Are you Happy to see me?


For various reasons this last year, I’ve spent a lot of time in the front office of Dripping Springs Middle School. Teachers, parents, nannies, and children come and go, and It’s interesting for me to notice how all these folks greet one another.

The woman behind the desk (I still don’t remember her name) always has a smile on her face and seems to be genuinely glad to see me every week, though I know it can’t be true. For my part, I make that poor women jump through three hoops before finally my guy, the reason I’m in the office of the DS middle school in the first place, pops his shaggy head through the office door twenty minutes before the rest of the school let’s out.

He’s happy to be out of school early, and it shows. I’m happy to see him and I make sure I show it—big smile, big affectionate greeting. When our eyes meet and he sees mine light up when I spot him, he smiles at me too and we’re off.

He immediately starts telling me about his day before we even climb into my car, about the new 3D goggles at the library, or the new code he’s learning, or the plans he has for a future career with his 7th grade best friend. I’m purposeful as I listen with rapt attention. I ask sincere and thoughtful questions—this is the favorite part of my day.

Early in my teenage years, high school actually, I had a boyfriend who dropped by my 6th period office occupations class once a week. The event made me acutely aware of the importance of initial greetings. He’d tap on the window to let me know he was standing there and I beamed at him, happy to see him. I let my happiness show. Later he told me, that moment, the moment when I spotted him and smiled obviously happy to see him, was the favorite part of his day. A moment. One moment, one smile.

Much later when I find myself married to a man who travels frequently, I make a special effort to pick him up at the airport in person, face-to-face. I park close in and wait for him at the foot of the escalator, searching each face as they step onto the top of the moving stairs, looking for my guy. The moment when I spot him among all those exiting travelers is the best part of my day.

If you really want to get happy, go early to an airport and watch the arrivals. The joy generated by that first sighting, those first smiles, those kinds of huge happy-to-see-you grins on others is infectious. You can’t help but smile, too.

But I’ve also seen arguments started, arms tugged, questions asked and barely answered, backs turned so some poor soul needs to race to catch up, and I wonder how much sweeter an interaction can be if at the very beginning, at that first eye contact, that first face-to-face, it starts with an obvious, “I’m really happy to see you”.

It just may be the best part of someone’s day.

Our Spidey Sense

Recently I came across an interesting article on Time.com, “The U.S. Military Believes People Have a Sixth Sense” and I just had to laugh. I remembered all the times I’ve had interesting discussions with cynics about a ‘Sixth Sense’, something I believe everyone is born with.

Our ‘Sixth Sense’ is inner knowing or intuition, a noun, defined as “a (supposed) intuitive faculty giving awareness not explicable in terms of normal perception. Similar: instinct, intuition, intuitiveness, clairvoyance“. But, many people refuse to accept the notion that there might be another, inherent way for we humans to collect information using something outside of the five senses we were limited to in school: Sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.

Every chart I found, decorated with happy, smiling faces of children, showed only these five senses, no other options. Science has already proven those charts to be woefully out of date and inaccurate anyway, because we now know we have more senses than Aristotle’s five. We can add: Sense of pain, Sense of balance, temperature differences, sense of direction, and sense of time.

We humans use our senses to help us survive, like many animals. Spiders can measure prey and predators just by sensing them, Comb jellyfish can sense direction without eyes, and pigeons use what scientists think is magnetoreception to get around. How millions of salmon are able to pinpoint the exact rivers and streams they were born in and travel thousands of miles to spawn there, has puzzled scientists for years and remains a scientific mystery. These guys obviously use a sixth or even seventh sense to help them survive.

Could we be trained to use our sixth sense? The US military thinks so. Field reports during battles often documented a ‘sixth sense’ or ‘Spidey Sense’ that alerted certain soldiers to an impending attack or I.E.D. The Pentagon wanted to figure out a way to maximize this ‘Sixth Sense’ for operational use. Because of the stigma of ESP, they changed what they called it. “Under the Perceptual Training Systems and Tools banner, extrasensory perception has a new name in the modern era: ‘Sensemaking.’”

It’s not hocus-pocus if the military is using it, so why are we as a culture so adverse to acknowledging it? Why are we holding on to an out-dated and inaccurate chart? And why are we still teaching it to our children?

I, for one, am all about maximizing my ‘Spidey-Sense’ or ‘sense-making’. Who knows? It just may save the lives of a few of my favorite humans..

Embracing camp culture . . . As a grown up

It’s the end of summer. Kids are coming back from a mind-boggling variety of summer camps–from week-end art camps to stay-for-a-month horse riding camps and everything in between. But while I was reading American Airlines in flight magazine I saw an ad for a different kind of camp, a camp for grown ups. The “Game of Thrones” camp is a role-playing camp and so authentic they only dry clean the real fur cloaks twice a year. One can only imagine the authentic smell.

That article got me thinking about my own, most recent (and more pleasantly scented) grown up camp experience at Full Moon Resort in the Catskills. It’s called Music Masters Camp because the resort invites different master musicians to host week long intensive music camps. Usually about 100 Campers leave their cell phones and good internet behind for the woods and streams and their new home; tents, cabins, barns, and a communal dining hall.

My particular camp, the “Three of a Perfect Pair” music camp is held in August and hosted by three musicians who have played in the legendary group King Crimson: Pat Mastelotto (my husband) Tony Levin and Adrian Belew. King Crimson is considered the godfather to a genre of tricky and difficult-to-play music called ‘Progressive’, and it attracts a unique combination of talented musicians and brainiac fans. No, I am not a musician, nor a brainiac fan. I went with my husband.

For the first couple of years of attending this camp, I maintained my role as an interested observer. But a wondrous thing happened; I became one of them. This camp is now my camp, these Campers are now my people. It’s more like being invited to join a secret society and discovering, in addition to a common interest, a love for each member. We even have our own ‘Honk’. How did this happen?
It’s a simple technique, really, and it’s frequently used by foreign language schools. It’s called ‘immersion’. I was immersed up to my eyeballs in camp culture. And it changed me.

How does camp culture work? Professor H. W. Scarlett once wrote, “You get a rustic setting, away from modern devices … so you’re connected to the natural world and thrown back for the first time on your own instincts. Camp stresses caring – not a phony kind of care, but a very deep caring for the group. It takes time to develop that sense of community.” That’s why going every year seems to be important, and why it took a few years for camp to ‘take’ with me. You can’t just observe camp; you must immerse yourself in it.

Real camps, of course, sell the dream of perfecting something; that’s why you sign up. It actually does happen, but that’s not the treasure you take back with you to the real world. The true value you get from the camp experience is change. As camp photographer Avraham Banks wrote, “Now i feel like an old piano that was finally tuned. For how long will i maintain the change? There are people i met that made my life better.”
Me too Avi, me too.

Thirteen pieces of advice to my favorite thirteen-year-old on her birthday

1. Forgive people. Even if they’re wrong. Even if you’re wronged. Even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. Let it all go—holding on to a grudge is poison to your soul.

2. “Eat food, not too much, mostly green.” ~ Michael Pollan

3. Keep your passport current. Travel is the best education, and a current passport means you’re always prepared for a spontaneous trip.

4. Spend a little time with nature every day. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass, dig in the dirt with your hands, plant a pot of flowers for your balcony, sit under a tree with a book, open a window and listen to the rain. Civilization causes stress and illness—nature is the antidote.

5. People will tell you to narrow your focus and concentrate on one thing. Don’t listen to them. Follow your muse in whatever direction it takes you, even if just for a short time. Make art, make music, dance, do things just for fun. You’ll be a better, happier person for it.

6. Learn to cook a few cheap, decent meals. Feeding yourself will be a lifetime occupation. You might as well enjoy your own cooking.

7. Don’t be afraid to say “No” and mean it. It’s not necessary or healthy to be agreeable all the time. Stand up for yourself. Set boundaries. Walk (or run) away if something feels unsafe or makes you uncomfortable.

8. Take photos and actually have them printed. You’ll be glad later when you and your college friends find a box of old photos in a closet and stay up all night giggling over them.

9. Never visit anyone’s home empty handed. Always bring a gift, even if it’s just freshly picked flowers.

10. Learn to listen. So few people really listen to anyone else. Undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone. Put down your phone and listen, face to face, eye to eye.

11. Happiness is a choice. It’s a bad habit to give anyone credit for your happiness, or blame for your unhappiness. Every day decide which way you want to feel and work towards that.

12. Learn to ask for what you want. It’s sometimes easier for girls to complain about what they don’t want, than to say exactly what they do want. Be clear about what you want—you’re much more likely to get it.

13. Say your “Thank you’s”. Gratitude takes you further in this life than any other single thing. Say “Thank you” often, not only when someone does something nice for you, but first thing in the morning, out loud, and often throughout the day. If you’re having a difficult time, stop and say a few “Thank you’s” and mean them. Watch how things change for the better.

A tale of failed Conversion Therapy

I started my young life as an entrepreneur.

I have an early memory of selling tiny scissors I made from splicing two little flowering weed sprouts together.

I was four years old.

I worked on those creations in our back yard for over an hour, then borrowed a white dish towel from my mother’s kitchen drawer and covered a dinner plate with it. I placed my art pieces carefully on the plate, then headed off down our street with the intention of selling them.

I went door to door with my miniature weed scissors, smiling and tossing off my four-year old sales pitch to each neighbor. I’d ring the doorbell and when they answered and appeared at all interested, I set my plate down. Then I demonstrated how to magically make these tiny green things move by working the two halves of the buds back and forth, the scissor action moving the miniature flowers.

“What do we do with them?” one neighbor asked.

“They just look pretty”, I answered. I thought that was enough.

Then I pocketed my 3 pennies and moved on with my plate of scissor-flowers to the next house.

I got all the way to the end of our street when, right in the middle of my spiel to the last neighbor I felt a tug on my arm. I turned around, then looked up to see my mother. Her eyes blazed, her teeth clenched, her hand squeezed my arm. “What are you doing?”, she hissed, then apologized to the neighbor.

She proceeded to march me back down the street, door to door, and made me give back every penny, forcing me to apologize each time.

It was an early attempt at conversion therapy. And it didn’t work.

I couldn’t understand what I did wrong. I made something pretty and people paid me for it. Why was that bad?

My mother, needless to say, did not share my enthusiasm for art or sales. She disapproved of my career choice then, and she disapproved of every career choice I’ve made since then, till the day she died.

If my mother’s relentless and unceasing efforts had paid off, I’d be currently celebrating my wedding anniversary to my high school boyfriend, going to church 5 times a week surrounded by the four perfectly behaved and solemn children I homeschooled as a stay-at-home mom, chubby and well-fed from the three square meals I cooked for them from scratch. Every day.

She never approved of my work, or any woman working outside the home and in point of fact discouraged and disparaged it. Yet, as much as I wanted to please my mother, I was who I was, and I am who I am, still. It was obvious and apparent who I was when I was four and nothing she did or could have done would make me into someone else.

It’s usually like that with children.

The Manifestation of an Ovation

I’m going to tell you a story:

Last month my husband had band rehearsals in England and this time I got to go with him. I spent three lovely weeks eating local Turk-Itali-pub-Indi- food and visiting the villages and the friends who lived and worked there.

One of these friends was a famous guitar player, and we got to tour the lovely house he and his wife shared. Looking at his guitars and other beautifully organized instruments I saw an Ovation guitar sitting on a stand.

I thought to myself, ‘So, an Ovation is good enough to live in this gentleman’s home’. This got me thinking about my old pink Ovation guitar, lost to me for the last fifteen or so years.

His Ovation was black not pink, but it was the trigger.

When I lived in Austin (the city, instead of the outskirts like I do now) I had a little house smack in the middle of everything. It was nestled in in the secluded Travis Heights neighborhood, but it was only four blocks from my salon on busy South Congress Avenue.

Lots of musician friends popped in and out of that salon and lots of fun, spontaneous hangs happened there and at my Travis Heights home.

One of my friends was planning a quick trip to the big guitar convention at Palmer auditorium one weekend and he asked if I wanted to come along. Of course I did—I’d never been to a guitar convention.

As we strolled down the isles gawking at all the guitar designs and colors, my attention was caught by one guitar in particular. It was a pink-stained burl wood-faced Ovation Ultra acoustic guitar with pickups. Very unusual.

I kept thinking about it, isle after isle. Towards the end of our time at the show, I walked back to the stall where I saw the the pink guitar and it was still there, with it’s price tag of $300.

I asked the bored-looking guy standing next to it, “Would you be willing to come down on the price?” He thought about it for about five seconds, and then said “Sure. No one wants a pink Ovation”.

We settled on $225 cash.

I had to run to the cash machine and back but I paid the guy, and the guitar was mine. And I didn’t even play.

I took it home to my little house and sat it on a stand in my living room next to the couch. In the years I lived in that house, everyone and their brother picked at that guitar while they sat on my couch. They always said, “Sounds good for an Ovation”.

That guitar was borrowed for gigs, played with love late into the night by some great musicians, and used on records and I had a lot of memories attached to it.

Then I started dating my husband, and eventually we decided to try living together in his house in The Hill Country.

I turned my little Travis heights house into an Air BnB and left the guitar on its stand in the living room as part of the ambience. It looked interesting on the website and I thought it looked good there, next to the couch.

Then my little house was robbed. The thieves took all the electronics, and my pink guitar. I felt the loss of that guitar more strongly than the loss of a replaceable flat screen and I thought about it a lot after it was gone.

I bought another pretty guitar with birds on the front inlaid with mother of pearl, but it just wasn’t the same. It never lived in my little Travis heights house, it was never played by friends.

And it wasn’t a pink Ovation.

For two weeks after we visited our guitar friend in England that pink guitar kept coming up in my mind, and it became almost like a mental obsession. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

So, last Sunday I pulled out my cell phone and Googled ‘Guitar, Ovation, Pink’. And just like magic, a photo popped up on my cell phone. It looked exactly like my guitar, my pink-stained burl wood Ovation Ultra guitar.

I saved the page and kept searching, to see if that kind of guitar was common, or if there were more of them, but no. I couldn’t find another one. Apparently, the only guitar like my old guitar, for sale at that moment, lived in a music store in Aurora, Colorado.

Of course I contacted the store.

I told myself, “If the pegs are gold, I’ll know it’s mine’. Then, ‘I’m going to buy it. Even if it isn’t really my guitar, when I look at it I’ll smile’

I bought it immediately.

The price: $225.00.

In three days it arrived on my doorstep. I unpacked it and looked it over completely. Yep. Gold pegs. My guitar. It even had the chip in the finish at the back of it’s neck my friend made with his ring.

True Story.

That’s my definition of the word ‘pinkchronicity’—The happy accident that feels “meant-to-be”

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Free Your Hair and the Rest Will Follow

Everywhere we look, we see hair in every color of the rainbow. This feels new, but it’s not. We’ve been coloring our hair for centuries. We have historical records depicting romans sitting in the sun with hair soaked in a lime wash, baking and gossiping for hours while their hair turned orange. Anthropologist Harry Shapiro wrote: “So universal is this urge to improve on nature … that one is almost tempted to regard it as an instinct”.

Today, hair coloring is so popular, 75% of women color their hair, compared to 7% in 1950. In Nora Ephron’s 2006 book “I Feel Bad About My Neck”, she gives hair color total credit for turning back the clock on aging. She says hair color is “. . . the most powerful weapon older women have against youth culture.” No one wanted to be gray.

But attitudes toward gray are shifting, fast. Pinterest reported an 879% jump in the use of the search term “going gray” from 2017 to 2018. The last time gray hair was this hot was probably the 1700s, when Marie Antoinette types would dust wigs with white rice flour. So, why is ‘going gray’ on everyone’s minds? When you noticed your first gray hairs, you found you could cover them pretty easily. And infrequently.

But, gray hair is progressive–10%gray isn’t noticeable much as it grows out. But 10% becomes 20%, 20% becomes 30%, then 40% and twice a year root touch-ups become every six week visits. Once your hair hits 50% gray, your percentage of white/gray to natural hair moves pretty fast, and before you know it, you’re seeing your stylist every 3 weeks—you have now become a slave to your hair color.

White roots and shoe-polish-looking hair color is no longer stylish or young-looking. In fact, obviously dyed hair is now considered ‘aging’. It’s also time-consuming, expensive, and annoying. How did this panacea to aging become a monkey on our backs?

Maybe all the fake news and daily lies makes us determined to create more transparency in our lives (and our beauty routines). Maybe we crave ‘Real’, or the illusion of it, anyway. Maybe we’re just busy, and need less on our plates.

So, what to do? You can free yourself from hair color slavery. If your hair is tinted brown, the process of letting your gray grow out could demand a major salon commitment, involving multiple bleachings. One stylist in Phoenix says it takes 9 hours, and don’t even think of getting off cheaply. Even embracing your natural gray can entail a lot of salon time or torturous hard color lines, to grow out existing dye.

Or . . . you can subtly change the way you color your hair, blending rather than ‘covering’ your natural gray. Get back to your previous stress-free maintenance schedule—it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are tricks. We like to call this clever process “Hair Color Renovation“.

Every head of hair patterns the gray in a different way and it’s different with each person. Hair color is sort of a science experiment and gray hair—fake or natural—must jive with your coloring to work. You have other options. It’s not always eliminating the salon color process itself that’s liberating, it’s the option to choose, to make the trip to your stylist be whatever and whenever you feel. It should be your choice. Free your hair.

Writing, like living, is re-writing

Twice a year I invite my sweet friend Pamela Des Barres to Dripping Springs to host a writing workshop at my house. I started this project while I had my big salon in Austin during a SXSW and I’ve been doing it ever since, for about fifteen years now. 
That year SXSW featured a “Groupie Panel” hosted by Miss Pamela Des Barres, the worlds most famous groupie in the early seventies, and Mr. Robert Plant. Pamela kept a diary, got married, had a child, then wrote the book “I’m With the Band”, which became a best seller and is still in print. She’s been teaching women’s writing workshops for years. 
How do they work? The process seems so simple: She quickly gives you a prompt like “Write about something that had unintended consequences” or “Write about something precious” and ready, set, write . . for twelve minutes, then stop. The only rules are, no qualifying, no thinking, no editing, no critiquing. Then each of the 13-15 Women in my living room read what they wrote, out loud, one by one. 
I never feel I do my best writing this way while I’m doing it, but Pamela always says “You can re-write it later.” And, she’s right. The idea is to get things down quickly so that the nagging self-editor in our own minds doesn’t have a chance to get a foothold in our writing. This technique gives our unconscious mind the freedom to explore, to mine personal experiences and wild imaginings without fear of critique. 
Hemingway famously wrote, “Write drunk, edit sober”. What he meant was, get your thoughts down freely, even recklessly first. Then take your time to re-write. You can be more scrupulous and exacting when you re-write. But don’t confuse this suggestion with editing, or qualifying or thinking or critiquing as you write. When you do that, you’re getting in your own way.
Writing, like living your life, requires freedom of mobility. Later you can, and will, re-write. You’ll toss out what isn’t working, consolidate, fine tune, prune and elaborate. If you edit too soon, you’ll never know what your writing (or your life) could have been.

The Life and Death and Life of the indie bookstore

Last week one of my favorite mystery writers made a few rare book signing appearances beginning in Phoenix, then on to Houston and other cities after that. I live in Austin and Mr Charles Finch wasn’t stopping in Austin, but his Houston signing was on a Monday and I love booksignings, so I decided to take a mini road trip. 
I coerced a book-loving friend to accompany my madness and off we drove down hwy 71 to hwy 10, speeding a little to get to the signing by 6:30. Charles Finch writes a great mystery series set in victorian London called “the Charles Lenox mysteries”, and has written 10 or 11 (or 12) books. He’s won awards and critical acclaim and can boast a large and significant fan base. You can even buy his books translated into German or Russian. 
So you might think his publishers would position his book signings in big book stores like Barnes and Noble in the River Oaks Shopping Center, but you would be wrong. To quote Mr. Finch, “I can’t imagine better starting spots than The Poisoned Pen Bookstore (in Phoenix) and Murder by the Book (in Houston) – two of the stores that every writer in the whisper network knows are truly special homes for readers and book lovers.” 
Charles Finch chose small, independent book stores for his book signings, and this can be seen as an important turning point for printed books. Not so long ago prophets were predicting the demise of the small, independent book store. 
First the big box stores opened with cheap books and coffee bars, then Amazon opened for business. The number of independent booksellers fell 40 percent in five years as people chose to shop online rather than visit a physical store. Then the Kindle arrived and many analysts were saying it was the end of the printed book. 

But something unexpected happened—from 2009 till today, we’ve  seen an almost 40 percent increase in small, independent book stores. The truth is, if you are a reader or a book lover, there is nothing more satisfying than wandering aimlessly through a cozy bookstore handling actual books, finding yourself drawn to a cover, or a first paragraph, or a fat leather arm chair in the corner of a shop, or standing in a the check out line talking about your newest find.
As Charles Finch reminds us, we readers are always on the look out for our special ‘homes‘, and there is nothing more gratifying than knowing the retail book industry is stronger than ever. 

Ambassador to the World

I was a precocious six year old. When my parents had a dinner party, they paraded me around, their eldest daughter, the daughter who could read at five and spell “Nebbucadnezzer” without a mistake while standing in front of you.

Like most parents, they loved to show me off. They would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would parrot back, “I’m an artist and I want to work in an embassy.Work in an embassy? I didn’t even know what that meant.

I knew what it meant to be an artist. I made a tiny sculpture of Rodins’ “The Thinker” out of plaster in my art class, and a painting of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in tempera paint, so I knew I was well on my way to a career as a professional artist.

But I truly had no idea what it meant to work in an embassy. I love practicing my Spanish, so I thought, maybe, ambassadors learned different languages and traveled to foreign countries and made friends with everyone, but how would one go about getting a job like that?

As I grew up I never really thought of that ambassador dream. It faded from my memory as surely as the face of my fourth grade art teacher. An achievable goal? No, just the silly rambling thoughts of an idealistic child. It wasn’t until this year, traveling with my husband, that I re-remembered my ancient dream of becoming an ambassador.

When I look back on each year with my guy, I can remember planning for Portugal, Italy, Russia, Quebec, London, New York, studying each language and set of customs, and growing more and more excited thinking about the new people I’d meet.

My husband recently answered a question, “Where is your wife’s favorite place for a vacation?” and he said, “Any place she hasn’t been.”  He knows me so well.

Seriously, I’ll engage in conversation with anyone in any country. I’m an American. I represent. I take my jobseriously.

My husband’s good friend and genius bass player told me, in all seriousness, “Musicians are the true ambassadors of the world”, and I felt a stirring inside, and a deep, secret voice whispered “Me too.” I am now realizing my long-buried childhood dream, without even being aware of it.