Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.” ~Margaret Millar
Like many of the items at The Leaping Lizard gift shop in Traverse City, Mich., the talking feather is steeped in Native American lore. The moment I spotted it, I knew I had to own it.
Attached to a thin leather cord, the feather is nicely embellished with strands of brightly colored beads. But the legend printed on the card that came with it is what cinched my decision to buy it:
“When crowds gathered and conversation grew louder, it was hard to hear one speaker, so the person wishing to address the crowd was passed ‘the talking feather.’ It was held above the crowd to signify that the person had the floor as speaker.”
I’m no expert on Native Americana, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this charming legend. Regardless, it occurs to me that — given a fair chance — the talking feather could restore the dying art of two-way conversation.
I won’t even touch on political discussions in Washington. But just imagine what would happen if you brought the talking feather to family gatherings — especially during the holidays — where several conversations are carried on simultaneously, in competition with televised football games. Every in-law would be entitled to speak his mind while the rest of the family would listen intently, the room hushed. The magic words, “Please pass the talking feather,” would enable everyone to get a word in edgewise. There would be fewer interruptions and better digestion.
And imagine how different things would be if everyone carried a talking feather to work. Colleagues would air opinions more carefully, taking time to breathe between sentences. Inspiration would have a chance to percolate at morning coffee breaks.
What if I carried the talking feather in my purse, or hung it around my neck, to remind myself to think carefully before speaking?
In any type of social situation, the well-timed use of a talking feather could silence — at least temporarily — the ramblers, egotists, narcissists, braggarts, jabberwocks, and other conversation dominators who love to hear themselves talk (even if nobody else does). In classrooms, too, teachers could silence a roomful of chatty youngsters with a mere wave of a feather.
A born talker, I’m inclined to interrupt, and sometimes I let my thoughts rush out of my mouth like too much salt from a shaker. I often find myself wishing I could take back the foolish things I’ve said. But what if I carried the talking feather in my purse, or hung it around my neck, to remind myself to think carefully before speaking?
“The right word may be effective,” Mark Twain once said, “but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
All said and done, good conversation is a reciprocal exchange between people — never a monologue. So here’s a simple test: The next time you leave a holiday party, ask yourself if you’ve spent more time explaining yourself — or learning something new about someone else. Just sayin’.
This is an excerpt from a longer and slightly different essay published in my collection, Writing Home.
If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Until my mother was officially diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2009, I wasn’t sure how to deal with her changing behavior. And I didn’t know where to turn, at first, to get the help we’d both need as her disease progressed. I was often frustrated and exhausted — and frightened.
Whether your elderly parent is showing signs of a memory loss disorder or other major health problems, you won’t want to miss Michigan Prime’s 2014 Resource Guide: Special Caregivers’ Issue. My column in this issue recalls how I faced the early stages of my mother’s dementia. The issue also includes an excellent feature and checklist on how to choose an assisted living residence. (You can read my piece on page 6 of the online edition.)
I wish I’d had a resource like Michigan Prime several years ago. And that’s why it’s so important to me to write about caregiving issues today. I hope that my experience — including a few blunders along the way — will serve as a guidepost for others who are starting this difficult journey with their own parents.
When you discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” — Jean Shinoda Bolen
Whether you’re caring for a young child or an elderly parent, it’s hard enough to schedule time for your own dental appointments — not to mention a facial or a therapeutic massage.
Like most women I know, I feel a bit guilty when I schedule beauty and spa treatments on my calendar. Luckily, my husband likes to surprise me — on birthdays and holidays — with gift certificates for local pampering. That’s how I ended up cocooned in a terrycloth bathrobe in a spa treatment room at the Douglas J Aveda Institute in Royal Oak earlier this week.
The Douglas J Aveda Institute is a cosmetology school offering a full menu of beauty and spa services, from hair styling to body waxing. For this visit, I chose the Elemental Nature facial and Perfecting Plant Peel, both of which employ heady doses of aromatherapy.
Haley, the student assigned to give my facial, invited me to take a seat in one of the treatment rooms while she filled a metal bowl with warm water for my feet. (A foot soak and massage are always included with Aveda facials.) While my feet soaked, Haley asked a few questions about the health of my skin and what I expected from my facial. We also selected the scented oils to be used in my treatments.
A scented candle flickered on a nearby table stacked with thick white towels. Meanwhile, the obligatory spa music – Native American flute and new-age piano – wafted through the hallway beyond my curtained treatment room. It occurred to me that the modern Asian ambiance of Royal Oak’s Douglas J could easily hold a candle to some of the pricier professional spas I’ve visited on vacations in northern Michigan. Better yet, this escape is less than a 10-minute drive from my house.
My facial also included a hand massage as well as special attention to my neck and chest. And while Haley performed all of the spa services by herself – and was totally professional – her support instructors periodically stopped by to check her progress. This is standard procedure at all Douglas J Institutes, which are part of a statewide Academy of Cosmetology founded by Douglas and Sharon Weaver in 1986. The academy partnered with Aveda in 1993.
Aveda’s spa treatments combine physiological and psychological benefits – and nothing synthetic is used in the products. It’s all about “high touch versus high tech,” with an emphasis on helping each client relax and re-balance.
It’s very affordable, too. My 90-minute Elemental Nature facial/massage was $49, plus $15 with the added Perfecting Plant Peel. (Gratuities are not accepted.) I ended up with a fresher complexion, new skincare tips, and a much brighter outlook on life.
Best of all, for two blissful hours, I hadn’t given a thought to my caregiving duties, or anything else on my to-do list. I enjoyed the experience so much, in fact, that I booked another facial for January — knowing I’ll need a remedy for post-holiday burnout. As author and therapist Brene Brown advises: “We can’t practice compassion with others if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.” Copy that in your day planner.
HOLIDAY TIP: Most Aveda Institutes offer gift certificates for spa services, hair styling, manicures, and pedicures. You might want to mention this to Santa.
Now in its second printing and available on Kindle, Writing Home is a collection of my published magazine essays and family newspaper columns. Awarded several prizes for creative nonfiction, it’s been dubbed “a love letter to home and family life.” If you enjoy my personal blog and current newspaper essays, you might appreciate this collection of earlier memoirs, too.
It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” –Anne Lamott
Not long after my second hip-replacement surgery in 2002, a man who was preparing for the same surgery asked if I was glad I’d made the decision to undergo “such a massive overhaul.”
I assured him it was worth it, and that if the surgeon’s waiting list hadn’t been so long, I would have done it much sooner.
Even so, the guy shook his head. “What a shame,” he said. “You’re too young to go through that — but you’re braver than I am.”
Brave? Not really. Osteoarthritis cripples people of all ages, I reminded him, and surgery was my only alternative to a life in a wheelchair fueled by pain pills.
During physical rehab, where I learned to walk without assistive devices, it struck me that hip replacement surgery was not only a tremendous gift, but also my wake-up call.
For starters, I learned that many sufferers didn’t even have the health insurance to afford such an expense remedy. (Four months apart, my surgeries tallied $30,000 each.) Furthermore, chronic pain turned out to be the best teacher I ever had. It challenged me to find strengths and resources I hadn’t previously tapped. Arthritis had humbled and reshaped me, enrolling me in a three-year workshop in what it’s like to be disabled — albeit temporarily.
Not that I’m celebrating misery or suffering. I’m simply driving home the fact that most people under 50 don’t fully appreciate their good fortune until something is subtracted from their lives — a loved one or a job or the ability to stand on two strong feet. I was one of those who had to limp through a major health crisis to get the paradox.
Americans like to think that pain-free living is our birthright. We were raised on Disney plots with fairy-tale endings. Our definition of “the good life” is owning everything in abundance – health, recognition, money, and stuff. Then we blame our gods for punishing us if we get sick or fail to acquire what we want.
Even during the holidays, when the emphasis ought to be on gratitude for everything we already have, we’re preoccupied with acquiring more — most of which seems to be available at the mall.
In a radio interview, the Reverend Ed Bacon explained that we’re all working through grief over some kind of loss — and that most of the irrational things we do are attempts to fill our empty places. I’ve been thinking about this ever since.
And so, for the past several years I’ve used Thanksgiving as an opportunity to appreciate all that I’ve lost or had to let go. I remember that all of my challenges and tough experiences — including family emergencies and surgeries — have informed the person I am now.
If we can ride them out, pain and loss underscore the gift of being alive. And through their lessons, our richest blessings flow.
Mixed-media collage, “Transformation” (c. 2013), by Cindy La Ferle. Click on the image for a larger view.
If I had to state my philosophy in a nutshell, I’d borrow this gem from M.C. Richards: “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The Big Art is our life.”
Focusing on lifestyle topics, I’ve freelanced for dozens of regional and national publications since 1984. Metro-Detroit readers know me best through my Sunday newspaper columns, which ran 14 years in The Daily Tribune and won a Best Local Column award from the Michigan Press Association.
Putting a fresh spin on midlife issues, I currently write a monthly “Life Lines” column for Michigan PRIME, delivered with Sunday editions of The Detroit News and Free Press. Whether you’re facing a new empty nest, caring for elderly parents, or reinventing yourself after age 55, I’m writing “Life Lines” with you in mind.
My collection of short essays, Writing Home, highlights the years I worked at home as a family columnist while raising my son. Awarded several prizes for creative nonfiction, the book is a love letter to home and family life. Now in its second printing, Writing Home is also available on Kindle.
When I’m not writing in my home office, you’ll find me in the art studio above our garage. My shrines and mixed-media assemblages have been featured in juried art exhibits throughout southeast Michigan.
The door’s always open here, so please visit often.
Connect with me onLinkedIn and view my professional resume.
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