My Children, Our Children

When I see people treating children with such disdain, I wonder what these “people” think is going to happen when that particular child grows up?

If we look at our own experiences as children, whatever they might be, can’t we easily see how a child who is treated poorly, will inevitably grow up to be a broken adult?  Don’t we understand, logically, that a child who is nurtured, supported and loved – that he/she will most likely grow up to be a decent and productive adult?

How are we missing this?

It’s logical, but also innate to our existence.  As human beings we tend to want to protect children – so how is it possible that sometimes, a lot of times, we don’t?

In my experience, it tends to be that we don’t value OTHER children as much as our “own” children. In a lot of ways, that makes sense.  But it’s also incredibly selfish and misguided.  Your child will someday affect my life when he/she grows up.  Your child will inevitably affect my child because they will work together, play together – who knows, maybe even marry each other.  Doesn’t it make sense then, that my concern for children should be more inclusive than just the ones that share my DNA? 

My heart breaks for the children currently at the border.  This “other-ism” – this ability to not care about a child in pain – anyone’s child – is more telling of who our society is, who we are as a people than anything else.  We don’t care because they’re not “my” child, it’s not even my friend’s child… but it’s more than that, isn’t it?

In America – in these United States – a country I love, the fact remains that a brown child is less valued than a white child.  It’s so much easier not to care when the child’s value is not as significant. Imagine for a moment, what the state of play would be if all of those kids at the border had been white, blonde-haired children from Poland or Ireland? I don’t think any of us – not anyone reading this anyways, doubts for one minute that the United States would be up-in-arms and taking to the streets to help these children.

It gives me no pleasure at all to admit this.  It kills me every day to see how “un-reactive” we are as a society to this horrible situation regarding “OUR” children, children of the world sitting in squalor because they need help.  And the United States, this grand country with so much wealth allowing it to happen is beyond my comprehension. “Other-ism” is the justification for harming children.  I feel helpless most days. I tear every day knowing these kids will grow up one day and will remember how horribly they were treated, and those bruises and scars will not heal well if we continue to dismiss people as legit human beings deserving of love, kindness and support.

Because of my personal circumstances as a child, I was raised by so many different people – Black, White, Latino families. Regular people who didn’t see me as “other” but saw me as one of their own. A community that valued a child in distress. I was so blessed. It’s what my book CANELA is all about.  We need to find a way, to take care of all of our children – value them as they should be. Cure our hearts and our stupidity.

We. Are. Better. Than. This.

Julie & Nathan

We Have Lost Our Way

It’s so easy to go along with the crowd. CarmBench03.04.07

It’s easy to be cruel, to think less of someone else.

It’s hard to go against the crowd.

To be an individual.

To be compassionate and kind when there is no reason to be.

People love to call out a bully, but rarely find the bully in themselves.

(Glass houses and all…come to mind)

We have lost our way.  People justify their actions by reacting, not by thinking.

“Other-ism” is a thing. “Whatabout-ism” is a thing.

Not looking at our own behavior, our own actions – no longer a thing.

Who are you for real?  Not who would you like to be or think you are. But when a crisis happens, when something out of the ordinary occurs for real, WHO. ARE. YOU?

Just something to think about this day.


Bagel Boss Incident – Oh Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter having conversations with people about this whole “Bagel Boss” incident. If you don’t know what it is, simply, a man had a complete freak breakdown in a bagel shop, someone recorded it and posted it on Twitter and the Twitter-verse did it’s thing and mocked him, bullied him further and… well it just went down the rabbit hole from there… 

Now, in all fairness, he did freak out in a public place. Regardless of how it started, he screamed about how he had a difficult time dating because he’s short and he seemed hell-bent on saying how “all women” were the same and mean. He thought the women there were secretly hating on him, though they did seem to be just going about their business. 

I watched it and winced the entire time. At one point, someone – maybe a manager – tackled him to the ground.  I’m no lawyer or law enforcement, but it seemed appropriate. He was full of rage and pretty explosive.  But what happened next, is difficult to wrap my head around.

Someone recorded it, of course, and posted it on Twitter. And then Twitter went to town mocking him, bullying him – making fun of him.  I called a few people out  – people I actually respect on Twitter for reposting the recording and they diligently justified, without skipping a beat, why they thought it was fine to repost it, mock and bully him. 


Here’s the point I’ve been making all night:   when someone gets a bunch of guns and walks into a school and kills people — we’re all stunned. We’re saddened and “tweeting” for something more than “thoughts and prayers” to be done.  By then though, it’s too late.

Mental Illness always comes up.

“Why didn’t anyone help him?”

“How could no-one have noticed he was so upset?”

The Twitter-verse is then filled with all the compassionate people who would have known if it was their neighbor, their family member, if their friend was in trouble. 

But, here in this moment, in full display is clearly a man in pain. He’s suffering.  And what do all the people in the store and everyone online do?  Bully him further.

Surely, he was out-of-line and absolutely inappropriate.  He did get kicked out of the store and rightfully so.  But what happens when this man, clearly distraught goes home and sees he’s being mocked on Twitter? What happens when a fragile human being who clearly hasn’t dealt with some issues notices his own outburst on his Twitter feed and reads what everyone is saying?

We’ve lost our ability to be compassionate.  More importantly, we’ve lost our ability to connect the dots.  Someone in that much pain, is about to burst.  Clearly he’s calling out for help.  Instead of instigating the situation, wouldn’t it have been amazing if someone had offered him some help instead? A bit of kindness. 

Now, I’m not saying everyone who has an outburst is going to go grab a gun and kill people – but that’s kind of irrelevant, isn’t it? I mean we don’t really ever understand why people do these things – but regardless, shouldn’t we be better people?  Shouldn’t our humanity keep us from harming someone else even further?  Is there really some sort of joy in watching someone in so much pain? 

I think what I’m most upset about this evening, is all the people who replied to me being upset that I called them out on their own behavior.  Instead of just admitting they might have made a mistake, they then tried to make it about how he deserved to be mocked for acting so badly.  They found ways to justify their bullying.  It was sad actually. 

I believe that our true character, the true test of who we are is not measured when things are going perfectly well.  It doesn’t matter that you have compassion AFTER a massacre – that’s expected. In tragedy, it is expected that people will come together and help each other. That’s how most humans behave, that’s how most humans survive. But the true test of who we are is really measured when things are hard.  How do we behave when it’s not easy?  Do we show courage when no one is looking?  Can we see pain and react accordingly even when everyone else is bullying?  Can we stop being part of the mob-mentality?  Can we even see it happening? 

I hope that guy figures it out. My prayer, my wish for him tonight is that he has a loving family or great friends that saw what happened online and intervened to walk him through.

I just hope he’s not alone. 

And for people on Twitter and social media in general – I pray that we do better – and that we err on the side of compassion. That we find a way to be better than we used to be. 

The Argument for Homelessness

The Argument for Homelessness20190502_141653

I was on LinkedIn this morning and I saw a post / Headline:

San Francisco billionaire gives $30M to study homelessness

In my simple view:  it’s a tech company owner trying to do a good thing with his excess of money on a philanthropic level.  Good.

So, the article didn’t throw me so much – but the comments were incredible. Made me sad actually.  As you might suspect, the comments ranged from support for the Billionaire doing a study to people questioning why he just didn’t give the homeless the money directly. Some of the comments were crass and not thought-out and some were interestingly veiled swipes at how the author of the comment could “do it better if they were a billionaire.”

I read all of the comments.  And what I learned is that most people sharing their views on the subject had an arms-length understanding of the issue.  They’ve probably never experienced being homeless. Never had a family member or known of someone out on the streets.  If they did, just like anything else we’re familiar with, our experience with this tragedy would show in some form of compassion and empathy.  There were none in most of these viewpoints.

As most people who know me and as I detail in my first book, I was homeless as a child. I like to say I was “homeless by choice” because unlike a lot of people who find themselves out on the streets, I had an enormous group of people who cared for me to a certain extent and I knew I could go somewhere if I wanted too. That’s a different kind of homelessness. I just didn’t want to a burden to anyone. I was alone, and scared and in danger.  Always in danger.

I met a lot of people who were homeless in my time.  I think what I understood most about people was exactly that – they were people. They were human beings with these incredible stories of a life once lived until something happened unimaginable that brought them to the streets.  Some of the people I met were funny. Some were quiet and others loud.  Some angry and rightfully so.  All of them scared.  And if they weren’t THAT, then they had lost their mental faculties long ago. Also, completely understandable…

You know how you come home from a long day at work where your boss just didn’t give you a break during a meeting and your co-workers threw you under the bus and you just couldn’t wait to get home to sit, on your couch and have a glass of wine just to relax?  Maybe it’s not just one day at work that was bad – but let’s say you missed a deadline or you lost a client or you messed up really badly and it’s just been a long hard couple of weeks.  We’ve all experienced that, right?  Maybe you have a drink or two –  more than a couple of times that week – just to relax. To forget about all of it.  It deadens the pain a bit – you just want to shake it off – whatever happened –  and finally get some sleep.

Imagine it never getting better. Not next week, or the week after. Or the month after…

It’s not that difficult to see how easily you can become an alcoholic or depressed – especially when you get fired, lose that job and can’t get another.  Your unemployment, your savings, all gone.  In this example, let’s just keep this fictitious person as a single man with no children.  His social life revolved around his career and so his friends/co-workers are afraid to talk to him because they don’t want the same thing to happen to them.  He loses his apartment because he can’t make the rent.  He already gave back his car.  He’s called in a few favors, but he’s already slept on friends’ couches who are clearly ready to have him leave.  He doesn’t want to be a bother – especially since he got real sick in the interim, had no health insurance and they helped him get better, bought his prescriptions, had been feeding him, providing shelter. He feels like a loser – he can’t get it together.  He’s sold everything. He’s depressed, but he tries to stay strong.  And yeah, he’s been drinking his friends wine – and now he knows it’s time he moves on so he tells them he’s grateful for the help but he decides to just find a bench to sit on at the beach somewhere and figure out what’s next.

All this time in his head he’s rethinking how he got here. What did he do to deserve this?  He goes to a local church to pray – he’s never been religious, but he tries anyways.  He has no money, a priest tells him where he can find a shelter…  and when he gets there, he eats and he cries because being in the shelter confirms he’s nothing. He was never supposed to be here. He was a Marine for goodness sake.

He stays in the shelter for as long as he can.  But it smells, it’s crowded and he’s not like these other guys.  He can’t take all the crazy people there.  So, he goes back to a bench. Near the beach.

When you walk on by, you see this guy talking to himself.  When I walk on by, I see a guy asking, praying, begging to understand why this happened and trying to figure things out.

This has been all of three weeks. His newfound homelessness.  Imagine, a year?

My argument for homelessness is that WE, those of us not currently homeless, dig deep and find empathy.  It’s the least we can do.  The way to start solving the problem of homelessness is to first STOP thinking it’s NOT OUR PROBLEM.

I was on the streets because I never knew my father and my mother died of a cardiac arrest due to asthma when I was 11 ½ years old.  My mother was a housekeeper, a teacher’s aide, living barely paycheck to paycheck with no real idea that she wouldn’t live long enough to see me turn 12.

Now some would argue that I was just a kid, it wasn’t my fault – and I would say, that makes it quite comfortable for you doesn’t it?  That makes you feel better, right?  We were all kids once.  I should have fallen through the cracks.  Statistics say I should have become a drug addict and pregnant and become nothing more than what statistics say – but can you guess WHY none of that happened? Why I never became a statistic?

Because of empathy. 

Empathy means:  The ability to understand and share the feeling of another. 

People saw a child in pain and instead of complaining about the problem at hand: Who left this child alone? Who’s going to pay for this kids welfare? What is wrong with this kid?  Why do I have to deal with this? Why is this kid homeless? What did she do? Instead of judging me, instead of being angry at the inconvenience, instead of beating me down when I was already low, instead of considering me an annoyance and a problem – people, blue-collar, hard working people with nothing themselves, all took turns doing what they could to walk me through a possibly terrible time in my life.  That’s what my book CANELA is about.  It’s about ALL OF THEM and what they did to make sure I “made it out”.  And there were so many others who didn’t make it IN the book. This wasn’t some coordinated effort by a neighborhood, most of these people never even knew each other – but they had empathy for a kid. I mattered.  I was never a foster child legally but to this day, I have many families and people that I consider mi familia because of their empathy. Support. Kindness.

The first thing to do in order to help the homeless is to stop thinking they are people beneath you and unworthy of your attention.  You do NOT need to give a homeless person any money when they are begging on the street – I’d actually suggest that you don’t do that because if you live in any city like I do, you’ll be giving money away all day long because the homeless situation IS that big.  But you can start to look at them with dignity.  You can start to send them a loving kindness in your thought instead of your typical annoyance and hatred as if they need that burden on them as well. You can start helping the homeless by stopping that ever important need to make it about YOU –  how it bothers YOU, makes YOU feel sad, blah, blah, blah.

SEE THEM. Imagine the beautiful people they were and how they can be again.  In order to help the homeless we can start by just thinking of them with kindness.  Change our perception and our attitudes of what homelessness is and realize that these are actually beautiful people and YES, you can SEE them and you CAN understand HOW they got here. If someone asks me for money, I always say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash.” And it’s from a place of true genuine kindness and respect. Not hatefulness. Not once have I been treated badly for treating someone with respect.  If anything, they thank me kindly and return a smile.  Even still, I’m not saying you need to talk to anyone at all or respond, but if you have hatred and anger in your soul about someone, they can feel it.  And it matters.  You know how you feel when your boss is pissed at you even if he hasn’t said a word about it?   That’s what these people feel too.

I pride myself on the life I came from and person I am today. No matter who I’m dealing with I am graced with the fact that I treat everyone with dignity and respect at least until they don’t deserve it any longer.  The homeless do get a bit more leeway and understanding from me for sure.  But only because I know that most every day a homeless person encounters another human being who isn’t homeless, they’ve probably been treated horribly, looked down upon and maybe even cursed at for merely existing the best way they can. I never want to treat any human being like that. I just can’t.

Empathy. It’ll cost you nothing at all. But can be the beginning of something big. And if you really want to do something about the homeless problem, then start with being a better human being yourself.


Therapy Session: Life Changes

Therapy Session: Life ChangesZuma Beach 2017

Carmen: Honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong. Everything. Nothing. On the one hand, I know I have nothing to be complaining about. On the other, all I want to do is scream. It’s all just jibberish. Never mind.

Dr. Mei: How about if you stop over-analyzing what you’re going to say, and just say it?  Let me hear it and I’ll tell you if I think it’s jibberish or not. Deal?

Carmen: Okay.  Deal.  Uhm. Well, simply last week I was sure I’d be pitching my TV drama idea based on my book but I didn’t finish it. You know, detailing out all the characters and such. I wanted to be so organized, so ready and I’m not. Then, I got it in my head that I should pitch an idea I had on cultural criticism to a magazine that’s looking for new writers and so I started working on that.  I’ve outlined my second book – and started writing another chapter — I saw an audition online and wondered if I should submit – then I thought I should contact my agent to start sending me out or get a new agent because –  what the fudge, right? They haven’t sent me out at all. It’s annoying. Uggh.  I applied for a grant a while back and decided to follow through on the play part of the proposal. Plus it’s still something I want to do.  I “owe” two podcasts – based on my self-imposed schedule – I mean, what is wrong with me? Why do I think I can do all of this? And why can’t I do all of this?  Why am I feeling overwhelmed when this is everything I’ve been asking to do all along?

Dr. Mei:  First, take a breath. A deep breath.  Good.  Now, it seems like a lot, but why do you think you’re not doing it?

Carmen:  Well, if I’m being honest, I realize for the first time in my life I’m living my dream. For all these years I’ve worked a job I hated – yeah, I’ll say hated, without hesitation.  Even more than the work itself,  I hated the people I worked for.  I mean, now that I can look back, most of the people I handled money for were bitter, old-minded, entitled privileged lazy people. Ungrateful. And constantly complaining about how hard their life was and the worst:  they always “announced” how much they did for everyone else – which for the record, was write a check. Write a check from money they never had to earn by the way.  Anyone can write a check if they have money.  But it takes a real kind of person to take credit for doing bullshit.  I think I hated that the most. The god-damn boasting about how much money they gave to such and such… But I digress. I ultimately hated the work itself.

So, here I am, now, getting up every day working as a creative entity. I wrote my book, I’m doing some speaking events, I’m writing — exploring every day what it feels like to be a writer.  I can’t lie, it’s taken me some time to get into the groove of things. I mean, when I rehearsed as a kid, as a dancer, I was on schedule.  And, it’s taken me some time to FEEL like this is right, but I can’t lie. I’m scared.  I just am!

I fear I’m going to do all this work and nothing will come of it.  I mean, that’s not why you’re supposed to do ART in the first place, right? You’re supposed to create ART authentically because you can’t do anything else. But what if I share all of this, what if I pitch this or that or write a second book and no one cares?  What if I put so much into all of it and I get rejected, dismissed – or worse, what if I hear nothing at all?  What if I do all this and I still can’t pay the bills? What am I thinking?

I really can look at my entire life and see it that way. Nothing I’ve wanted has ever come to fruition. I’ve failed at everything I ever wanted even if I succeeded at everything else.  My entire life up until this point has always been to do the right thing. To be the good girl. To never be a bother.  And even still – with all of my effort of always being of service to others, of always being honest and kind…why haven’t I succeeded in all the things I’ve wanted?  Why try this? I’m just setting myself up for more heartache, right?  And which one of these things should I be pursuing?  What is wrong with me that I think I should be doing 5 things at a time?  And have I lost my mind? Do I think money grows on trees somewhere?

Dr. Mei:  Well, two things come to mind that I’d like to share.  Maybe three. First, take a breath.  I’m not saying that because it’s what I tell everyone – I’m saying that because I don’t think you notice how you hold your breath and tense up when you speak.  Your passion, your concern are formidable, but that stress is mounting and I can SEE it in you.  So first, take a nice long deep breath.

Second. I love how you said you’ve “failed”.  You realize you’re not done, yet, right?  You get that it’s not over yet.  As I know you, as I’ve read in your book, you haven’t failed at anything that was put in your path.  Most people see you as a success.  But you feel like you’ve failed at the things you want in life. I get that. But you’re wrong.  The problem isn’t that you failed Carmen. The problem is that you haven’t even started yet. 

You feel like a failure because you’ve been pursuing other people’s needs and joys.  You’ve never followed your true North.  You moved to Los Angeles and took a job doing bookkeeping because you knew it’d be better money than being a waiter, plus you’d never last waiting on people.  But it was the plan till you could get yourself stabilized to pursue your creative career.  Things continued on from there and the jobs got more important and impressive – and they got even more miserable with every day that went on.  My goodness, you wrote a book in the midst of so much misery in the job you had while working through past pain of your childhood!  That’s pretty remarkable. I can’t wait to read the second book for that reason alone!

Third, and maybe most importantly, you’re here now.  THIS was your path to get here.  You needed to travel that road to get to THIS point.  None of it was a waste of time – and none of it was really in your control.  This is LIFE happening.  You can only do what you know how to do when you actually KNOW how to do it.  You couldn’t be anything else other than who you were then, to be who you are NOW. This is the journey you’re on.  And so far, it’s been pretty interesting to say the least. Aren’t you excited to see what’s next? I am. I can’t wait to see what you do from here.

Let’s talk about rejection.  Or my other favorite quip you said, “…or worse, hear nothing at all.”  Whatever it is, fear of being rejected, to make a mistake, to let people down, to not make enough money to make a living, whatever.  Rejection is hard.  Doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gone through it, doesn’t matter how used to it you think you are – rejection is difficult.  Got it?

By the way, welcome to the club.

Yes. It’s a club.  We’ve all been there at least once in our lives.  You’re at a crossroad and instead of choosing which path to take, you’re standing at the head of all the choices in front of you hoping someone will you push you down the “right” path.

Look, everyone wishes Steven Spielberg will run into them at the local coffee shop and be so stunned by their mere presence that he asks you to his office because you’re his next lead in his upcoming movie.  People dream of Oprah calling them on the phone and saying, I read your book and you’re one of my favorite things… yes, we all want that. Someone to validate us, someone to walk us through.  It would be easier…

I’m not Steven Spielberg, but let me help shove you down a path anyways.  Write the TV Script, do the pitch, write the second book, do the acting, the podcast, the blog, do the magazine cover – DO ALL OF IT!  Do the speaking events, teach, write, dance – all of it IS WHO YOU ARE.  It’s who you’ve always been even while doing everything else.  That’s what’s so impressive.  IT’S YOUR TRUE NORTH Carmen.  You’re a story-teller, a performer.  Do you need evidence? Okay – here’s some off the top of my head:  Steve Cadwell said, “You write like Hemingway: every word true to the bare bone fact of how you experienced it. Compelling!”  That was October 21st, 2018.  Right?  You sent me the email because you were so happy.

Need more? I can rattle off the names, the people – some you know, some you don’t who have already told you about your writing.  But just looking at your face I can sense your disbelief.

Tell me what you’re thinking right now.

Carmen: I’m thinking they’re all just being nice. Overly generous.

Dr. Mei: Okay. Let’s go with that. Let’s pretend that all the accolades thus far have been people “just being nice” to you.  For the record, that’s a complete untruth, but let’s just go with it.  So what?  Then just do it because it’s what’s next.  Do it because you have no reason NOT too. Do it because you’ve been given numerous “signs” that you should.  Do it because NOT doing it guarantees failure and regret. Do it because it makes you happy. Do it because I’m telling you, this is so much closer to your true North than anything else you’ve done in the past 20 years. Do it because even when you talk about the struggle of it, you still sound lighter and happier than any time you’ve talked about any other work you’ve ever done.  Do it because the worst possible thing that can happen is that you took the shot, it didn’t work out and you go about and do something else.  I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

Carmen:  Yeah. I know. Everything you said, is true. I know all of this. The weird part is, I’m excited. I’m excited about all of it.  And it’s mixed with a tinge of fear. But when I think of going back to my old life – the only word I can come up with is dread.  Absolute dread.

Dr. Mei: You’ve already leaped Carmen. You’re in the air right now –in the midst of it all.  Don’t worry about how you’ll land.  Stop looking to land just yet.  For now, keep doing the work. Keep flying high on the joy it brings you. No matter how you land, you’ll be fine.  My guess is, you’ll be better than fine.

Carmen:  You know what’s so funny and sad at the same time? I went and saw the new Avengers movie and there’s a line in it that made me wince – I just couldn’t believe I had just heard this. I promise, no spoilers. Have you seen it yet?  It doesn’t matter.  This line gives away nothing to the movie. But the character says something like: “Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. A measure of a person is how well they succeed at being who they are.”

What I really thought in that moment:  I’ve gone mad crazy. I’m so ridiculous I’m even getting “signs” from action movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, it’s just…crazy, right?

Dr. Mei: Well, that’s one way to look at it. Or, the way I see it – the universe is trying to push you down a path in every way possible.  And if not the universe, then you’re inner-self for sure. You’re seeing what you need to see.  You’re hearing what you need to hear.  Whether you choose to listen is another thing. It’s like that clip you like in the show the West Wing. The episode is Take This Sabbeth Day, remember?  It may be a bit too religious for this moment, but it’s on point. Choose to take all the signs your getting – the most important sign is that YOU want to do all of this. If you had all the money in the world, THIS is who you’d be, right?  Failure wouldn’t be such a big deal then. It’d be just a bump in the road to still doing what you want to do.  And seriously, when have you EVER allowed money to be the reason you chose to do anything at all?  To define you?  To stop you from doing what you want to do?  Don’t start now.  This is the best part!  Enjoy the ride. It’s just getting started.

Carmen:  Yeah!  You’re right. Oh my goodness. Yes!

Dr. Mei: Till next time, then?

Carmen: Yes!  Thank you so much.



West Wing Clip: Take this Sabbath