Sunday, March 15, 2009

Self Improvement Comes in Many Forms - Some Food for Thought

Self improvement can be as simple or as complicated as one wants it to be.

In my teens I made it part of my common practice to work on improving myself. Whether it was a matter of improving my speech or learning something new every day. To this day, every night when I go to bed I think about how lucky I am to have learned at least one new thing that day. Every morning when I wake up, I thank God for giving me another day to cherish life and those around me.

It's so easy to just 'be' You all know people like that. They just maintain status quo and stagnate. They don’t think about learning, growing, changing. Most people are afraid of change and avoid it at all costs. I was once one of those people, and my life was ruled by crippling fear.

Unfortunately, much of my self-improvement has been as a result of hard won wisdom through mistakes along the way. Life doesn’t come with a blueprint or a manual. Like innocent children, we sometimes stumble and make mistakes along the way. It’s called being human.

I haven’t always been flexible. In the contrary, I was as rigid and unyielding as the next person. The difference for me was the necessity of learning to be flexible in order to succeed and thrive in an environment that was foreign to me…the work world.

At 17 I graduated with honors from High School and left home to ’do something with my life.’ I knew that if I stayed where I grew up, I would not become anyone worthwhile, and I might not survive. So with the impetus to start a new life, away from an abusive childhood, I left home at 17.

I landed my first job in Washington, DC working in an editorial office on the staff of a scholarly peer-reviewed medical journal. During my 17 years with that organization I learned, grew and spread my wings and went on to explore other things. Of course, along the way I made mistakes (I was particularly a poor judge of character, too trusting, and gullible) and was taken advantage by many people, but I learned…

Honestly, those mistakes along the way, through the years were what one would call ’character building.’ My boss would remind me every time I would recall yet another mishap. “Maria, it’s a character building experience.” I got to the point where I would say, “I have ENOUGH character already, I don’t WANT anymore of these ’character building’ experiences!”

So fast forward through a failed first marriage, working for 20 years, finding my faith in God, a divorce, entering university at 39, graduating with honors at 44, going through early menopause, finding true love and re-marrying, starting two businesses of my own, and re-starting ballet.

Along the way I changed a LOT. I am now very flexible, calm, and confident in my own abilities, and have learned to be my own best friend. I have shed (for the most part) the ghosts of child abuse, and feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. I’m at peace with myself and believe that I can handle whatever life throws at me. I face foreclosure of my only asset (my house in my name, separate from my marriage) due to the economy and an extended loss of income. Through all of the difficulties of these last 6 months, I have managed to keep my faith. My main focus has been to find a job and not give up. It’s okay to have ones perfect credit be marred by bad economic times. Houses are only brick and mortar and can be replaced. I have prayed more in these last 6 months than I have ever prayed in my life.

Three weeks ago I got a job. It’s 5 hours a day at the minimum amount that I can survive on, but I feel so incredibly blessed! I love the challenge of doing what I do best, and helping a growing small company by setting up all of their administrative systems. They love me, and I hope to be promoted to full-time within 6 months period of time. Yes, I am blessed to have this job where I am needed and appreciated, at a time when many are losing their jobs.
So, self-improvement can occur in ones life just by a matter of being flexible and adaptable - changing and growing where it is needed to survive and excel. That’s all fine and well for the cerebral aspect, but what about the body?

Losing my mother before her 65 birthday due to long-term complications of diabetes and heart disease, and my own early menopause became a catalyst for change. Over a period of nearly 10 years, I slowly started to put on weight (I was always very thin) and was not able to lose the weight. The reality, menopausal women’s metabolisms slow down and it is imperative to adjust ones eating habits (portion control of carbs is key) and increase exercise. Gone were the days of eating whatever I wanted…

In a 9 month period of time, through diligent hard work (4-6 days a week of ballet, Pilates, killer cardio, and visiting a nutritionist) I lost 27 lbs. As I approach my 49 birthday, I am the strongest, and healthiest that I have ever been in my life. I am indeed blessed. The more time and effort I put into my healthy life style, the better I feel, and the more results I see. Dancing and moving in general just feels so good. I’m so in tune to my body and it’s movement that I revel in it like a child. I smile in wonder at the simplest improvement in my dancing. Yes, I am so blessed and I thank God for letting this mother of 7 and grandmother of 9 to be at this incredible point of life.

My biggest indulgence is impromptu dancing every, single chance I get!!! Now, A week ago I was preparing some of my vintage wedding dresses for sale, and thought it would be fun to take some ballet pictures wearing them. I offer only one picture here. A lace wedding gown from the early 1900’s. (I was VERY careful in those dresses)…

Ballet in a lace wedding gown from the early 1900s

At the Renaissance of my life I embrace my inner child as often as I can. I think THAT is my fountain of youth. So you see what I mean? Self improvement does indeed come in many forms. You’ve only got one life, so live it fully aware, and embrace it! :D

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Grateful, Tired - Recent Reflections

I was thinking about something recently. When I was young I wondered if I were asked which of my senses would I be willing to lose if I had to give up one of them, which would it be? Well, we refer to them as ‘the six senses’ but technically, there are only five external senses that are named, and they are: smell, sight, taste, hearing, and touch. If someone refers to a ‘sixth sense’ it’s along the lines of ESP ‘extra-sensory perception.‘ The REAL sixth sense is often not remembered, but some believe that ‘sixth external sense’ would be body-sense or somatosensation. Somatosensation actually includes proprioception (balance), kinethesis (sense of space) and cutaneous senses which are perceived through tactile skin responses such as hot, cold, pain, hard, soft. The term somatosensation when referencing the brain actually references the somatosensory cortex which gets signals on things as pain, touch, proprioception and more.

I have a balance disorder, so for me, proprioception is not 100 percent., having an impaired sense of balance due to neurological impairment of a nerve into my inner ear, effects my ability to ‘know’ where my body is in relation to space (especially when I close my eyes!) You’d be amazed how many people don’t realize that our physical sense of balance is not just inner ear, but eyes too. If I close my eyes (or I’m in a dark room), and I can’t use my eyes to help me compensate for the impairment in my right ear that effects my balance.

I loved studying physiological psychology in school, and highly recommend Dr. Oliver Sacks’ book entitled, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. Dr. Sacks is a neurologist who wrote up case studies of patients with interesting neurological disorders and how those disordered effected their perceptions and daily functioning. It’s quite an insightful and thought-provoking book.

Now back to my earlier discussion. If I HAD to choose a sense to lose, which would it be? Would I give up my sense of smell, sight, taste, hearing, or touch? I guess, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I could no longer smell. I’d hate to lose my sight or my hearing. I think touch is important as well. Yup, I’ve decided…it would be my sense of smell.

I wouldn't want to lose my other senses, because they are to closely linked to my love of dance and music. Dance and music feed my need for self-expression (along with my writing). Dance and music make me happy, and feed my soul (almost in a spiritual way).

What about you?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Colors of Life and Keeping the Faith

The Colors of Life

I don’t know if it’s because I struggle with depression in Winter, but I realize that colors evoke a response in me. As I sit here snuggled in my bed typing on my little pink laptop, the thought of colors in life popped into my mind.

If I were to sift back through previous writings, I’m sure I’d come across previous comments I’ve made on colors (particularly, the universal physiological or psychological response to colors).

Similar to onomatopoeias, I equate some names colors with the sound of their names spoken aloud. If I say “pink“, my mouth purses as I prepare to puff out the word. HA! Speaking of onomatopoeias, “puff” is an excellent example, oh, but I digress!

Back to pink. Well, of course there are LOTS of shades of pink, and the color of my little pink laptop is more of a muted, frosted almost mauve pink. The color looks like it would be cool to the touch and smooth in texture.

Of course the response to colors varies on a spectrum as much as the color shades themselves. For instance, most would probably agree that black, on it’s color spectrum to gray is dark and depressing, yet others might find it to be quite soothing.

For me, a delightful riot for the senses can be found on material that has an array of colors, with iridescence reminiscent to a rainbow creating the eyes and the brain to quickly process and identify all the wondrous colors that it perceives. ASIDE: that is probably the most satisfying run-on sentence that I have ever written!

So we can agree that colors are often multi-faceted. The subtleties of which our brains perceive more on a subliminal level. Like the light of the sun touching on objects on Earth, the color changes based on the light, shadow, angle, and texture of the object that reflects it.

Focusing back to color (in Europe it‘s ‘colour‘), our use of the word itself is also often confusing. Technically, color is perceived on a small band of visible light on a large electromagnetic spectrum that the human eye is not fully aware of (i.e. we can only see above or near infrared). Technical details can be read at:

Color As a Term
-medium used “to color theater lights” by using color gels with names like Bastard Amber, Congo Blue, and Tipton Blue.

-the phrase “of color" a broad reference to people who are non-caucasian (not white). Such silliness continues with color references as ‘white people’ who are not white but kind of pink or beige or ‘black people’ who are not black, but more a spectrum from tan to dark brown.

-to ‘acquire color‘ - to turn red, especially in the face; to blush.

-a property depending on the relations of light to the eye, by which individual and specific differences in the hues and tints of objects are apprehended in vision; as, gay colors; sad colors, etc.

-any hue distinguished from white or black. NOTE: I was taught that black and white are not technically ‘a color’ because on a light spectrum 1) black is the total absence of color and 2) white represents all color.

-as a reference to color characteristics representing good health 1) ruddy complexion, 2) give color to my pale cheek.

-that which is used to give color; a paint; a pigment; as, oil colors or water colors.

-that which covers or hides the real character of anything; semblance; excuse; disguise; appearance.

-shade or variety of character; kind; species.

-a distinguishing badge, as a flag or similar symbol (usually in the plural); as, the colors or color of a ship or regiment; the colors of a race horse (that is, of the cap and jacket worn by the jockey).

-an apparent right; as where the defendant in trespass gave to the plaintiff an appearance of title, by stating his title specially, thus removing the cause from the jury to the court.
NOTE regarding legal pleadings 1) color is express when it is averred, 2) color is implied when it is implied.

Source: Webster’s Dictionary (circa 1913)

Perception of Color

Our perception is based on ‘color sensors’ of which we have three (red, green, blue).
Interestingly 8 percent of males are color-blind (they have the blue sensor, but are either missing or have a distorted color sensor for red or green. Interestingly, that would mean that not all people have an identical perception of color! Source:

The Color Wheel
Remember learning the color wheel in school? You had the primary colors and the intermediates that you could mix together to create other colors.

By adding an intermediate color to a primary color, you would actually be demonstrating subtractive colors. Along those lines, light works the same way…The primary colors for light are red, green, and blue, and the intermediates are brighter than the primaries because there is more total light present in them. Check out this link for an example of an additive color wheel:

Of course, the difference is the color wheel is circular (duh!) and the visible spectrum on light is laid on a straight line.

If you imagine bending the visible spectrum into a circle.

The color wheel is useful for observing multiple wavelengths of light simultaneously (what do I get if I mix red and blue?). The color wheel is not representative of the real world - only our perception of it. For many species, our color wheel would be meaningless. REMEMBER! Your pet dog or cat doesn’t see the world in ‘color’ like you do!

For me, I’m happy for the colors of life that help me be positive and healthy. Of course, I have a strong predilection for those ‘pause moments’ where I can have a frozen in time experience of childlike wonderment.

I smile to myself realizing that my nickname, ‘smileywoman’ really does suit me.

I’ll continue to surround myself with the colors that evoke a positive response, and revel in the delight of all the colors on the spectrum that I can see and enjoy daily.

I’m happy to be at the place in my life where I am confident and at peace with myself and my past. Obviously, I still have my dark moments of fear, doubt etc. but those will always be there (hopefully few and less intense than in the past). I pinpoint this ephinany to a number of factors, but the most influential is probably Faith.

The rainbow is considered by those of Faith to be a reminder from God that he will never again flood the world like he did when Noah had to build the Ark. Rainbows are the ultimate visual wonder showing the full, visual spectrum of light to humanity. Yes, I’ll continue to keep the faith, and I like that reminder.