A Conversation with Daniel Blanchard

Daniel Blanchard

“The surest way to corrupt a youth,” wrote German scholar Friedrich Nietzsche, “is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

As teens of any generation go through the painful process of individuating, it’s not uncommon that they either try to model themselves after the cool kids that belong to the “in” crowd or they fall into a state of despair that there is nothing unique about their own personalities or skill sets which will deliver the attention – and validation – they crave. Compounding the problem are parents who are trying to live vicariously through their offspring by pushing unrealistic expectations or those who lament that celebrities seem to have more influence on a teenager’s behavioral choices than any lessons imparted throughout childhood.

In his recent interview with You Read It Here First, author and educator Daniel Blanchard talks about his new teen leadership series, Granddaddy’s Secrets, and the importance of being a positive role model for the young people in our lives.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The passion for helping young people find their way in a troubling world often stems from either having been influenced by supportive mentors throughout adolescence or, on the flip side, having no one to turn to and learning to overcome personal hardships through trial and error. What was your own background in this regard that shaped your career decisions as an adult?

A: Believe it or not, some of my earliest role models that shaped my life were sport heroes that I watched on television. I would watch these amazing athletes do something special and then I would want to do something special too. The next mentors that entered my life were my athletic coaches. I learned a lot from these men. They were strong, skilled, and smart. These were the things that I wanted to become too. However, I am quick to acknowledge that I didn’t have enough mentors in my life growing up, and thus I felt that many times it took me twice as long to accomplish things. Even though we do learn from our mistakes, mistakes are painful. Teens should go out of their way to pursue mentors.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you when you were growing up?

A: One of my early wrestling coaches told me after one of my losses that life was a marathon, not a sprint. And if I just hung in there, someday I will pass out these other kids that got an earlier start than I did in this sport. I did hang in there, and became very good over time, and eventually passes them all out.

Q: There’s an escalating sense of “entitlement” among today’s tweens and teens – a mindset that has evolved as much from bad parenting as it has from political leadership that believes the have-nots are owed whatever the haves earned through hard work. What’s your response to a young person who has no role models in his/her life from which to learn an appropriate and disciplined work ethic?

A: A young person has to start reading biographies of successful people. Here in these books they will learn how hard and how long these great people had to work for their success. Once they really get to know someone who has done something special, they will see that there are no handouts. Or at least now handouts that create any person of real quality. My first book, Granddaddy’s Secrets: Feeling Lucky? is a good example that explains how there are no handouts that could ever make one a real leader, and what many of our friends and society is doing is wrong. We need to think for ourselves, stand on our own two feet, and create our own luck.

Q: How about the highly visible role that celebrities play in reinforcing bad behaviors (i.e., arrogance, substance abuse, out-of-control spending, out-of-wedlock pregnancy)? I’m guessing you’ve heard no shortage of teens say, “Well if So-and-So can do it and they’re famous, why can’t I?”

A: I’m tired of stars saying that they are not role models. They couldn’t be more wrong. They are role models whether they like it or not, so they better start behaving like role models because our youth is watching. I feel that it is our responsibility as adults to be those role models that our youth is looking for. And if we’re not big enough yet in their eyes, well then, we better get busy getting bigger, while we point them to real role models that really are doing something special and don’t behave badly. Finally, we need to open our mouths and tell our youth about the bad examples that celebrities are reinforcing. Let’s point out their bad behaviors and get it into our youth’s heads that that kind of behavior isn’t okay. If we can get our youth to start viewing celebrities’ bad behaviors as wrong, then maybe celebrities will think twice about what they are doing.

Q: What inspired you to write Feeling Lucky?

A: My students asked me over a ten year period to write the book. I finally broke down and wrote it. I figured they must be seeing something that I’m not if they are continuously telling me to write a book in order to tell other students what I’m telling them. So, I figured, why not have faith in them and do it.

Q: How did you decide on the title for this book?

A: I wanted to change the paradigm of luck being when one lazily sits back and waits for something good to come to them, to working hard and going out and creating good things in one’s life. The new definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity. We create our own luck through hard work. I was hoping by calling my first book, Feeling Lucky? I can get people to think about what luck really is.

Q: In a nutshell, what’s the book about?

A: Granddaddy’s Secrets: Feeling Lucky? is about a struggling teen who lives in a rough neighborhood and goes to a rough school. On his 16th birthday he meets up with his estranged and mysterious Granddaddy who shares with him what it means to be a leader and a real man.

Q: I understand this is part of a teen leadership series. Tell us more.

A: Yes. My Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series has three books in it. The first book, Feeling Lucky? is the 10th grade story of a struggling teen who spends his 16th birthday in the park listening to his Granddaddy’s wisdom. The second book, Feeling Good,  is the 11th grade story of the same teen who has grown from his Granddaddy’s wisdom and is now trying to apply some of these secrets of success and leadership to his own life. The third book, Feeling Strong! is the 12th grade story of the same teen as he is getting ready to graduate high school and take that next big step of going out in that great big world.

Q: There can certainly never be enough books on the market to encourage young people to be independent thinkers, to stay positive, to be kind, and to make a difference as they go forth into the world. The question, though, is how do you get them to read these books – including yours – when there’s such a multiplicity of distractions (especially technological) to take their attention elsewhere?

A: It’s always a struggle to get teens to read. However, the best way to get someone to read a book is still word-of-mouth. A teen needs to constantly hear us talking about these books like they are something really special. They need to constantly hear how books made a difference in our lives. If teens hear this kind of stuff enough, they will become curious and just may read these books that we keep telling them about.

Q: Speaking of technology, is too much of a good thing actually a bad thing in a teen’s social development? For instance, is insularity and anonymity breeding a generation of youth that can no longer communicate in person or, worse, feel they shouldn’t be held accountable for anything hurtful they say via an electronic medium?

A: Sadly, I do believe that that is happening to some degree. We adults remember what it was like to actually talk to people. We must go out of our way to talk to teens. They aren’t getting old fashion human conversations from most of their younger friends, so they need to get it from us. During these interactions we can build relationships with them and work on their communication skills, as well as their life skills, and let them know that they can’t hide behind electronics and say hurtful things to each other.

Q: For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and is prompted by feelings of stress, depression, inferiority, anger, or powerlessness. What do you tell a struggling teen who is overwhelmed by life’s unfairness and believes that the only solution is a fatal exit?

A: Talk to an adult. Adults do care. In return, as I mentioned above, we adults need to go out of our way to constantly talk to our youth and build those relationships. No teen should ever feel that he or she does not have an adult that they can turn to. In addition, I also tell our youth that life drains us all, and all of us need to constantly fill up our emotional bank accounts. We fill up our emotional bank accounts by reading positive, self-improvement books, and by having great conversations and relationships with others. So whenever, life makes an emotional withdraw from our emotional bank accounts, we can handle it because we are always making positive emotional deposits back into our emotional bank accounts. By constantly doing this, we never let life emotionally bankrupt us.

Q: What do you say to the parents of that struggling teen?

A: You are the most important person in your child’s life. Don’t give up. They are listening to you, regardless of how they are acting at the moment. It may take years, but eventually, our youth will show us that they were indeed listening.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on my third book of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series, as well as a second edition of my first book.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: They can check out my website, blog, and vlog at: www.GranddaddysSecrets.com. I also have a Granddaddy’s Secrets Facebook page they can visit and like. In addition, they can find my book on Amazon, as well as other major distributors.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Teens, you are special. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel like you’re winning the race at this very exact moment. Stick with it and you’ll do plenty of winning before your time is up. And when you are all grown up, remember the people that helped you get there, and make sure you return their acts of kindness to the next generation.

 

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You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You?

You CAme Here To Die

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting. – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Visit Facebook any day of the week and you’ll see no shortage of political divisiveness, rants about corrupt government, and frustrations that American life as we know it continues to go from bad to worse. Is it any wonder that when people stay away from the ballot box on Election Day, it’s usually because there are either no candidates they feel they can trust or they’re convinced that their votes won’t make even an angstrom of difference?

During the turbulent 1960s, a young white California coed seized an opportunity to step up for something she believed in and embarked on a bold mission to register black voters in the Deep South, a decision that put her face-to-face with staggering poverty, rampant illiteracy, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her moving memoir about the Civil Rights Movement – You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You? – author Sherie Labedis paints a compelling picture of an era that is only a scant 50 years in the rearview mirror but which still resonates today.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: A lot of the best writers often declare that they were voracious readers growing up. Was this the case with you?

A: I had two passions growing up. One was riding my horse and the other was reading. My students often don’t like to read, but it’s the best way to flights of fantasy and trips to foreign lands. In high school I took a class called Advanced Reading. We had to read books from a list colleges would expect us to know and we kept a journal of our responses. My favorite author was/is John Steinbeck. My father used to play in Zane Grey’s backyard and he wrote about the West, so he was a usual companion. I also enjoyed the breadth and detail in books by Tolstoy.

Q: What/who are you reading now?

A: My husband and I are reading The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber aloud to one another. I have just finished Ken Follett’s Winter of the World, book two in his Century Trilogy. South Carolina: A History by Walter Edgar helps me understand the “whys” of my book. I am just beginning Carol Ruth Silver’s Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison.

Q: Was the craft of writing something that came easily to you when you were a student at Ponderosa (coincidentally, our shared alma mater)?

A: I was a very successful English student. I loved the little creative writing I did. However, I couldn’t get the knack of writing essays and reports until I started teaching.

Q: What did you imagine yourself doing as a career after graduation and who or what was the strongest influence in shaping that dream?

A: I didn’t know “what I wanted to be.” Cowboy was high on my list and I had great math skills. I needed more information on what the possibilities were. You and I went to a small high school with limited offerings. I transferred to the University of California Berkeley. Their schedule of classes filled a book. I didn’t even know what many of the words meant. I’d found the place to discover what the possibilities were.

Q: Where did your passion for civil rights begin and what led you to volunteer?

A: I blame an English teacher and my book is dedicated to him. Television brought all the pain and suffering of the Civil Rights Movement into our living room. My English and social studies teachers considered it their responsibility to get us to pay attention. Bruce Harvey, the Advanced Reading English teacher asked the class what we were willing to die for. It was a rhetorical question for most of the students. Not for me. I wanted to know. When I arrived at UC Berkeley, I was quite aware that the answer to that question was part of the possibilities I would consider.

Two events moved me. One was in 1964 and, in the world of civil rights, it was called Freedom Summer. Black civil rights organizations recruited white college students to go to the Deep South to register black voters. Mississippi and Alabama had made it absolutely obvious that they would not allow integration and that they didn’t mind terrorizing and killing blacks to keep it from happening. Civil rights organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) thought that if white college students were beaten and killed on television, racists might back down. This was a miscalculation. Three voter registration workers, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, disappeared in Mississippi. Schwerner and Goodman were white and Chaney was black. It was forty-five days before their bodies were found, killed by the Ku Klux Klan. How could that happen in my country?

The second event was the Selma March in March of 1965. Six hundred blacks, men, women, children and old folks determined to march from Selma, Alabama, fifty-four miles to the statehouse steps in Montgomery to get down on their knees to pray for the right to vote. They never got out of Selma. They were stopped by a wall of police on horseback, carrying clubs, guns, and tear-gas. The beatings were so severe and so widespread the day is known as Bloody Sunday. Something in me snapped. I was now eighteen and when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at colleges asking for volunteers for a second Freedom Summer, I signed up with his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Q: You were only eighteen, white middle-class and educated when you arrived in Pineville, South Carolina. You write that you were simultaneously horrified and overwhelmed. Why?

A: My parents were struggling to be middle class. Even so, I had a horse. We could come and go as we pleased. We had food, a warm home and, even though my mom made most of my clothes, we had all the clothes we needed. We had medical care. My dad had a car and, although it was an old clunker, my mom had one, too. When I was accepted to Berkeley my mom had to get a job at the post office to pay my way. We didn’t get what we wanted when we wanted it – sometimes we never got “it.”

The black world of South Carolina was the opposite of what I had known. In Charleston I learned that black people didn’t have health care when I met a woman dying with a rotting leg that could be smelled for blocks. Flies flew around a sore full of pus and her leg ballooned below it. I was sure “someone” in the black community would do something. I was told to report the problem to the church and they would do the best they could.

People were starving, barefoot, overworked and illiterate. They had mules and wagons, not cars. Most had no electricity or telephone in their tumbledown cabins, some of which had existed during slavery. Plumbing was outside including the pump for water. They were controlled by the white power structure and the Ku Klux Klan. We were there to help them register and vote because until they did, nothing would change.

Q: Knowing that three volunteers had been murdered during Freedom Summer in 1964, how did your family react to your wanting to leave a sheltered upbringing in Northern California and immerse yourself in the thick of poverty, racism, illiteracy and Ku Klux Klan violence?

A: Remember the adage, “You reap what you sow.” I’m afraid that is where they found themselves. They taught us to do what we thought was right. If we believed it, we had to commit to it. They had no idea where that philosophy would lead. They didn’t preach at my brother and me, they modeled the behavior for us. So, when I showed up and said I was going south, they were in a hard place. They were afraid. They were angry. They gulped and backed me up.

Q: Speaking of the KKK, what sort of tactics did they employ to try to encourage you and your fellow volunteers to leave?

A: The most frightening situations involved fire at the elementary school and the church where we had our mass meetings. They did drive-bys. They shot into our parking lot. One night several pickups pulled up and turned their lights on high and just sat there while we cringed inside the office. I was driven off the road and there were miscellaneous beatings and arrests.

Q: Looking back, what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome as the veritable stranger in a strange land?

A: I was one of three white volunteers from the Bay Area. Our job was to get blacks to register to vote regardless of the consequences and one of those consequences might be death. Other possible consequences included losing one’s job, being taken off the food subsidy list and there was always the Klan. So here I was at eighteen going door by door trying to get these folks to believe me and trust that what I was telling them was the truth. “Trust and believe.” Now why would black Americans – they were called “colored” then – not trust white people? Two hundred and fifty years of history was part of it. A second reason was that most of them had never been “touching” close to white people before. Theirs was a world where they had to step off the sidewalk or cross the street if a white person walked toward them. Third, every rule of southern culture was supported by violence and retribution.

We were aliens. We came from 3000 miles away. We had different ideas, manners and language. Language was a major problem. The people of Pineville, where I spent most of the summer, had a Geechee or Gullah accent. The Gullah People, who came from the west coast of Africa, live on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Theirs is the most complete and oldest “African” language in the United States. I expected to hear a southern accent, not an African dialect and it was very difficult to understand. We, on the other hand, spoke collegeese – long sentences made up of big words about things that were largely unimportant to them. Stated simply, we wanted them to risk their lives on something that probably couldn’t happen and they didn’t trust us, didn’t like us, were afraid of us and couldn’t talk to us.

Q: What is something about the Civil Rights Movement that most people don’t know?

A: One thing is that it was made up of “common” people. Local black teenagers – high school students – did most of the work for our project. We didn’t have a Martin Luther King, Jr. Newspaper men weren’t hanging around to watch what happened. No photographers caught the flames when our church was burned to the ground. We were just folks who thought change was necessary and we were willing to work until that change happened.

Most of the people I knew were not nonviolent. I was in a farming community. Men carried rifles because they were hunters and because they wanted to protect their families. If we took kids to a demonstration, we frisked them first to be sure they “seemed” nonviolent.

Recently I met a black woman who was part of The Movement in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early sixties. She was interested in my book, because she didn’t know there were white people involved in The Movement. Freedom Summer recruitment was about 1000 whites. Our Second Freedom Summer recruitment was about 400. Whites were part of the Freedom Rides, but most of the demonstrations were carried out by blacks. However, whites did take part.

Q: Tell us about some of Pineville’s bright spots that reinforced your commitment to the causes you believed in.

A: Let me refer you to your “Share your favorite scene from the book” later in thisinterview.Mrs. Crawford made a conscious decision to trust me with her life. Each time someone got on the bus to go to the courthouse they trusted us. That’s incredibly heady for an eighteen-year-old considering what the dangers were. This is my best example of “connecting” with local folks. It just took months to get to this point.

Q: If you were newly graduated today, where would you go to make a difference?

A: Register and vote. Pay attention to the issues. If you want to “go” somewhere, there are still a Peace Corps and a Teacher Corps. Many churches have projects helping the poor and disadvantaged here and abroad

Q: What inspired you to write You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You?

A: I have a South Carolina family I will describe in another question. We’ve been family since 1965. In 2000 I took my husband Joe down to meet them. He made a video of the family reunion our visit engendered. Later that year I was going to have lunch with a dear friend. I wanted to give her a special gift, so I took the video and shared it with her. “You have to write a book about this,” she said. She edited every word. The book went its own way as books will and it is not about the Sarah Butler family, but it definitely started with them.

Q: What’s the story behind the title you gave your book?

A: Let me share an excerpt from my book.

Monday, June 14, 1965

“You came here to die, didn’t you.” It isn’t a question. It’s a challenge from a scrawny Negroteenager in faded bib overalls. His bare chest glistens in the hot Georgia sunshine. He reeks of body odor and my stomach lurches as I look up at his black eyes, then down to his unshod feet in the grass.

I’m standing on the sidewalk at Morris Brown, a Negro college in Atlanta. The Civil Rights Movement is front-page news across the United States. As an eighteen-year-old, white, female voter-registration volunteer from California, I’d expected to be applauded upon arrival for a week of voter-registration training. Instead of a welcoming committee and pep rally, only this young man’s almost angry dare welcomes me.

“I’m talkin’ to you,” he snaps. I force myself to meet his eyes. “If you didn’t come here to die, it’s time you git back into that car and head back to New York, Chicago or wherever you come from.”

Q: Share your favorite scene from the book.

A: Canvassing I met a lady named Rebecca Crawford. She lived alone in a little cabin. She told me she had registered, but she hadn’t. I tried to convince her to go to the courthouse with us – to help other folks register. She said she would, but I was sure she wouldn’t. When the bus pulled out of the parking lot going to the courthouse, she was walking up the road to catch it. Once on the bus she told me she had never registered and that she could neither read nor write. I told her all she had to do was write her name. She tried, but the bus ride was too short. I promised to “Come and learn me how to write so I cain regster next time.” My favorite scene is about that day.

The road is just as long and as hot as before. Far ahead, I can see someone moving toward me. I recognize the straw hat first, then a basket on her arm and finally that beaming, delighted face.

“It’s you!” She sets her basket down in the middle of the road and raises her arms to heaven as if in thanks. I shake her hand and smile back into her eyes.

Before I can say anything, she says, “Chile, Ah bin wonderin’ where you was. Sunday Ah prayed that you come an’ learn me how to write.”

I explain I have been busy trying to get other folks to register.

“When Ah gots up this mornin’ Ah was feeling something extra good was gon’ happen today. Ah clean my house real good. Ah felt so gran’ I come on down the road. Ah saw you an’ Ah knew what that good was. Look what Ah can do.”

She bends down and picks up a stick. With a steady head she writes Rebecca slowly and deliberately in the sand.

Note: I remembered this story “purely.” I’d written it down in my journal in shorthand, but I’d never forgotten Mrs. Crawford. (I actually wrote to her until she died and I still write to her daughter.) This was the first story I published. It was the lead story in Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul and it is part of You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You.

Q: Were there any surprise rewards that came to you from penning your experiences for publication?

A: There were delightful rewards. The first came before the book was even written. I was at the release weekend for Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul. There were three days of book events.  We read our stories at dinner one night. After I read mine, a black lady came up to me with tears running down her face. She took both of my hands and said, “You were talking about my mother and grandmother, my aunts and all of my relatives. You made me see them in a way I never have before and I am so proud.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

I wanted to see if other folks remembered each event as I did. So, I interviewed everyone I could find who had been involved that summer. What a marvelous experience that was. I did the interviews in person and my husband videotaped each one. Why marvelous? I hadn’t seen most of them in over forty years. We’d been “in the trenches” together and seeing them was a powerful experience.

People come to my book-signings and tell me their stories about how they dealt with discrimination in the 60s. There was much more going on than we thought.

Q: Some voter rights volunteers served, went home, and lost touch with the communities in which they had worked. Fifty years later, what is your relationship with people in Pineville, South Carolina?

A: I have mentioned Sarah Butler’s family before. I met her canvassing. She was already a voter, but she wanted me to talk to her husband. She was in her sixties and she was so sweet to me. She was the place I would go when I was just a scared kid. I desegregated a black college in Columbia, SC. At Thanksgiving and Christmas my dorm closed and I had nowhere to go. So, I went to Sarah’s. We wrote and talked on the phone until she died. On her deathbed she told her daughter Lottie that I was a good one, meaning white. She said that Lottie should keep me, that we were sisters. And, Lottie and I have acted on that request. Lottie turns 93 in September and I will be at her birthday party as I try to be each year. I am Aunt Sherie to two generations of Butler descendents. I have other relationships in the community as well. I have been blessed!

Q: What were some of the difficulties you encountered in getting the book “out there?”

A: I had just begun the book when a book agent told me that the Civil Rights Movement was over and that no one would care about what I had to say. I couldn’t get an agent. I couldn’t get a publisher, so I published myself. I am not a marketer, but I am doing the best that I can. As my southern sister Lottie would say, I’m waiting on the Lord to show me the way while I plug along.

Q: What would you say is the book’s strongest takeaway message for readers?

A: VOTE! Get involved. There are problems that need to be solved. We can’t trust that someone else will solve them for us.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m writing about my family. I come from a bunch of characters and they all told stories.

You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You is not a finished project. Making it a household word – or at least a schoolhouse word – is an enormous endeavor.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I have a webpage at sherielabedis.com. On the webpage you can find information about the book, about me, teaching resources, discussion questions for book clubs and my blog.

 

Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams

Trust_Your_Life,_by_Noelle_Sterne,_Front_Cover,_1.23M,_jpg,_9.13.11

Author, editor, writing coach and spiritual counselor Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Women on Writing, Funds for Writers, Children’s Book Insider, Transformation Magazine, and Unity MagazineIn her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, re-label their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your personal and professional journey as a writer, along with who or what encouraged you along the way.

In the likely apocryphal story my mother loved to repeat, I stood up in the crib at 4 months old crying not “Momma, Momma” but “Book-a! Book-a!” I don’t remember this. But like so many other writers, I started early. I still have, from my productions at about age 10, crumbling black three-ringed notebooks, 7×10”, filled with lined pages of painstaking handwritten poems and stories. These notebooks proliferated, graduated to file folders, and now to magically stored computer files with gigantic gigabyte capacity.

From my earliest consciousness, the desire to write has been an inner drive, a necessity, a deliciousness, ever unfinished business. I write to share the wisdom that comes through me. To let others to see and feel through me. To capture the essence of what I marvel at, what moves, fascinates, and intrigues me. To touch others with universal feelings and truths. In my professional journey, like almost everyone else, I’ve got a wall-lining collection of rejections. I continue to explore new avenues for stories and short pieces on writing craft, writing motivation, and spirituality—ezines, blogs, the few remaining print magazines.

My mother certainly encouraged and, for better or worse, thought everything I produced was gold. In high school, the closest individual to a mentor was a high school teacher. I didn’t know her personally but attended a lecture she gave. Her words so moved me that I somehow marshaled the nerve to write to her and enclosed some of my poems. Her response (I still have the original letter) was fantastic! This experience is recounted in “The Writing Mentor I Never Met” (ReadLearnWrite, September 27, 2012. http://readlearnwrite.com/guest-post-the-writing-mentor-i-never-met/)

As an adult, when I share my dreams and struggles with my few good women friends, they are extremely supportive. My husband, though, is my most constant supporter. He critiques my pieces honestly, provides a wider perspective (rejection remedy), gives me the alone time and freedom I need, and makes great salads.

Q: What was the “aha!” moment that inspired you to start writing Trust Your Life?

The moment was rather a succession of moments. First was in my coaching and editing practice assisting adults who return to universities for dreamed-of graduate degrees. No matter how impressive their accomplishments and titles, they often lamented about lost time, feared they would never finish, and voiced destructive perspectives that impeded their progress. Editing their dissertations, I also found myself reassuring them that they indeed deserved to reach their dream, at whatever age. In the process, I developed many steps for helping them, and the experiences formed a major impetus for the book.

The second “moment” was my quest of my own dream. Like clients, I was battling the same doubts and fears about deserving to reach my dream—writing my own work. Writing about achieving one’s dream was what I needed to learn too.

Q: The title is wonderful – how did you come up with it?

I wanted words that capsulate what so many of us feel about our lives. In an early essay that was the germ of the book, I persisted in not forgiving myself for past decisions –such as earning my own doctorate—and felt they were getting in the way of my dream. The title reflects the connection between trusting one’s choices, wherever they have led, and not judging them as misguided, wrong, or blatantly stupid.

The second part of the title tells readers that it’s acceptable—no, necessary—to honor our inner guidance and secret dreams. And I am pleased that both titles are imperatives or, if you will, affirmations.

Q: Who would you say is the target reader that will benefit the most from the universal themes and messages your book addresses?

The first answer is from a generous endorser: “This book is for readers of all ages—I am giving a copy to my sharp 87-year-old relative to show her that ‘getting old’ doesn’t mean coming to the end of one’s ‘useful’ life.”

The second answer: Trust Your Life addresses those who want something that’s gnawing but they can’t yet identify, those who yearn for an often lifelong, sometimes outrageous pursuit they’ve never let themselves pursue. The book is also for those who want to increase what they’ve already discovered and may have embarked on. Readers include but are not limited to Baby Boomers, seniors, empty nesters, and retirees.

Third answer (sorry to be so verbose): This book is for all of us who suspect we’re not living up to our potential but may not know what to do for solutions. Today more people are admitting that the great American credo of consumerism doesn’tsatisfy. The book shows readers how to turn from the chase after accumulation, despondency, lethargy, and fears to identify and activate the dreams they’ve denied.

Q: In the preface you talk about the importance of trusting one’s inner wisdom. How do we know, though, whether it’s the voice of wisdom and our inner self guiding us to make smart decisions versus the voice of our head or our ego?

The touchstones for me, and others, are first physical. For example, “I felt a lightness in my chest, a sense of completion, of everything dropping into place . . .” (p. 75).

Later I relate the definitive answer of a member of A Course in Miracles study group: “It gives you peace” (p. 93). Then I expand: “The voice . . . is certain, calm and strong. It commands without censure and doesn’t waste words. Past all my nonsense, it centers right in” (p. 94).

Q: Are there such things as irreversible wrong turns in life?

No! Every turn is for learning. I go so far, with many others, and say there are no mistakes. In the larger picture, whatever the consequences (and they may have been rather severe by earthly standards), we have made no mistakes but rather have had experiences. When we look back on our experiences and reflect on the march of happenings from one person, event, or situation to another, we begin to see the line of synchronicity, connection, and purpose. In my own case, the academic editing practice helped me in my own writing to write better, longer, sharper, and with more discipline.

As writers, we may recognize the synchronicity: Haven’t you experienced something you thought had nothing to do with writing, or chose to do something you felt was a waste of time? And then . . . a day, week, month, or year(s) later you use this experience in your current work?

So, a major premise of this book is this: There are no mistakes. Even if you can’t immediately see the sense, your life experiences prepared you perfectly for where you are now. Nothing was wasted.

Q: Do you believe in destiny or choice?

I believe in choice. More radically—we choose, on a conscious or unconscious level, everything that “happens” to us. I refer readers to a piece of mine on this topic in Inspire Me Today:“We Are the Creators of Our Lives” (http://inspiremetoday.com/brilliance/we-are-the-creators-of-our-lives/).

Q: Have you ever taken a leap of faith? 

Every time I sit down to write I take a leap of faith. I leap knowing I will be given the right ideas and words. I love American poet Richard Wilbur’s command: “Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. / Something will come to you” (“Walking to Sleep,” lines 3-4).

Another very large leap: In deciding to move to Florida (for many pleasant reasons) from New York City, my husband and I worried, I mean, wondered about missing the city’s energy. A wise spiritual teacher advised us: “You take your consciousness with you.” As we took the leap, we have discovered many like-minded people and relationships, personal and professional.

Q: What’s your definition of spirituality?

Spirituality is recognizing we are spiritual beings on a material journey. Listening and surrendering to our inner guidance. Not solely following externally imposed precepts or faithfully attending church. But we can be religious and spiritual at the same time. Many spiritual/religious movements recognize our inner guidance and meditation. Spirituality expresses in many forms, especially with a good heart.

Q: If you could add an extra commandment to the existing ten, what would it be and why?

Thou shalt listen inside to your Inner Guide, which always steers you right.

Q: It’s often said that “thoughts become things” and that our expectations regarding a particular outcome – be it positive or negative – can actually cause those events to manifest. What’s your response to someone who says, “You’re telling me it’s my fault? That I’m the one who created this? Oh no!”

It’s true. You did. But the good news is that you can uncreate and recreate. The ancient Greeks, who didn’t practice religion in our sense, believed the same. In the book (pp. 4-5), I quote Deepak Chopra: “You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. . . . we have access to an infinity of choices.”

Q: What about people who live in constant denial of their dreams, be it a mindset of unworthiness or a skeptical view that the dream is impossible? Is that repeated state of denial doing more to jeopardize their physical and mental health than they realize?

Denial of our dreams can indeed result in physical and mental health manifestations. In Chapter 3, I talk about this and refer to spiritual teacher Louise Hay’s valuable chart of body-mind relationships. Many others today, thankfully, have added to our understanding, such as Drs. Larry Dossey and Bernie Siegel. Whatever we deny in ourselves, resent, say yes to when we know we should say no (and vice versa), is reflected in our bodies and our outlooks.

Denial breeds anger, resentment, frustration, and self-hatred, and we become depressed and joyless. How can we then pursue our dreams?

Q: So how do we retrain ourselves to generate more positivity in our lives?

First, with affirmations. A wonderful way is in Emmet Fox’s The Golden Key: whenever a negative thought strikes, think of God instead. Period.

Second, with meditation. Daily meditation is a discipline in itself. Our “drunken monkey mind” relentlessly tries to take over, but the discipline is in sitting there and repeating a chosen meditation phrase or following our breath. Eventually the sabotaging mind quiets down and slinks away.

Third, people we associate with. Surround yourself with positive people, not the emotional leeches and “crazymakers” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p. 44). Notice how you feel after meeting or spending time with someone. Rejuvenated? Refreshed? Or depleted? Headachy? There’s your answer.

Q: The theme of forgiveness figures prominently in Trust Your Life. Why is the practice of forgiving not only those who have hurt us but also forgiving ourselves such a critical component of dream fulfillment?

Forgiveness is crucial for our outlook, attitude, perspective, perceptions, and projections (that should cover it). Not forgiving, we’re angry and tight, holding onto old hurts like a favorite childhood doll. We’re using our energy to fuel our resentments and proud rightness. These emotional and psychological activities leave us little for thinking creatively and proactively to pursue what we really want to do. As we forgive even one person, simultaneous miracles occur: We find it easier to forgive our sister, our parents, our boss and coworkers, and even ourselves. 

Q: Why is anger such heavy baggage for most people to unload?

When we’re angry, we think we’re right. Underneath, we also feel hurt and rejected. Anger is also a way to control others and get their attention. For such reasons we hold on—to hurts, slights, insults, betrayals, wrongs, angers, resentments, annoyances—through months, years, decades, and, before we blink, a lifetime.

You know the stories—maybe you have one—of brothers estranged for 25 years over an argument they can’t even remember, or mother and daughter who exchange only frosty greeting cards at Christmas. The anger is heavy baggage because we usually find it hard to put aside our pride and say, “I was wrong” or “Please forgive me.” As we are able to, we’ll feel a great lightness and rush of love.

Q: Do you think the world in general is becoming more spiritual or less so?

Much more spiritual. This book’s popularity, and that of many other spiritual books, attests this. Also, in the field of writing, more publishers and agents are now calling for books in the genres of “New Age,” “Spiritual,” “Metaphysical.” They wouldn’t touch these a few years ago. Spiritually-based blogs and magazines continue to appear. And great teachers like Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer are almost household words, and with television specials.

Too, more people are seeking spiritual resources of all kinds. Articles in mainstream magazines and the Internet feature meditation and intuition-following. Yoga has become widely accepted. Recently, three spiritually-oriented movies became box-office hits— about Jesus, belief in God, and the afterlife. That’s a major shift from the usual action-adventure-thriller-CIA-aliens-monster movies.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Next: to continue to spread the messages of Trust Your Life. I want to help people realize they are in control of their lives and have the power to build their lives as they wish.

Next again: I am working on Trust Your Life’ssequel: Competition Therapy: Conquer Your Envy Of Others Who Are Where You Think You Should Be. Spiritually based, this book attacks the notion that if you’ve got it, I can’t get it.

Next again: I continue in the academic coaching and editing practice, which gives great satisfaction in helping clients grow and achieve their dreams.

From this practice, I am working on a book helping doctoral students their dissertations, the last and possibly most agonizing hurdle. This book addresses students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties and is possibly the first to do so in depth. The title: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles.

Next finally: Other works perpetually in progress and stages of publication, including articles on spiritual and writing craft topics, personal essays, and several novels in various stages of sprouting.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers are invited to visit my website, www.trustyourlifenow.com, which has an excerpt from the book and other works. Trust Your Life in paperback and ebook is available on Amazon and other sites.

My webinar presentation can be accessed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95EeqllONIQ&feature=youtu.be

A radio interview about the book on Carla McClellan’s show Vibrant Living show can be downloaded: http://www.unity.fm/episode/VibrantLiving_062414

A chapter titled “Send Love Ahead” appears in the forthcoming book (August 2014) Transform Your Life! Information is available at http://transformation-publishing.com/book/transform-your-life/

Essays appear on the Writer’s Digest blogs. And my contributions to Author Magazine are available at the “Authors’ Blog”: http://www.authormagazine.org/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A great thank you to you, Christina. You are doing wonderful work in so many areas. And for all readers (including myself), I add this: Start or keep meditating. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Dare to be what you know you are meant to be. It is never too late. You deserve a wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling, contributing life.