Presenting Reality


Presenting Reality

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

 

vcm_s_kf_repr_120x80
© Kitsen | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.”

–  Jim Morrison –

Sitting at my table by the window on this hot, summer day, I glance up and catch the alluring stare from across the room. Perfectly tanned, well-dressed, oozing charisma – the glistening melted cheddar dripping enticingly over beef so moist I want to reach out and wipe down the picture glass, all in perfect proportion to the ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise exuding down the sides of the burger from under the bun. “I’ll take that one, Alex!” I exclaim to the waiter in breathless anticipation of the first bite.

I speak, my friends of the fine art of food photography and styling – in this case, that of the classic American cheeseburger. It is the job of the food photographer to present the menu item to the consumer in as enticing a way as possible; to use whatever visual means available in order to present the menu item in its best, most consumable light. As the perfect shot does not always happen with the first click of the shutter, food shoots may take as long as couture fashion shoots.

Additionally, as food does not perform on cue, the photographer will have to hire a food artist or modeler to sculpt the menu item of materials that will behave as needed, yet look as real and enticing as the actual food item. For example, shaving cream often replaces whipped cream, lard or shortening is a standard stand-in for ice cream, and lipstick is a go-to fruit ripener.

While waiting for my order, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I have taken the same approach to how I present myself to the world; how often I have sculpted, molded, colored, and shaded parts of my life with characteristics foreign to my natural self in order to project a perfect image of myself to my target audience. Recalling specific instances, I realize that those times when I continually reworked – molding, sculpting, morphing – myself to get the perfect shot, were times when I was most unhappy and exhausted with all the subterfuge. What is wrong with being imperfect? Some of the sweetest fruits are the ones with a blemish or a bruise, the one that isn’t perfectly round or red or radiant. We all ripen at different rates and by different processes.

Perfection is overrated. After all, people and things are rarely what they seem. Even an imperfect looking cheeseburger can surprise you with interior perfection and depth of flavor. I’ll take interior depth and flavor every time.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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External Presentations Insights Worksheet

Wishing Revisited: Same Message, Different Voice


Wishing Revisited: Same Message, Different Voice

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Pelléas and Mélisande by the well - Painting by Edmund Blair Leighton
Pelléas and Mélisande by the well – Edmund Blair Leighton

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” 
― 
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

My last post dealt with the concept of wishing; how easily it can take over our lives if we let it, stopping us from actually doing what is necessary to make our wishes reality, as I had been doing with my garden – wishing it were neat and trim while watching it grow out of control.

The story I relayed about The Girl Who was Quite Fond of Wishing is the story of me in grammar school. The revelation that I was wishing my life away came upon me suddenly, in a moment when I heard myself whining that I couldn’t skate like the other girls in class. I finally saw that the other girls in class just went out and tried to do what the instructor showed us. They did not spend their time afraid that they would fail, or fall, or hurt themselves. The other girls in class tried, failed, fell, hurt themselves, and eventually succeeded – attaining their dreams, fulfilling their wishes of becoming figure skaters while I stood back and watched my wishes stagnate. In that moment when reality confronted me, I let go of my fears, tried, failed, fell, hurt myself, and worked hard to fulfill my wish to become a figure skater.

There is always a danger in unchecked wishing. Tragic love stories the world over – those ancient and contemporary, those of legend and those of people we know – are riddled with examples of one or more parties in the relationship wishing they had someone else’s special someone. Tristan and Isolde, Pelléas and Mélisande, Anna Karenina, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are a micro-sampling of the fictional and real-life instances of the devastation of unchecked wishing. Rather than focusing on living the life he or she was meant to have, he or she focuses on the wish of a life that the other person’s life and possessions represent, thinking that one must possess exactly what someone else has in order for the wish to be fulfilled.

It’s easy to get lost in the wish, to forget or never realize that the wish represents a potential reality that we can make real, on terms and conditions that are best for us. Trying to replicate someone else’s dream and expecting it to make us happy or fulfill us in any sense is like Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to cram their feet into the glass slipper that was custom-made to fit Cinderella. The slipper will shatter, leaving the false wearer in pain and confusion. We get lost in the passive part of wishing, forgetting – or perhaps never knowing – that there is an active part of wishing, the part that we must do to attain the reality. In the process of getting lost in the wish, we begin to confuse the model, the representation of our ideal, our Long-Hoped-For with the True One meant only for us.

Wishing can become a way of giving up too soon, of turning away too soon because we do not see our ship of dreams landing on shore. Like the miner who tires of swinging his pick-axe, walking away dragging his axe in dejection, when he is only two axe swings away from his mother lode, we also tire, often turning to wishing at the moment we stop swinging our pick axes, often only steps from our goal.

Wishing is a good thing. It helps us to see what’s possible which leads to a plan of action. Today I vow to keep swinging my pick-axe until I reach my mother lode, to not turn away in resignation but to “act and do things accordingly”.

Wishing It Were So


Wishing It Were So

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

girl gathering flowers - Jessie Wilcox Smith
Jessie Wilcox Smith

Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

This week, while finally trimming the verge after weeks of wishing the garden were not so overgrown, the song “Wishin’ and Hopin'” sung by Dionne Warwick kept running through my head as well as the painting of the little girl gathering flowers by Jessie Wilcox Smith (above). The following fable with its corresponding lessons is the result of my latest encounters with art.

The Little Girl Who was Quite Fond of Wishing

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was quite fond of wishing. She was quite fond of wishing, in fact, that she spent all of her time doing so.

“I wish the kids in school liked me.”

“I wish I did better on my math test.”

“I wish Johnny would ask me to the dance.”

She spent so much time wishing that she no longer realized that she was doing it. Eventually, her wishes began to take different forms:

“I can’t wait until school is over.”

“I can’t wait until Friday.”

“I should have gotten that part in the play.”

“If I were class president, we’d have an awesome school.”

“I wish I could play soccer like Mary Sue.”

One morning, while brushing her hair, she looked in the mirror just as she finished wishing she had hair like Sally MacPhereson in Mrs. Jones’ class. For the first time in her life, the little girl saw something quite unexpected; she saw a beautiful person with hair that far outshone that of Sally MacPhereson in Mrs. Jones’ class. The face staring back at her was that of an intelligent person who had great ideas and, in spite of a perceived laziness from all the wishing for the easy way out, the face reflected in the mirror actually loved to work hard and get things done.

The little girl who was quite fond of wishing looked into the eyes staring at her and finally saw herself. From that moment, the little girl who was quite fond of wishing refused to use her wishes as another form of complaining, was careful not to make a wish for anything that she would not work hard to make happen, and never  – ever – wished to be like anyone else (because really, it’s rather wonderful being one-of-a-kind).

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

 

The Fine Art of Blooming


The Fine Art of Blooming

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Van Gough - Irises - 1890
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise) Irises, 1890 Oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in. (73.7 x 92.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958 (58.187) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436528

 

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As spring marches steadily toward the moment when she hands over her mantle to summer, my garden persistently puts forth waves of blooms from the daffodils in April to the rhododendron, lilac, and apple in May, and the peony and iris in June. Some blooms are brand new; others at their peak, while still others rapidly fade. These blooms universally symbolize the struggles and triumphs of life and our human resilience amid difficulties.

These blooms – individually and collectively – also represent, for me, the effect that each human being has to bring happiness, comfort, and beauty to those around us each time we allow our truest selves to shine through – the person hidden in our core waiting to burst forth upon the world.

This task of finding our hidden selves is not complicated but it can be difficult. In the case of Vincent van Gough, his life was filled with the struggle to find himself amid his struggles with mental illness. He focused all of his endeavors to discover his style and identity as an artist – therefore, as he mistakenly believed, who he was as a person – on imitating other artists that he admired and wanted to emulate. He thought that his imitation of a master painter would make him successful, well liked, equal to or greater than the masters. Eventually, he was able to make the changes and adjustments to how he painted so that his methods and finished works reflected his vision of the world and how he fit into it. Yet, in spite of being able to discover part of whom he was and what made him special, Vincent van Gough still craved confirmation of his worthiness from the outside world.

How many of us have done the same thing in some form or other at some point? Something inside us says, “You are not enough; you are not special; you are not worthy of love, or praise, or friendship; you are worth nothing and have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the world.” Therefore, we think, “Since I am worth nothing on my own, I must have to change myself to fit the image of worthiness that the person or people I am with have so that I will be deemed worthy in their eyes.” I often wonder why we are never enough in our own minds, why we crave affirmation, why we can’t seem to be satisfied.

Van Gough’s Irises, like my garden, reminds me that each bloom is beautiful in its own right; each bloom has beauty enough for the world regardless of its level of perfection; each flower that refuses to bloom to its best ability deprives the world of happiness, comfort, and beauty; that even though a blossom is cut from its primary source of nourishment, it can bloom in the vase, in another environment. What a comforting thought to know that even when I feel cut off from nourishment, I am still able to bloom and bring beauty to those around me; that I can make life beautiful like no one else can because only I have my special combination of character traits and gifts. How will I choose to bloom today?

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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School Days: Inspiring Greatness


School Days: Inspiring Greatness

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

 Norman Rockwell - Artists Daughter

“Everybody we meet has an influence on us and an impact – good or bad. And I think that’s why we have to be careful with the way we handle people because what we’re doing is making an impact. Ernie Harwell

In Cambridge, MA in the early part of the last century, my mother’s cousin Ted was born. Ted was a spunky kid who grew up under less-than-stellar circumstances after his father died and his mother re-married. Apart from the comical tales of his escapades as a practical young boy trying to provide for his mother and younger siblings, the things I loved most about Cousin Ted was his complete understanding that he was always a role model; that he made the choice not to pass on to others the treatment he received; that he never shied away from helping other kids turn their lives around to reach beyond their circumstances and make a solid, happy life. By the time Cousin Ted died a little over a year ago, we figure that he influenced in a positive manner over 1,000 people simply by living his life to the best of his ability, being a role model and an honorable man in his everyday dealings.

I believe Cousin Ted learned this way of living from his uncle, my mother’s father. I hear more people tell me how Denny saved them, changed their lives. Whether it was by giving up his chance at overtime so that a father could feed his family; by having people in place invisibly to watch out for and protect Cousin Ted and his siblings; by being a safe haven for another nephew, the lone survivor of 250 kids in his unit in Viet Nam; or by a million other kindnesses, my grandfather (and grandmother, too, as they were a team) influenced an unknown number of people in their lives because of the example they set in the ordinary things they did. Like Cousin Ted, they accomplished the extraordinary while tackling the ordinary. Each one inspired greatness in others.

As a longtime proponent of the concept that you can change the world one person at a time, I cannot emphasize enough that the importance of being a role model cannot be overstated. Research shows repeatedly the positive impact that good mentorship has on an individual’s success in business and in life. In everything we do, or say, or write, we are a Role Model to someone, whether we have ever met this person or not. Ripples and Consequences. The question is, “how seriously will we take this responsibility and do our part to make the world a better place, one person at a time”?

Alexander Calder and his grandson
Alexander Calder and his grandson

2015 Copyright - Cathleen Elise


School Days: Learning to Make a Difference

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Norman Rockwell - Studying
Norman Rockwell – Studying

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

George Washington Carver

School. It can be a touchy subject for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Anyone who has been packed up and shipped off to school for twelve or so years, will have encountered his or her fair share of experiences good and bad that set the course for his or her taste for learning, oftentimes for the rest of his or her life.

I met a long-time friend of mine for coffee a while back. We first met in high school, I following my prescribed path through the public school system, she trying to make the most of a situation in which she did not want to be. Back then, I can’t think of anyone who would have known that my friend hated the situation her parents had placed her in.

After winning an academic  scholarship to her school of choice, her parents refused to let her attend the school because of their own fears and limitations involving their experiences with school – “This family’s not smart, she has no business going to a school like that,” “We’ve made a comfortable living with our public school education so it’s good enough for our kids,” “Sure, she’s smart compared to the kids in her small town class but she’ll never be able to measure up to the kids in that school”. This not-so-smart friend of mine recently graduated from Harvard with an impressive ranking and having made substantial contributions to her field of research.

Norman Rockwell - Inventor
Norman Rockwell – The Inventor

As we were talking, we discussed the tremendous role that others play in one’s sense of self and confidence in one’s abilities, as well as how much damage others can do to your psyche when they live, not only their own lives but yours as well, out of built up fears and misconceptions. We talked about the life choices we made based on what others had to say or had done to us that we regret. Ultimately though, we realized that we both have chosen to take the responsibility for our lives and educations, making the most of the opportunities before us. We both realized that we embrace education in any and every manner in which it presents itself to us, that we have always done this. We both realized that because of our tenacity in our unconscious pursuit of learning and becoming better people, it allowed us to discover our passion for learning later in life and have consciously pursued it ever since. Education for us truly has been the key that has unlocked the golden door to freedom.

The Problem We All Live With - Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With – Norman Rockwell

Although the opportunity to have a basic education is de rigueur for many people around the world, so many others have difficult struggles to obtain a fraction of a fraction of what we take for granted. As school begins here in the U.S.A., keep in mind that your experiences, fears, and desires regarding school, education, and career is not the same for the children you encounter. Their experiences and attitudes may be far worse than you can imagine, or they may be far better. What matters is that we listen to them, truly listen. Read between the lines. Pay attention to words and behaviors,  to what is said and what is not said. Try to revisit your own experiences, deal with them and use those experiences to help someone else obtain their key to freedom a little more easily. Your support and encouragement may be the defining difference that changes lives.

By the Seaside – Learning to Treasure


By the Seaside: Learning to Treasure

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Celia Thaxter In Her Garden by Child Hassam
Celia Thaxter In Her Garden by Childe Hassam

Across the narrow beach we flit, One little sand-piper and I; And fast I gather, bit by bit, The scattered drift-wood, bleached and dry, The wild waves reach their hands for it, The wild wind raves, the tide runs high, As up and down the beach we flit, One little sand-piper and I.

Celia Thaxter

Circles of friends. The wider the circle, the more value one has in the eyes of the world. Houses, at least in the United States of America, are designed to hold ever-larger numbers of people with floor plans providing large, open spaces to accommodate the eternally happy masses. Commercials and other forms of media continually show groups of smiling people enjoying the multitude surrounding them as they use the featured product, their lives validated by the volume of people who are a part of their lives.

Celia Laighton Thaxter knew a different truth. Growing up on an island nestled off the New England coast between two states, Celia’s friends were the flora and fauna of the island. Although her circle of friends widened as she grew up, this time spent getting to know herself and her surroundings was invaluable in establishing the most important friendship we all need yet rarely have, that of a friendship with ourselves. Without getting to know our inner selves intimately, coming to grips with our faults, failings, and fabulousness, we will always be looking to others for approval, for value, and for our happiness.

Perhaps because we have been trained to downplay our merits outside of the work world, we are uncomfortable admitting that we have a great sense of humor, or are smarter than people give us credit for, or that in spite of all the mistakes we have made and attempts at goodness that have failed, that we really like the person we have become.  Many of us find it hard to sing our own praises even in the workplace. We feel that there is something inherently wrong in liking ourselves from an objective point of view so we do not look at ourselves other than with a critical eye.

Celia Thaxter’s time spent alone with the natural world, secluded as the daughter of a lighthouse keeper in her early years, allowed her to become friends with herself, to understand her innermost heart and thoughts. This time spent by the seaside, encouraged exploration of her physical world as well as her emotional and interior worlds. Her strength of character came from her thorough knowledge of herself, which enabled her to enter into her ever-widening circle of friends as she grew up and her family began operating a hotel on their little island. In fact, when she married and moved to the suburbs of Boston, MA, she felt suffocated being cut off from the seaside and nature in general.

Spending time alone with yourself, taking the time to become friends with yourself regardless of what your past may be like is the surest way to avoid loneliness. If you are your own best friend, you are never alone. By learning how to be a friend to yourself, you will know how to be a friend to others, thus allowing your circle of friends to expand and be filled with true friends, rather than a room full of people who really do not know or care about you.

Will you accept the challenge as Celia Thaxter did? The only thing you have to lose is the loneliness of chasing empty happiness.

2015 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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