Thursday, March 16, 2006

Why I'm Optimistic About the Future

Here is Deborah Sharp's first-place winning entry in the Happy News "Why I'm Optimistic About the Future" essay contest. Congratulations, Deb!

Until recently, I’d always been a glass-half-empty person. I hoped for the best, but feared the worst. My outlook was like a dark cloud over the American landscape of sunny optimism.

Then someone managed to convince me that all is not lost. Far from it, in fact. For the first time ever, I’m feeling almost giddy about the future.

So how come so many of my fellow Americans are rushing to take the seat that I abandoned on the naysayer train?

You don’t believe me? Take a look at recent national surveys. When pollsters ask whether our country is headed down the wrong track, almost two-thirds of us say yes. The percentage is more than double what it was just three years ago. That escalating sense that things have gone wrong doesn’t bode well for the optimism that’s a crucial part of our national character.

The litany of good-mood crushers is long: Economic uncertainty. Fear of terrorism. Anxiety over the war in Iraq. But even beyond those serious concerns, many suffer from the pessimistic belief that everything—from manners, to music, to morals—was simply better in the good old days.

And I thought so, too. Until I posed a simple question to my ninety-one-year old mother, Marion.

“Are you optimistic about the future?’’ I asked her.

I thought I knew exactly what she’d say. Surely, she’d feel nostalgic for decades past, for a simpler, less-stressful time. She’d be fearful about where the world is headed today. With nearly a century of wisdom behind her, my mother hesitated only a moment before replying. I anticipated an emphatic shake of her head and an answer in the negative.

I was wrong.

“Of course I’m optimistic,’’ she said. “Look at all the wonderful things history has already brought us.’’

I peered at her closely, wondering whether she was beginning to lose touch with reality. Oh sure, I thought. History has delivered some real doozies: Wars. Disasters. People yammering on cell phones in public.

And then my mother, as sharp as ever, explained why she sees the glass of the future as half full.

When she was a child, her brother contracted polio. Unlike so many other infants, he survived. But he never walked without crutches. Her best girlfriend in elementary school died of tuberculosis. Medical breakthroughs in her lifetime, and in mine, have made children and others in the developed world safe from such once-fatal diseases.

In 1915, a year after my mother’s birth, one-hundred babies died for every one-thousand born. Today, the U.S. infant mortality rate is well less than one-tenth what it was back then. In my mother’s day, average life expectancy hovered around forty-seven years. Today, the average American can expect to blow out at least seventy-seven candles on his or her last birthday cake.

There’s every reason to believe that more medical miracles lie ahead. Some day, our grandchildren or their children will marvel that people at the turn of the 21st Century still died of cancer and AIDS.

Given what she’s experienced, my mother is optimistic—as now, so am I—that the future will bring advances comparable to medicine’s in science and technology, and in society itself.

On the Chicago block of my mother’s youth, a lamplighter lit gas streetlights each night. Now, she zaps water for her hot tea in a microwave. She reads emails from friends on the Internet.

She remembers the excitement of gazing up to spot a passing plane. Whenever one of those then-magical contraptions flew by, everyone rushed into the street. They pointed skyward, shouting, “Aeroplane! Aeroplane!’’ Since then, she’s seen man walk on the moon. Scientists at NASA are designing the next phase of space exploration, when a liquid-methane powered capsule will zoom astronauts to Mars. My mother may not live long enough to see it. But I have no doubt that I will.

She’s survived the hardship and the tragedies of war. Japanese-American citizens locked up during WW II. The explosion of the atom bomb. Our country ripped apart by differences over Vietnam. And she’s seen the resilience of nations and their citizens after such painful conflicts.

What about those sepia-toned memories I thought she’d have of being a young mother, raising children in southern Florida? She remembers that those good old days had a very bad side. Water fountains with signs saying “White’’ and “Colored.’’ Lynchings. A whole segment of society kept down because of skin color.

She’s currently rooting for Condoleezza Rice to make a rumored run for the office of president. Though not technically a Republican, my mother finds the prospect of a candidate who’s both an African-American and a woman too enticing to ignore. Someone who has lived to see both the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, and the struggle for civil rights, some forty years later, might naturally feel that way.

When I view the incredible achievements made in the span of one lifetime, it’s hard not to feel optimistic about what’s yet to come. The can-do engine that drove America through the last century may need a tweak here and there, but it still has lots of power left in its pistons. I’m confident that hard work, brilliant minds, and a bit of luck will bring about the same sort of “wonderful things’’ my mother recalls from her personal American history. I hope my own recollections will one day include new energy alternatives, better disaster preparation, and maybe even peace.

Now, if we could just do something about all those obnoxious cell phone yakety-yakkers, my transformation from pessimist to optimist would be complete.

Fort Lauderdale native Deborah Sharp worked for USA Today for 20 years. She found her optimism when she stopped chasing news and started writing stories. She's working on her second novel.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Taking More Action!

Guest Blog from Christine LaFrankie

It's time!! Sound the alarms! Blow those horns! Crack that whip! This has been long overdue! Sitting, eating, not doing. No time for pity stories or the old beat the club over the head, "Woe is me." I am good enough! I am smart enough! Doggonit, people like me! So, what's the excuse, bring it on chicky! I will be assertive! I will find a way! I can negotiate with myself. A new dawn has risen and a dark heart is here. I can't believe it all these years and I never really understood the power of the word...the power and the healing of the pen and paper. Hold on to your hats ladies. Watch out as I zip through all the gossip, jargon, and bullshit! Someone beep a horn for me because if you don't then I'm liable to hit something dead on. No seat belt here. Bring on the police sirens. I'm wanted by the law. I've been judged by the judge. He knows my story. I'm hell on wheels gals and you better believe it! Slowly staking out the prey and planning the attack! Jump for joy if your with me so we'll be ready for take off. The delay was neccessary. We had to get our peace of mind first. Can't get out there with no head. We'd be like chickens running around just flaping our wings wondering...who the hell turned off the lights? Get on board the Chinese Express we're going to Never never land forever together no matter the weather. So, flap those feathers and repeat after me, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home!" (Spirit in the sky song plays and fades out.)

--Christine LaFrankie,

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Beauty and Self-Image

from Guest Blogger, Carla Golden.

I worked as a Playboy Bunny when I was in my 20's and have recently written a book about my life. At the time I applied for the position, my husband had asked for a divorce, my self-esteem was as low as the temperature in Fargo, North Dakota, and I had diminutive breasts that hardly looked like they qualified for a bra, let alone this type of a job. But with only $36 to my name, having moved from Indiana to Miami, I shored up my courage and applied for the job. To my utter amazement, I got hired.

When I was in my 20's I was incredibly insecure. I thought that I had to look a certain way to be pretty. My mother had always focused on my looks, giving me Toni home permanents and making sure that I had ribbons in my hair and frilly dresses to wear with matching socks. I had to be physically perfect, I thought, to be pretty.

Today, in our culture, beauty is defined for women by the media and the fashion industry. As the trends change, women make changes in themselves to mold themselves to fit that definition. Marilyn Monroe's voluptuous beauty was what women strove to imitate in the 50's. Twiggy was hot in the 60's with her curve-less body. And today we again seem to be in that same mentality where women feel the need to eat carrots and yogurt and purge to be beautiful. And then when the breasts disappear with all the other fat from the body, breast augmentations are necessary. The likes of Nicole Richey, Mary Kate Oleson, and Jessica Simpson as role models presents an unhealthy image for the little girls and teenagers in our country.

Barbie dolls were the representation of beauty when I was growing up. But no woman had a figure that compared with the one that Mattel created for its plastic icon of femininity. The boobs were large, the waist tiny and the hips ultra-slender and almost boyish. And the legs went on forever. Not long ago, I saw a young woman on television who had spent thousands of dollars to try to look like Barbie. ??? What is wrong with this picture?

Parents need to help their little girls see that their true beauty comes from within them--that it has to do with their compassion for others and concern for the world as a whole and not just whether their hair is blonde enough or their breasts large enough. A mother who looks at her child and says, "You're beautiful, just the way you are. And you are smart and a caring person and that's what I appreciate most about you."

Let's do what we can to encourage a new generation of adults who are less self-absorbed and narcissistic and who genuinely care about the world we live in.

Reprinted with permission from Carla's blog.

Rev. Carla Golden has just finished her memoir, No Dumb Bunny: One Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery. Check out Carla's web site and blog at

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


From Guest Blogger Elizabeth Sine

Obsession. Yes this week I have been obsessed! I have been trying to keep myself busy with work, school and a new relationship; but when there is a moment of quiet in my head, it turns itself to this obsession.

I have a friend that calls it the “itty bitty shitty committee"; another relates it to a dog chasing its tail. I’ve also heard it referred to as having one foot nailed to the ground and spinning around, going nowhere. When I get into an “obsession,” I feel like a hamster in a cage, running faster and faster, yet never getting anywhere. It’s such a waste of time, and the amount of time I spend obsessing never changes the outcome, ever! And yet until I determine that I’m really powerless over the situation, after I’ve turned over every rock for solutions, and until I’m ready to surrender to the “whatever,” I will continue the “obsession.”

After sleepless nights, talks with friends, and a sense of humor that reminds me to do the right thing, I begin to let go. Letting go of an obsession is a slow process for me, and sometimes doesn’t begin until I start to see signs around me that let me know, I am not in control and that things really will work out.

My obsession this past week began with being locked out of my house. You see, I still own half of a house, it is for sale after a lengthy divorce. The ex decided that he was going to change the locks, with most of my belongings in it and then go on a skiing vacation to Seattle, telling my lawyer that I could get my things anytime I wanted, with his permission. So you can understand my obsession: “How dare he!” My anger and frustration grew as I continually thought of ways to get into MY house. I remembered a window that had broken lock and I visualized myself squeezing through it and getting in. I also forgot that I’m now a size 16 and not an 8, so my vision quickly changed to one of me being stuck at the waist with my cell phone in my pocket and my hands on the other side of the window! Thank God I thought that one out first.

My fiancĂ©e, the most wonderful man in the world, offered to buy the house, but I already own half of it. I then thought about using my blondness and calling a locksmith claiming to have lost my key. But I was afraid he’d just break the lock and I still wouldn’t have MY key. Maybe having the key means ownership, maybe that’s why I am patiently waiting for the attorneys to solve the problem and then I will get MY key to MY half of the house.

Today the obsession finally left. It occurred while I was walking down the aisle at Home Depot looking for paint. I realized that the first aisle I walked down was the aisle with keys and locks! This for some reason struck me to be humorous, as there were hundreds of keys and locks, and not a single one to open MY half of MY house.
--By Elizabeth Sine, Peer Counseling Teacher, Broward County Schools, former Home Economics teacher and mother of three grown (really grown and out of the house and county) children.

March is Wordy Woman Month

You probably know that March is Women's History Month. But, did you know that March is also Feminine Empowerment Month and March 8 is International Women's Day?

Since there is no better time than now for Wordy Women to observe and celebrate our womanhood, I have [unofficially] declared March "Wordy Woman Month." Every woman has a story to tell and today, more than ever, it's important to share our tales of woe and triumph. I'm inviting you to post your story on my blog (with your contact information). Begin by reading recent posts on this page and then send me your own.

Submission guidelines:

Try to limit the length to max. 1,000 words/entry--around 500 is best. The topic is open, but your story must be coherent, with a point to your words. Have a gripe? Good news to share? A strong opinion? Add a 25-word bio with your contact information and email me ASAP.