With Humor Fueling Our Steps, Let’s Trail Together

Trails are simple in nature but can lead to a robust lifetime of benefits for the community in the form of healthier residents, booming businesses and renewed pride. Here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail (LRHT), which is part of a 70-mile multi-purpose trail system that follows the Lackawanna River. The trails have grown in popularity with residents and that’s great! We have a place to exercise, enjoy nature and come together. As with any passageway that gets congested, we all need to follow some rules for safety and a good experience.  Consider these tips to get the most from your trail experience while letting others do the same.

 

• Group Think – Everybody’s Doing It: Having friends to walk with is helpful. They can keep you accountable. Just knowing that you’re supposed to meet for a walk helps to motivate you. And…it’s fun. You chit chat while you walk and time passes quickly. You don’t even realize you’re exercising. But, even if you feel like you’re joined at the hip with your friends, there are times when you need to separate … like walking on a trail. There’s simply not enough space for people to walk four or five-across when someone is running, walking or biking toward you. Be polite and tighten up to let the oncoming exerciser pass without having to run through foliage.

•Not A Place for Free-range Dogs or Kids: I do not currently have a pet and I am not a parent, but I am affected by the way pet owners and parents manage their charges. Please take no offense. I am not putting children in the same category as Chihuahuas. Those yappy dogs are much more obnoxious than children and much fussier about the sweaters they’ll wear. I’m kidding. Dogs will wear whatever sweater you put over their little heads. Seriously, children and dogs are equally delightful but in obviously different ways. And both can get in the way if they are not being supervised. Even if your child is the most well-behaved on the planet, and even if your dog is the calmest, most obedient pet on Earth, you are the adult humans in charge of both. Children are carefree, as they should be. That means they tend to run, bike and play as kids do – all over the place. When I’m out for a run or bike ride, I am prepared to stop as needed, but… my planned exercise is better when I don’t have to zigzag, stop short or brake so hard that I fly over my handlebars. Please exercise control over your children and your pets, which need to be on a leash – the pets that is.  Your cooperation and courtesy is appreciated.

•When Poop Happens, Clean it Up: It seems ridiculous that this would have to be said and yet my Berber carpet knows all too well that some people ignored the first memo about what to do when poop happens. These are folks like my careless, inconsiderate neighbor who lets her dog roam and conduct business on my property and other free-range pet owners who leave organic “gifts” along our trails. I don’t care if your dog is small enough to fit inside your Coach purse. If it poops, you clean it up. Unless you were nabbed and forced to take your dog for a walk by some odd healthy lifestyle kidnapper, you know when you are taking your dog for a walk, so plan accordingly. Carry a plastic bag with you. Remember that you are not the only one using the trail. My Berber carpet expects to be walked all over, but doesn’t like $hitty days any more than you do.

•Do Your Creepin At Home: The word leer is only appealing if it’s spelled lear and has jet after it. No woman feels comfortable with a man standing  along a trail oggling at her in her shorts and sports bra. I can tell you that I don’t take it as a compliment to see your tongue wagging while I’m trying to catch my breath on a run. And I don’t believe you are at the trail for a workout in your jeans, brown socks and polyester shirt. If it’s lap jollies you’re after, watch porn on your laptop like most other red-blooded American men.

•That’s Not An Angel Getting Its Wings – I have a bell on my bike. I like it because of its nostalgic feel and I get to save my voice for my business presentations. But when I use that bell, it’s not to communicate that an angel has gotten its wings as said in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it’s my way of indicating that I’m behind you so stay alert. I usually add something like “on your left,” but I find that can add a new level of confusion for people who forget which is their left and their right. Those folks tend to scurry in all directions like cockroaches when the light’s turned on. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone on the trails so stay aware of your surroundings.

•The Eyes on the Back of My Head – I am not a grade-school teacher or a mom so eyes have not grown on the back of my head. That means that I cannot see behind me. Please be courteous and let me and other runners know when you are approaching. Say something like “excuse me,” “coming your way,” or how about something flattering like “looking good.” If you are a person of few words, simply cough or clear your throat loudly. Last week a man in his 50s whizzed by my left shoulder and had me spinning like a top.

Forgive me if I seem to be lecturing. I do have that “Bad dog…” tone when I write and talk some times. In my defense,  I studied under some of the best lecturers around – the Sisters of the IHM – as a grade school and high school student in Catholic schools.  Now, please follow these rules on the trail or you just might see me out there running with a ruler in my hand.

Yes, and… Five Rules of Improv Help in Work and Play

I used to get a knot in my stomach on Monday afternoons as I anticipated that evening’s comedy improv class about nine years ago. I wanted to be in the class and loved performing in the shows at the Comedy Dojo in Scranton (when people laughed at what I did on stage) but I was still a ball or nerves before class. I was doing the exact opposite of what improv represents. I was not being in the moment. I was worrying ahead of time about what I would say and do, what interesting choices I would make that night in class. But to quote my instructor at the time, Chris Barnes, (and I believe he was quoting someone else when he said this) “You have to walk through the fire to get to the cooling water.”

No matter if it’s an improv class or some other activity or event that takes us outside of our comfort zones, we need to get through the pain, discomfort, difficult stuff to get to the other side where we get to feel cool, calm, relaxed, even proud and let out an “ahhhhhh.”

As I prepare to present a workshop at a conference for administrative professionals using improvisation to address communication, conflict resolution and collaboration, I’m reminded of the valuable lessons the rules of improv can teach all of us… for life.

  • Yes, and… is the one unbreakable rule in improvisation. It means that we say “yes” to what our fellow actor has given us. We accept their words as a gift or treasure and we add “and,” which shows our commitment to contribute something just as valuable that will help us move forward.  Consider saying “Yes” in life more often. Imagine the possibilities. Too many times we disagree with ideas and just say “No.” Or, we want to appear agreeable so we say “Yes, but…” which is basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying but my way is better.”  So the next time your coworker asks “Are you looking forward to that meeting?” Instead of rolling your eyes and saying “No,” try smiling instead and say, “Yes, and I think I’ll suggest we start the meeting by each sharing something fun we did this weekend so we can start on a happy note.”
  • Make unusual or unexpected choices. This improv guideline isn’t something you can apply to every part of life. Attempting to pay your bills with magic beans is not likely to work but there are many instances in which you – and people around you – can benefit from a choice that is different from the status quo. Instead of complaining that it’s Monday and you’d rather be in your garden or on the golf course, CHOOSE to be happy that you are working and doing something that not only affects people’s lives but also allows you to buy that new driver you’ve been scoping out online.  Or, instead of putting in your headphones at your desk so you can tune out your loud, gossiping coworker in the cubicle next to you, listen! Maybe you can learn something that will help you improve your relationship. Take an opportunity to engage her in conversation about a movie, new local restaurant or any topic other than the number of different cars she sees in her neighbor’s driveway on the weekend.
  • Be in the moment. This popular advice is key to the success of improv performers on stage because the scene they create for their audience is so much more interesting when it happens right there and doesn’t reference a past that the audience cannot see or a future that has yet to unfold. Search through any list of self-help books and this theme appears. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” effectively addresses the value and absolute necessity of living our lives in the present. It boggles my mind how simple an idea this is but one that eludes so many of us. It just makes sense that we can only live in the present moment but I can’t tell you how often I live in the past as thoughts in my head (usually negative) race around as if on a track like horses trying to win the Triple Crown. All those hooves galloping kick up quite a bit of mud. I am far, far away from mastering the concept of being in the moment. It takes effort to make sure you are in the moment. Practice it. If you’re like me, you can read a magazine article and not know the full meaning because your mind went somewhere else by the second paragraph. “I have to call to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. I wonder if the new “Orphan Black” is On Demand yet; I want to watch that tonight. Oh crap, I forgot to get gas last night, that means I have to leave the house early today so I’m not late for my meeting.” Practice being in the moment!
  • Show. Don’t Tell. When improv actors create a scene on stage, this is key to believability and much more interesting to the audience if they show activity rather than talk about. For example: Actor A says, “I am not going to walk toward you, place my hands around your neck and pretend to choke you.” Actor B responds, “I’ll stand here and wait for you to do that and as you approach I will bug my eyes out as if I have a look of fear on my face.”  The scene should just happen. If you see it, you will have a much better experience than if you hear about it.  In life this comes in handy when we communicate. Many of us have different communication styles and we may not get someone’s wordy explanation but if they show us how to do something we might have a better time understanding.  And at a higher, loftier, Ghandi-esque level, it’s a good idea to SHOW, not TELL in the manner in which we live our lives. It’s great to teach your children to be honest. It’s good to tell your employees to be productive and do their jobs with integrity but SHOW-ing your children what honesty looks like and SHOW-ing your coworkers what integrity looks like, are much more effective. Ghandi said it simply, “Be the change that y0u wish to see in the world.”
  • Bring something to the party. This is something that improv instructor Barnes used to say to us as we were about to enter a scene. He would remind us that we should bring something to the scene. Yes, it slightly contradicts the idea of not planning what you will do or say in an improv scene but it worked and made sense. He wanted us to think about what we were seeing on stage. What did our fellow actors create already in this scene and what could we bring to it to help it move forward?  When you are hosting a party and everyone brings chips and dip, your menu is going to need help. The next time you enter a room, whether at work or at a social gathering, see what you can add.  Is someone upset, recounting a story about her husband leaving her? Is someone consoling another person who just received bad news from his doctor about cancer? Is someone raising his voice at another person who just offended him?  Your attitude and words can help or hurt the people you are about to engage with. Be aware of other people’s feelings and the situation in front of you and bring something to this party that will help, not hurt or destroy it.

Am I happy that it’s Monday and it’s gray and rain is predicted for tonight when I run a 5K?  Yes, and… I won’t need to wear my sunglasses or worry about getting too hot while I run. The rain will feel refreshing.

Yes Sophia, There Is A Santa Clause!

One December afternoon I was writing an article about my life as a woman over 40 without child. To summarize: society is geared toward families and children, especially in smaller cities that still hold traditional and some antiquated ideas about gender in high regard. I do flourish in my life as a single woman, without so much as a baby cactus in my home, yet some people might not fully believe that. I have a wonderful family, boyfriend, circle of friends and extended reach through my business, Laugh to Live! I connect in a special way with people when I lead laughter yoga that is quite fulfilling.  But I digress.  As I was writing that article, I received a call from my friend Jean who was upset about something that transpired recently with her granddaughter, Sophia.  Sophia’s heart was broken when her CCD teacher told the class that Santa Claus does not exist.

As Jean relayed the story and spoke of the tears that followed from Sophia and a few other children in the class who still believed in Santa, a light bulb, or should I say a string of Christmas lights, turned on in my head.  This had to be the subject for my next blog.

I don’t recall when I stopped believing in Santa. Fortunately no traumatic memory of someone tearing down my belief in the jolly old Saint Nick comes to mind. I’m not a parent (as I stated above) so I don’t know what the norm is or what the handbooks or Dr. Phil says you’re “supposed to do” when it comes to talking to your child about Santa Claus but I do know a thing or two about the spirit of Santa that still enlivens me at 43 years old. Let’s call it the Santa Clause – an agreement we have with one another that we’ll embody every magical trait of kindness, generosity and warmth that has been talked about in storybooks for centuries.

Every year my eyes and heart are filled with joy when I sit silently at night staring at my lit up Christmas tree.  And while it should be more than one time of year, I also know the warm feeling I get when I witness people being nicer, kinder and more generous to one another at this time of year. And let’s not forget the presents. I look forward to the feeling I get when I give a present to someone that I carefully picked based on their likes and interests. My reward is the smile that covers their face. And when I unwrap a present I receive, I have a similar feeling to what I had as a child turning the handle on my Winnie The Pooh Jack in the Box. I’m a bit anxious. I’m definitely filled with anticipation and an excited curiosity. Just today I was fortunate enough to experience that when I received a package from my friend Marie in France. (I was sure the large white envelope was a present for Christmas and sure enough … it was. I was thrilled to see a fuchsia leather-bound journal to hold my creative writing in 2015.)

As someone who was raised Catholic, attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade and who attended church every Sunday until a few years ago, I know that Christmas is about the birth of Christ and not just a character named Santa.  We celebrate baby Jesus’ birthday. There’s no cake or pin the tail on the jackass because it’s a much more reverent celebration, but it is a party nonetheless.  It’s a festive time to share love and fellowship.  And guess what? That’s what Santa represents too.

I’m not sure if that CCD teacher got confused and changed the letters around in his head, but Santa does not mean Satan.  He should not be viewed as a threat or distraction to the true meaning of the holiday. Quite frankly, I think the church could use the help reinforcing their message of Christianity. (Although I believe that Pope Francis has been making a difference, moving the Church in the right direction. He is a man of the people.)  Santa can help spread cheer and the concept of goodwill toward our fellow man. I don’t think we can hear or see examples of that enough. And, we can pretend all we want but let’s face it, many Catholics only attend Mass at holidays so children are probably much better acquainted with Santa than their parish’s priest.

I don’t want to get too heavy. I’d like to keep this light, like the season. My point is this. Why destroy a child’s (or adult’s for that matter) belief in Santa?  Isn’t religion, like Catholicism, based on faith after all? We don’t see Jesus or God physically sitting at our dinner tables reaching for a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy but we feel their presence in the sunshine on our faces, the trees that blow in the wind and in choices we make – how we live our lives.

Santa is here too. We feel his presence when we see the glimmer of lights reflect with a shimmer off new fallen snow. We are filled with a desire to warm up our cold night by holding someone’s hand or giving a hug.  When a child squeals with delight opening a present, we feel his presence. And when a family is decked out in new pajamas and slippers sitting around their living room being a family, expressing their love for one another and drinking hot cocoa, Santa is there too.

And when I look at my many postcards received throughout the year from my friend Marie in France and then her thoughtful Christmas gift each year, I think back to the October day more than 10 years ago when I met her on a train outside of Paris. That may not have been the Polar Express but I believe that the same spirit that embodies Santa was in the air and on the tracks that day. Because I have been blessed with a global friendship that has been one of the best gifts of my life.

Yes Sophia, there is a Santa Clause.