I’m not saying goodbye

I have crazy dreams many nights. They are typically those from which I wake and, having to use the restroom at some dark hour, continue to ruminate on in a half-sleepy state for a few minutes guaranteeing that I will remember the ridiculous mental escapade when my alarm juts me from my slumber at 6AM. And inevitably I think: Where the hell do these crazy dreams come from?!

Example? The other night I dreamed I was decapitated right above the shoulders and then my head was sewed back on and magically better, but for some reason I had to die anyways. I spent the whole dream saying tearful, mournful goodbyes to the people in my life that I love most. My coffin was waiting as I hugged my friends, cried with my family, and all-the-while I was discussing what would be the best way to go. Finally settling on antifreeze (cats drink it because it is sweet – so maybe it would work for me…), I woke up.

Not quite sure where the decapitation thing came from. Perhaps it is an analogy for the amazing ability yoga gives me to escape my mind and get into my body instead, which I did before I pooped out on the couch. The “saying goodbye” part really stuck with me for two reasons. 1. I had discussed my grandfather’s death that day and how I didn’t say a real “goodbye,” (hence, the “death” part I gather) and 2. because I had debated the function of “goodbye” that evening. In the podcast Last Week on Earth with Ben Gleib (episode 8 [1/17/12] with Bobby Lee), comedian Ben Gleib shared some advice he received years before from comedian Bob Saget: never say goodbye at social functions. “You save half your time,” Gleib said. “I always have to have two interactions with almost everybody!”

This sounded like me. I do this everywhere, from small parties to huge art openings. I feel rude if I don’t say goodbye to those with whom I have relationships. Aren’t they important enough to find in the crowd before I depart? Hearing Saget’s advice made me question the benefits of the time expenditure. This practice adds probably twenty to forty minutes to my outings. So it begs the question, how much do others value the effort? If there was nothing more to say, why bother starting up the conversation again? Is it more awkward than jovial to say, “Hey I’m leaving! So nice to talk with you. Bye!” Really, do they care? I doubt it. They’ll see me again. And if they won’t, those folks probably really don’t care that I’m leaving!

So my new time-saving decision: I’m not saying goodbye to people at large social functions. At small social functions, I will use judgment and preference. I will convey my thanks to the host(ess), and then be on my way. One exception to this is family functions – as in my case I don’t see my family often. I insist on double encounters for the sheer purpose of increasing the amount of interaction in a tiny amount of time. And for hugs. I need a lot of hugs. I “build them up” for the days I am without physical proximity to my family. It tides me over until my next trek to the Midwest. ūüôā

Image by Joe Jarvis (joejarvis.net). Source, and an interesting post on manners: http://www.incivilian.net/2011/04/eco-etiquette-manners-and-environmental.html

This topic got me thinking about the efficiency of good manners. I wonder how many people skimp on courtesy in the interest of time. Why hold the door open for someone when I am late for my appointment? Who cares if I cut someone off when I need to make that green light? What is the point of the “How are you?” “I am fine, you?” “Fine, thanks.” exchange as you pass by in the hallway? Seems like wasted effort to some I bet.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think simple pleasantries are a waste of time. On the contrary, often these little interactions can change the tone of a person’s day. Let’s say I got in a heated tiff with my husband before he dropped me off for work. I’m in a poor mood, and being pleasant is at the bottom of my list. But then someone holds open the elevator door so I won’t have to wait for the next, and with a smile they joke about the weather or being half-way through the work week. I start to feel better. I might even smile. My nasty mood is already diminishing.

My point is – you never know the impact a simple courtesy can have on others. So I still make time for them. I won’t get much farther up the road by cutting off the car in front of me (most of the time you see them at the next red light anyhow). I won’t be more than 5 seconds later by holding open that door. And sometimes my “How are you?” is greeted with a genuine, “Ah! I’m great! How are you?!” which leads to a lively conversation that makes my day or changes me in some measurable way. The benefits cannot be measured by minor manners, but in the long run they make a difference.

So no, I might not talk say goodbye to everyone at a party anymore. But I’ll still make a point of trying to say a heartfelt “hello” to all of them! I just never know where it might take me!

Mother May I?

My mother sent me this article (thanks Mom!). Reading through it, I imagine there are as many adults as there are children who might need to know these tips! You can see the actual article HERE. I’ve pasted the online version here – thanks to Yahoo!

I don’t necessarily remember my mother or father teaching me many of these rules, but it seems to me we must have modelled our behaviors after what we saw rather than what we were told. I like to think we didn’t turn out too bad — maybe reading this you’ll think the same of yourself!


Hope you enjoy!


25 Manners Every Kid Should Know By Age 9

Helping your child master these simple rules of etiquette will get him noticed — for all the right reasons.
By David Lowry, Ph.D.

Your child’s rude ‘tude isn’t always intentional. Sometimes kids just don’t realize it’s impolite to interrupt, pick their nose, or loudly observe that the lady walking in front of them has a large behind. And in the hustle and bustle of daily life, busy moms and dads don’t always have the time to focus on etiquette. But if you reinforce these 25 must-do manners, you’ll raise a polite, kind, well-liked child.-

Manner #1

When asking for something, say “Please.”

Manner #2

When receiving something, say “Thank you.”

Manner #3
Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you and respond when they are finished talking.

Manner #4

If you do need to get somebody’s attention right away, the phrase “excuse me” is the most polite way for you to enter the conversation.

Manner #5

When you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission first. It can save you from many hours of grief later.

Manner #6The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.

Manner #7Do not comment on other people’s physical characteristics unless, of course, it’s to compliment them, which is always welcome.

Manner #8When people ask you how you are, tell them and then ask them how they are.

Manner #9

When you have spent time at your friend’s house, remember to thank his or her parents for having you over and for the good time you had.

Manner #10Knock on closed doors — and wait to see if there’s a response — before entering.

Manner #11When you make a phone call, introduce yourself first and then ask if you can speak with the person you are calling.

Manner #12Be appreciative and say “thank you” for any gift you receive. In the age of e-mail, a handwritten thank-you note can have a powerful effect.

Manner #13Never use foul language in front of adults. Grown-ups already know all those words, and they find them boring and unpleasant.

Manner #14

Don’t call people mean names.

Manner #15Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing shows others you are weak, and ganging up on someone else is cruel.

Manner #16Even if a play or an assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend that you are interested. The performers and presenters are doing their best.

Manner #17If you bump into somebody, immediately say “Excuse me.”

Manner #18Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and don’t pick your nose in public.

Manner #19

As you walk through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.

Manner #20If you come across a parent, a teacher, or a neighbor working on something, ask if you can help. If they say “yes,” do so — you may learn something new.

Manner #21When an adult asks you for a favor, do it without grumbling and with a smile.

Manner #22When someone helps you, say “thank you.” That person will likely want to help you again. This is especially true with teachers!

Manner #23Use eating utensils properly. If you are unsure how to do so, ask your parents to teach you or watch what adults do.

Manner #24

Keep a napkin on your lap; use it to wipe your mouth when necessary.

Manner #25

Don’t reach for things at the table; ask to have them passed.

See more on teaching manners to your toddlers and preschoolers. 

Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Parents magazine.


Once again, this article was published in Parents magazine.  You can find the actual article from Yahoo! right HERE.

5 Ways to Be Civil – Iowa style

My mom-in-law is always looking out for articles I might like; ones on art, my alma mater, and civility are regularly arriving in my mailbox. It’s pretty great having people out there finding good material for me on days where I have so much to do, writing a blog post is one of the last things on my list! So, thanks Denise!


Here is an article from an Iowa newspaper on civility. Don’t strain your eyes–after the first image I have a close up of the text below it!

Sent via snail mail from my awesome "mil" Denise

And now for its close-up….


Five useful ideas for civility


All really great points. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Have a terrific week!

Here’s your Hypocrite Certificate

There is one thing I can’t stand: people who complain over and over about things and then do nothing about it!

I have this problem sometimes too, but I acknowledge my hypocrisy so I can feel somehow slightly forgiven because I at least know I do it. Not the best excuse–I’m a work in progress–but I am trying. And usually I try to DO things to alleviate my frustrations by altering my behavior.

But man! People at work today. I just couldn’t handle it. It was a weird day in general, but the obvious hypocrisy of two particular women today was so silly and ridiculous that I was left speechless (quite a task)!

This afternoon, my facilities manager Carmen (name changed) was discussing how every workplace seems to deal with the same problem: people are slobs. They leave dirty dishes in the sink for days; they are too lazy to pick up a paper towel they dropped on the floor, or wipe off their crumbs from the break room table. They make disgusting messes in the bathroom and refuse to clean it up. The list goes on.

So here I am talking about this with Carmen and these two other ladies are also very passionately protesting such behavior: “Slobs!” “How inconsiderate.” “Savages!” After a few minutes of their complains (with which I heartily participated), I tried to interject my positive solution: “Well, I guess at some point though we need to move past our frustration and decide to model the proper behavior so other people feel pressured to do the same….” Before I could finish my thought, the two ladies were forcefully shaking their heads. Nope. I don’t think so! their faces said. They wouldn’t do that. “If everyone else breaks the rules, so can we,” they countered.

And that, my friends, is why so many people never find actual solutions to their problems.

Civility is dead

The Today Show is featuring a series this week questioning, Is Civility Dead? Well, is it? Check out Today’s interview from this morning here.

I couldn’t resist, I had to write a reply to their question (see other replies here). Here it is below:

Civility isn’t dead, it just varies by region. I was raised in Iowa and moved to upstate New York (Albany) in 2006. It was rare to be greeted with “excuse me” or “thank you” in public, but people here are as “nice” as the typical Midwesterner. What differs is the degree of vulnerability people show based on their locale. If I am in an urban area such as Albany, people are more guarded: less likely to interact in the simplest of forms and more suspicious if you interact with them without obvious cause. In short, their social bubbles are different.

I am an artist and one of my central projects is the Be Nice Project, in which I make instructional documents (hand embroidered) and give them out to people to encourage civil behavior while also establishing a dialogue about manners and kindness. My blog focuses on viewing all types of experiences positively including sharing the good ones, and contemplating the insensitive actions of others.

I think that the level of civility a person has depends on their mindset. Some people speak a language that responds to negativity, sarcasm, and frankness. Others speak one which responds to positivity, praise, and tactfulness (a.k.a little white lies). In either case our society needs both to keep the other acutely aware of all the sides to every story (after all, even “kind, positive” people can be rude or mean). Our media (social, television, etc…) depend on what is “snappy” and “controversial” to get the ratings and attention, and this rewards negative behavior 3 times out of 4. The Be Nice Project–as well as The Foundation for a Better Life and The Emily Post Institute among others–operate in our contemporary landscape as anomalies, in which their sincerity is somewhat subversive in an age of irony.

My husband made a good point about civility. People haven’t changed so drastically from the idealized 1950s (though many things have certainly improved, like civil rights for minority groups). What has changed is that people feel freer to express their feelings in public, to make artwork that addresses formerly taboo topics. He theorizes (I believe rightly) that the rudeness and incivility we see is a by-product of the freedom of expression that we have gained in the last sixty years. I don’t think that necessarily makes it okay, but I believe this whole trend is like the swing of a pendulum and eventually we’ll find the middle if we keep at it.

What do you think? And, more importantly, what do you want to change in our “uncivil” society?


IS CIVILITY DEAD? Huffington Post via Dr. Jim Taylor


IS CIVILITY DEAD? Another blog about the Today show feature

Amicable Allegory #8: The right place at the right time

Have you ever had the feeling that your day worked out  exactly how it did  for a very particular reason? Like, when you forgot your coffee one morning, and found your stove burner still turned on when you went in to retrieve your drink? I like to think these are little ways God (or angels or spirits or the flying spaghetti monster) looks out for us, keeps us safe.

Well, I think I just had another one of those moments.¬†My husband and I drove into NYC for the first time yesterday. Usually we take the train, but we have to go to Brooklyn in a few weeks by car, and wanted to do a “dry run” of the journey. Normally I would have tuckered out halfway into the drive (cars make me sleepy), but for some reason, I drove the first few hours without a problem.¬† We pulled into a¬†rest-area to trade-off¬†driving and fuel up. Even though we had to stop at the food plaza, I drove right past it to the fuel pumps without thinking. There was no lanes to return to the plaza, so while Jake pumped the gas, I ran in and used the ladies room, and when I returned, Jake ran in to use the men’s room. As I sat there waiting for him to come back, an older woman (I’m guessing late 60’s or so) asked me “Is there an attendant around? Do you think they check tire pressure here?” I told her I doubted it, but up ahead there was an air pump, so she could fill up her tires there. Dismayed, she said, “I have no idea how to do it. I just have a light in my car that says the tire pressure is low.” Without hesitation, I replied, “Well, when my husband gets back to the car, we can help you with the tires. We have a tire¬†pressure gauge.” She was elated and very grateful, and I was equally happy¬†we were there to help. When Jake returned, he quickly filled her tires (they all needed 10 pounds of pressure–good thing she stopped) and I chatted with her while we waited.¬†She was impressed¬†us “young people” were so helpful, and I said, “Oh, that’s just how I was raised,” and¬†told her about the Be Nice. project. She asked for my contact information, so I gave her¬†a pamphlet and postcard along with my information. She took me into her arms with¬†a warm, joy-filled hug, and then took Jake’s hand and pressed something into it, thanking us heartedly. We told her no thanks was necessary–we were just happy to be of service, but she insisted we take what she gave us, no arguments allowed. It was a twenty dollar bill.

Jake and I were blown away by her enormous generosity and gratitude. She had said to us, “Not many people would have helped me, or even paid attention.”¬† And I thought, “Some people¬†might have even¬†taken advantage of the situation by swindling her¬†or demanding money.”¬†Jake and I¬†were simply happy to help,¬†without a single thought of a¬†reward. The twenty dollars was¬†an unexpected ( and unnecessary) bonus, and it¬†got me thinking. [I’m not meaning this impending thought-stream in any negative way toward our wonderful new friend on the thruway. It just made me wonder….] Wasn’t there a time when people used to help others in need without expecting anything¬†in return?¬†I swear it was like that when I was a kid.¬†Often a proper show of gratitude was a warm smile, a hug or a hand shake, an invitation to dinner, or a thank you note. But today, it seems like repayment or rewards are expected, and the standard currency for gratitude is money. I wonder how that came to be? Is an “I’ll do something, but not for nothing” mentality prevailing in our culture? (This mentality sounds a lot like the attitude, “I’ll¬†give them a wedding gift, but only because they invited me to¬†their party and they’re feeding me.”)¬†Or, is the good feeling of doing what’s¬†right not enough for some people any more?¬† There was certainly a time when a monetary show of thanks was unnecessary, possibly even offensive. But nowadays, there are people who feel resentment¬†when they are not given “proper”, equivalent, or reciprocal thanks (i.e., a similarly priced gift, an invitation to an equally lavish event, or a monetary reward). What changed?

There are millions of people in the world who do give for the joy of giving, who help strangers because they like to do it. But what saddens me is that there¬†are a large number of folks who give, but with an agenda or an expectation of similar repayment. When did we start keeping track of who-gave-what’s and who-owes-who? And can we find a way to free ourselves from that thinking? Because it costed me nothing but a little bit of time to help that fantastic woman, and it felt so great to know that God put me in just the right place to be able to do it. For me, that was worth more than anything.

Self-defenses and self-deprecation

Living in an urban area can make people very combative. Constantly confronted by random people, noises, distractions, unpleasant sounds and smells; we¬†can find it difficult to feel serene, calm or receptive in¬†an environment like this. And when we feel on the defensive or overwhelmed, manners take a back seat or get thrown out entirely.¬†Recently I experienced¬†two incidents where I handled seemingly inconvenient situations with positive behaviors. Each one brought a completely different result. I’d like to share them here.

Situation 1

I had just spent 1-1/2 hours working out at the gym and then completed a huge grocery shopping trip, so needless to say I was feeling awesome!¬†I had loaded¬†the groceries¬†into my Jeep, and proceeded to start the car.¬† Looking around before I backed out of my spot, I noticed a gentleman in a big pick-up backing out to my left . So I waited. The truck was so large, it couldn’t get out easily, and there was a man loading things slowly into his hatchback that happened to be right in the path of the truck, causing him to stop just 6 or 8 inches from being clear enough to drive away. We both waited for 5 minutes while the man continued to load his groceries, meanwhile I noticed that if I backed straight out of my spot I could exit the lot through the empty parking space the truck had made,¬†and free us both from our predicament. So, I rolled down my window, smiled at the man and gestured¬† in a way that I thought was suggesting I move my vehicle. Not a moment passed and the man opened his door and growled–yelled–“Don’t you see that this asshole is holding me up! $%@*#%!” and he tore out of the lot nearly tearing off my bumper in the process. I was horrified! And the poor man with the hatchback was baffled as well. I apologized to the man, explaining what had happened, and then moved on with my day, allthewhile pondering the truck-man’s behavior.

Situation 2

I live on a very busy 2 lane street with cars on either side.Driving down this street is like¬†playing chicken with pedestrians and busses and other cars¬† for a mile!¬† Not a few days after “Situation 1” I was on my way to run a few errands, heading hurriedly down my street. As I was stopped at a red light, these 2 young women began to¬†very slowly¬†cross the street. The light immediately turned green¬†right as¬†the women mindlessly paused in the middle of the street to gawk at something-or-other. I knew I would miss my light and be held up, but I didn’t want to be rude either. So, I tapped my horn lightly and smiled and waved at the women when they looked at me. They were surprised but smiled, waved (perhaps they thought they knew me), and moved on across the street so I could pass through the intersection. Problem free!

These two situations have many things in common; I tried to be positively proactive to alleviate a typically frustrating situation that involved complete strangers in a communal public space. In one case I was very successful, and in the other I was met with instant aggression and anger.  This is a very common experience for someone who tries to act constructively instead of react emotionally. So when this happens to you remember first to have some compassion for the cranky guy/gal that is muddling up your niceness. And the second thing to do? Move on and stay positive. 

It is easy for people to build and build their frustrations and hostility to the point where any trigger can set them off. And remember, it’s cathartic to give in to those feelings. While living in an urban area can be extra stressful, we must all work extra hard to avoid letting our self-defenses become self-deprecating behaviors. These behaviors will continuously eliminate the possibility of good and pleasant interactions happening in our lives. So not only will we feel regret for our emotional blow-outs, but we will then be systematically denied rewarding interactions. Better to be positive as best and often as you can, wouldn’t you say? It’s hard work to stay positive with the barrage of negativity that hits us, but it’s worth it! Trust me!