting up early enough. I used to want to sleep until noon. But, man, I was wasting life away.”

Looking around the room at walls filled with enlarged images of his photography, he says, “I really regret all the years I could have been doing something like this…

“But you can’t change it.”

Now, there is self-acceptance in his voice. And peace.

“I feel like I’m free.”

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