Category Archives: Motivational

Words of Wisdom in The Book of Joan, by Melissa Rivers

An open letter to Melissa Rivers.

Dear Melissa,

I want to thank you for sharing stories about your mom in The Book of Joan.

You don’t know this, but I am your sister. Although not biological siblings, we are siblings in my heart. As an adoptee, I spent countless hours wondering who my birth, or first mother was. One of my favorite fantasy moms was your mom, Joan Rivers. This was an excellent choice since I was obviously named after this famous comedian. I figured my parents named me Joan so that one day when I was ready to search for my biological roots, which we assume most adoptees will do at some point, my name would become my first clue to my origins.

As the years passed and I found no other clues about my birth, I began to take on the famous Joan’s persona. I developed her sharp sense of humor, unfortunately misunderstood by many. That didn’t matter. I figured, if they didn’t get me, their loss. My “standup” career began when I started working for Weight Watchers. As a group leader facilitating meetings in front of a room full of overweight women, potential Joan Rivers’ targets, I’d open my program with, “Can we talk?” I’d often toss out some jokes I borrowed that my members would relate to. One of my favorite lines was, “Elizabeth Taylor…we all used to want to look like her; now we do.”

Melissa, I loved reading your book. Your mom taught you about working hard and laughing at yourself. We knew the Joan whose humor was very self-deprecating. Who didn’t hold back pointing out celebrities’ flaws, giving voice to what others were thinking, whether they would admit it or not. The public did not often get to see the Joan you grew up with. The giving, loving, charitable woman you and her friends and family knew.

I was especially moved by Joan’s commencement address to your graduating class at Penn. I would like to share excerpts (that I copied from the Internet) here so people can learn a few important life lessons from the great woman herself. Lessons about pride. Failure. Success. It’s all possible.

When they asked me to speak at graduation, I thought they meant GRADUATION. I’d been looking forward to quaffing champagne and wearing a black cap and gown – to match my roots. And I thought I’d be receiving a degree! They said I wasn’t going to get the degree, then they said I was going to get the degree, then they said I wasn’t going to get the degree. It became a situation I’m sure some of these seniors can easily relate to!

It seems like yesterday my late husband and I were talking to our daughter Melissa about choosing a college. The choice was made more difficult by our California standards. There, higher education is anything above crayons; the only culture you find out there is in yogurt. The idea of a really deep, philosophical, existentialist question is, “How tan am I?” …

I’d like to tell you one thing, which is the truth as I see it. Please, everyone, look to your right, and look to your left, and look all around you – because right now, this is as good as it’s gonna get for a long, long time. I hope all of you learn to fail, and plan to fail, and fail early on. Failure is the best thing that can ever happen to anybody. Not only did each failure in my life teach me something, it made me stronger. And moved me one step closer to success. Don’t be proud. If you think the world is waiting for you now that you’ve graduated, you’re wrong. You think you’re hot. You think you graduated from Penn and Wharton: big deal. Nobody’s waiting for you. Try any path you can, go through any door that opens. Don’t wait for the right moment, because right moments come out of wrong moments.

Barbra Streisand is probably one of the biggest stars in the world, right? But if you think of her as unknown – she was no beauty: ug-o nose, stupid-looking crossed eyes, great voice, but nobody cared. She would go from audition to audition to audition. Nobody wanted her. Finally, in desperation, she sneaked into [an] audition for The Sound of Music. The call was for a 16-year-old, blonde, blue-eyed, young, very pretty Aryan. They’re looking for a Nazi. Perfect for Barbra! And she has the nerve to sing for them. [Someone told her], try nightclubs, which she did, and [eventually], she was discovered. She became a major, major star. And from that day on, I haven’t heard from the bitch.

If you don’t think [love and money] are related, spend a week in Hollywood. John Paul Getty once said – and I agree – “If you know how much money you have, you haven’t got enough.” Get out there, work hard, and thank God we’re living in a country where the sky is still the limit. And the stores are open late. And you can even shop from your bed, thanks to television!

I was one who, for about a minute and a half, went around saying, “Money doesn’t make you happy.” Yes, you can be happy without it. But it opens a lot of doors…From money, I turned to love, which is money’s first cousin. Look for love, and when you find it, grab it with both hands. And if it isn’t there at the moment, don’t be discouraged, because believe it or not, love comes to everybody. Even ug-os. When love arrives, you have to make a choice: should I buy a real sofa or a sectional? A sectional is good because then you can split it up if it doesn’t work out, but I’m saying to you all, please get the sofa. Go for the gold. Don’t live together. Get married. It sounds dull, but marriage is just like living together – except you get presents.

Success doesn’t mean everyone’s gonna love you. Forget that. Success is short-lived, and you never want to trust success. Enjoy it for the moment, then, for God’s sake, go back to work. Never forget that work is the reason you became successful.. I was asked to speak her today because I’m funny and I’m caustic and I’m cheap. That’s not the reason I accepted. I came because I wanted to pay tribute publicly to my daughter and to her friends and to the institution which has supported them and nurtured them and, please God, educated them. And what I mean by “educated”: I think that means that Penn has taught all of you to see, to hear, to smell, taste and touch.

You’re college graduates now. Use your education. Remember, it’s not who you know…It’s WHOM. 

Melissa, I want you to know that I cried along with you and millions of fans worldwide over the tragic loss of a woman whose senseless passing was due to negligence. On a selfish note, I also regret that I didn’t become famous in time to have Joan tell me to put down the cookies and walk away.

With affection,

Joan

What’s in Your Closet? Coming Out in 2015

Bruce Jenner came out of the closet. At sixty-five, he’d been there for a long, long time. (I’m using the pronoun “he” because, although he identifies as a woman, he told Diane Sawyer to continue referring to “him” as “he”. I assume “he” will become a “she” after the upcoming documentary.

Cristela Alonzo came out today on The View. She came out as having grown up as a poor child.

What does a “closet” hold? A lot of baggage. Stuff we don’t want anyone to know. Stuff we are ashamed of. What’s wrong with being poor? Why would anyone have to hide that? Why would a child feel shame that their parents don’t have money, you might ask? It’s not the child’s responsibility to earn a living. To provide for their family. But put yourself in that child’s shoes. Literally. Imagine for a moment how the “poor” child feels looking down at their own hand-me-down shoes with the worn-out soles glancing down at the new Converse/Vans/Sperry-clad feet of her classmates. I said classmates, not friends, because the cool kids are friends with other kids in their same socio-economic-sports-click class. Yes, kids, like adults, are snobs.

Our closets are chock full of shit.

OK, my closet it chock full of shit. My issues that I had to deal with myself as well as others issues, have been locked away, in my closet.

Relating closely to Bruce Jenner is my newest. No, I am not transgender. At least I don’t feel I am even though most of my thought processes are what society deems as male. I’m good at math. If you tell me a problem, I want to find a solution, not just offer comfort. And if asked what I see myself in, I most likely would tell you about a cool car rather than a fancy dress or piece of jewelry.

Society is weird. If Bruce Jenner wears a dress, he must be trans/gay/cross-dressing. If I wear pants, I’m comfortable. But I digress.

Coming out of the closet means you are ready to tell someone something they don’t know about you. Something you feel they might judge you about. Something that might make them not like you. Something you fear will change your life.

In the past I came out as a binge eater. Embarrassed to eat my  favorite foods in front of others, I literally hid food in my closet, my drawers, to eat while alone. So no one would know. I found comfort in Weight Watchers where there were other people like me. Others who could relate to my problem. Others who would not judge me, but accept me as I was; a person struggling day-to-day with an eating disorder. In turn, I spent years counseling others with their food addictions. Helping others helped me. I still have an eating disorder, but it no longer controls my life. I can accept that I have good days and bad days. Coming out of the closet made a tremendous difference in my life.

Sometimes your closet is full of other people’s issues. What is, or should our role be in coming out for someone else? Bruce Jenner felt tremendous relief coming out as transgender. No longer having to hide, he is now able to live his life as a woman. Dressing as a woman. Wearing makeup. More importantly, not having to hide from his family and the public. But what about his family? They must be relieved as well. The whole world suspected Bruce was transitioning. We saw the changes in facial features. The long hair. The nails. We speculated. So did his family. But it wasn’t their story to tell. They had to keep quiet. They had to keep his secret. Now they don’t. I imagine that would give them a tremendous sense of relief.

I don’t just imagine this. I know it.

For years I kept secrets that tore me up every day. Married to an alcoholic, I didn’t want anyone to know about the dui’s, the job losses, the car accidents. I couldn’t tell the few friends I had for fear I’d lose their friendship. And I definitely couldn’t tell my parents. They would have insisted I leave him. Since I was confident I could fix him, I led a secret life, struggling in the background, hiding money and emptying bottles. His addiction was not my story to tell. Until Al-Anon. There I could open up. There I could be myself. Share my struggles. Get advice from people who understood my problem. People who had been-there/done-that. Al-Anon members told me it wasn’t my job to fix the alcoholic. That I couldn’t even if I wanted to. They helped me break free. Eventually I realized that I could no longer subject my children to the life of living with an active alcoholic, so I ended the marriage. I was finally free to rid my closet of another large piece of baggage.

However, LGBT is different. So many people are still in the closet because of fear they will be judged. Bruce Jenner hopes his coming out will make a difference. I pray Bruce Jenner’s coming out will make a difference.

Being gay, identifying as a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, is not a choice. It is who you are. The way you were born. There should be no more shame in being gay than there is in having blue eyes or red hair. Or yes, being chubbier than the Hollywood ideal.

The statistic that forty-one percent of transgender people attempt suicide is a percentage I can’t wrap my brain around. That figure is “attempting” suicide. Not “thinking” about suicide. This has got to change!

Why is gender so important in this society? We are all people. We are part of the human race. Get over it. People are people. Accept it.

You don’t have to be LGBT yourself to come out. When someone in your life announces they are part of the LGBT community, you wind up being part of their story. For instance, if your brother has a boyfriend, when talking about your brother’s boyfriend, you are essentially telling the world your brother is gay. The way you present that information, the way you convey someone else’s “story” tells a lot about you. Not about them. Be proud. Just as you would telling about a girlfriend your brother might have. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, others won’t. (This is positive thinking. I’m not naïve enough to believe everyone will be accepting. But I can hope.)

As I said, I am not Lesbian or transgender. However, I now feel I am part of the LGBT community. I used to have to most beautiful, talented, intelligent granddaughter in the world. Now, after a lot of reading, and with the help of outspoken celebrities like Laverne Cox and Bruce Jenner, I’m now starting to understand a little more about what it feels like to be transgender. To identify as a different gender than the one in which you were assigned at birth. It’s not my position to “out” anyone. I just want to share that I am now the proud grandmother of the most handsome, talented, intelligent grandson in the world. And he identifies as transgender.

If you or a loved one has issues that are stuck in a closet, find help. There are many support groups  online and in person that are there for you. Reach out.

The Face of Transgender is Beautiful

The face of transgender…

The face of depression…

The face of despair…

The face I’m looking at is the same beautiful face I remember as a baby.

The larger than life eyes stare into my sole asking why am I in so much pain?

I wish I had an answer. I wish I had an answer for all the teens who struggle on a day-to-day basis just to figure out who they are. Why they should keep on going when sometimes it seems like it would be so much easier to let go.

I must remember that the faces I’m looking at today are the lucky ones. The ones who are getting help. The ones who had someone to go to when they needed to be heard.

When our teens cry out for help, how many of us have the strength to listen?

How many of us have the courage to take their feelings seriously?

I wish I could do more. Right now, I’m comforted to know he is getting help.

I Don’t Belong

I don’t belong,,,
I’m adopted in a world of people who grew up with siblings that looked like them.
I’m short in a world where height is envied.
I’m curvy in a world that covets jutting bones.
I’m introverted in a world that craves selfies.
I abstain in a world that drinks as a sport.
I cry watching loved ones hurt because I can’t take away their pain.
I’m lost but don’t want to be found.
I’m alone and content.
I envy those who have the courage to be themselves.
I admire those who stand up and declare they don’t fit the mold.
I believe there are new molds being made every day.
Look in the mirror and be proud.
Same is boring.
Happy and healthy new year to all those with the strength to break the old mold and create a new one.

A Sweet Lesson on Patience

Reprinted from  www.elderhelpers.org.

A sweet lesson on patience. A NYC Taxi driver wrote: I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was …going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. ‘Just a minute’, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware. ‘Would you carry my bag out to the car?’ she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘It’s nothing’, I told her.. ‘I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.’ ‘Oh, you’re such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, ‘Could you drive through downtown?’ ‘It’s not the shortest way,’ I answered quickly.. ‘Oh, I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice. I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. ‘I don’t have any family left,’ she continued in a soft voice..’The doctor says I don’t have very long.’ I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. ‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, ‘I’m tired. Let’s go now’. We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. ‘How much do I owe you?’ She asked, reaching into her purse. ‘Nothing,’ I said ‘You have to make a living,’ she answered. ‘There are other passengers,’ I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.She held onto me tightly. ‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’ I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.. I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one. PLEASE SHARE THIS TOUCHING STORY…

Who Moved My Cookies?

cookies cover 3Jessie Newman was a smart, sexy, successful Weight Watchers leader, who had it all, until she caught her cheating husband, in the act. After tossing him to the curb, she had to quit the part-time career she loved and wound up stuck in a dead-end job, watching her butt grow. Now, married to a prominent and handsome neurosurgeon, who happens to think she’s cute, cellulite and all, Jessie is ready for a change.

Although it kills Jessie to leave her family, when her new husband, Dr. Tad Newman, gets offered a job in our nation’s capital, this former weight loss guru, still reeling after her failed first marriage, considers this the opportunity she’s been waiting for to quit job she hates, drop the twenty pounds she’s packed on, and embark on a new career.

Happily married at last, Jessie looks forward to letting go of her former life and embarking on a journey of self-improvement. In Who Moved My Cookies?, Jessie sets out to start a new career during a time when companies are downsizing, not hiring. In between tackling online job applications, Jessie works on figuring out the perfect diet while fantasizing about fitting into those clothes she’s been saving since shoulder pads were the height of fashion, even if it means giving up meat and cookies. But not M&M’s. She has her limits. Most importantly, Jessie is determined to make this marriage work, in spite of the many hours her husband is now spending with his sexy new assistant, who just happens to become the subject of the murder mystery she is writing????

As a former Weight Watchers leader who helped thousands lose weight on the Weight Watchers program, I know what it is like to stand in front of the freezer, sneaking a few bites, licks and tastes from the half-gallon containers of mint chocolate chip ice cream and tubes of frozen cookie dough I kept hidden behind the frozen broccoli.

If you can relate to Jessie, or just want a really fun Bridget Jones- type of read, please take a look at Who Moved My Cookies?

Food Porn and Weight Watchers

Did you ever notice how packaged ice cream is at its peak of perfection the moment you bring it home from grocery shopping? OMG…Stop me now.

My sixteen-year gig as a Weight Watchers group leader in the Cleveland suburbs was like doing eleven shows a week at the Improv. Standing in front of a packed house— 20 to 100 members on average— I would mime sneaking a taste of my newly purchased 1/2 gallon container of Pierre’s chocolate-chocolate chip. Opening the lid immediately after placing it on the kitchen counter, not even caring if my other groceries spoiled from neglect, I would attack the carton like a vulture going after his prey. I just needed one taste. One perfect mouthful. I’d swirl my plastic, (yes it had to be a plastic spoon so as not to give a metallic taste to the ice cream), around the top, savoring the creamy goodness at its peak of perfection. I would glance around the room, noticing my members at the edges of their seats, living vicariously through my experience. I’d watch their eyes tearing up, their lips quivering, as if they were watching pornography. In a way, this was our pornography. Food porn. And we loved it. We craved more. We needed to hear other members’ experiences to learn how to deal with our own issues with food. And to know we were not alone in our struggle with our weight.

During the sixteen years I taught Weight Watchers, I feared that if I no longer had to do my weekly/monthly weigh-ins, I’d put back on the weight I had lost years before. That was scary.

Eventually I had to give up my meetings and I have been struggling with the scale ever since.
I’m sharing some of my weight challenges, along with many experiences members have discussed in thousands of my meetings through the voice of my fictional character, Jessie Newman, in my novel: Who Moved My Cookies? available now on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G3Q91CS.

Call Me Ella – An Adoption Memoir

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More than just one woman’s search for information about the biological mother she believed had died in childbirth, this book, available now on Kindle, explores the mind and feelings of an adopted child. Call Me Ella is a heartwarming and uplifting story about a young girl who considered her adoptive parents her “real parents,” yet wanted to know more. She wanted to know her roots. Her heritage. With a burning desire to have someone who “looked like her,” she couldn’t wait to marry and have children of her own. She had no idea that her twenty-four year search, which did not begin until after both of her parents had passed away, would involve Sopranos-like tales of organized crime, gambling, and infidelity.

When her friend gushed over how much her son’s graduation picture looked like her dad’s portrait, Joanie smiled. Her friend did not know she was adopted. Then she took another look at the two photos, sitting side by side on her mantel, almost identical. Could her adoptive father have been her birth father? Now, a year after Joanie’s mom had passed away, she set out to discover the truth behind her adoption.

Joanie grew up thinking she killed her mother. As a child, when her adoptive mom answered her question, “Where did I come from?” by saying her birth mother died in childbirth, she believed in her heart she killed the woman who gave her life. She kept asking her mom the same question, hoping to get a different answer. Maybe she’d learn her birth mother had been ill, that it wasn’t her fault she died. When Joanie finally got old enough to figure out it took two people, a man and a woman, to have a child, she asked a new question: “What happened to my birth father? Did he die too?” That’s when her mom shot her foot through the kitchen wall screaming, “Don’t ever ask me that again.” It took her years to realize why that question hit a nerve.

In New Jersey, when a baby is adopted, their original birth certificate is sealed, making it seem as if the child did not exist before the adoption. Joanie never even knew her birth mother’s last name until she discovered her adoption papers a week before her mom passed away. Unfortunately, when her mom died with her secrets intact, she thought she’d never learn about her ethnic background or medical history. She wasn’t ready to give up. She needed to know more. She needed to know the big secret that kept her mom from answering her questions.  With determination and the unexpected help from a self-proclaimed “romantic” stranger, she set out to find her roots.

Call Me Ella is a memoir of love, family, loss and perseverance. It shows how we can work to achieve our happy endings.

Cover Design by Amy Kaufman

Preview

Hold Tight to Your Dreams

20130423-231947.jpgThe will to keep striving
It comes and goes
Sometimes we’re strong
Other times, not so.

Raring to pursue
Through thick and through thin
We often just hang on
And sometimes give in.

Life’s unpredictable
Often a challenge
We push and push harder
We might lose our balance.

Grasp tight to the dream
Beg, steal or borrow
What’s out of our reach now
Might be our tomorrow.

All is not lost
When turned down by some

A door will then open
Out comes the sun.

A brighter tomorrow
Is within our grasp
If we just hang on
Our day will come at last.

I will get mine
And so will you
If we just hang in for the long haul

And not be so blue.

They say just smile
And act really charming
Pretend you are happy
It’s not so alarming.

What’s the alternative?
Pouting you say.
Laugh at your problems
That’s the best way.

Hang on to the moment

Hold tight to your dreams
You will be happy soon
If you just believe.

Good things are worth
The time and the wait
Your moment in the sunshine
Will come, if you have faith.