Love Is All We Need

I believe in love. That’s why I write romance. Romance novels are all about the transformative power of love, the healing power of love. Because of love, two people can overcome tremendous conflicts and obstacles; they can become better versions of themselves; they can find happiness.

When I finish reading or writing a romance, I feel filled with hope. I have the sense that the world is a better place.

Maybe that’s why the subject of love permeates our entertainment and has for eons.

Some of our enduring literature tells stories of love. All of Jane Austen’s work, but especially Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre. Romeo and Juliet.

Love is the subject of many of our favorite songs. I Will Always Love You. The Power of Love. Love Me Do. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing. I Just Called To Say I Love You. Love Is All There Is.

We all have favorite movies depicting love stories, movies like When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride, or old madcap ones, like It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The African Queen.  Or love stories that end sadly–Titanic, Gone With The Wind, West Side Story.

Every Disney movie I can think of is a love story.

Love was the central message of the new movie Wonder Woman.

Many of our self-help books are about love, in one form or another, most teaching us what love should be and convincing us to love ourselves. One of the best self-help books I’ve read is Love Is Letting Go of Fear.

I truly believe that love can show us the way out of most of our problems, personal, social, or global. It is that powerful. It’s the basis of Christianity, is it not? The greatest commandments–love God and love your neighbor.

Every romance novel confirms this. Reaffirms this. Love conquers all.

A few days ago in the beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia where I live, love’s opposite invaded and put our world askew, taking the life of Heather Heyer.

In my beautiful Virginia whose slogan is Virginia is for Lovers. In the lovely town of Charlottesville. This was painful, but I probably don’t have to tell you this.

I won’t lose heart. I am encouraged by all those who are speaking out. We will solve this conflict. We will overcome these obstacles. We will become better people.

Love will prevail.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King





I’ve been thinking about the nature of happiness today. Partly because my friend Catherine sent me this article: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy.

Briefly, the four rituals involve
1. Gratitude–even thinking about what you are grateful for helps increase happiness, even if you can’t come up with a thing.
2. Labeling negative emotions–the mere fact of naming your emotions changes what happens in your brain.
3. Make a decision–don’t try to make the perfect decision, merely a good enough one. Again, this changes what parts of the brain are firing.
4. Touch people–hugs, holding hands, patting shoulders, even getting a massage helps increase happiness.

I learned long ago that I was responsible for my own happiness. No one can “make me happy”. Not my parents, my spouse, my children, my friends, or colleagues. Being happy was my sole responsibility. What’s more, I can choose to be happy, no matter what is happening around me. It all depends on what I tell myself about what is happening to me.

I came across a poster on the internet today totally by accident that illustrates what I mean. It led me to and Doe Zantamata who is writing a series of inspirational books. She named this poster We Believe What We Tell Ourselves.

I truly believe this as well.

It is better to say, “everything will work out” than “this is the end of the world.” Better to believe “I’ll get through this” than “I’m going to fall apart” or “I’ll never succeed.” Better to remind ourselves “This will pass. How I feel is temporary” than to think “I’ll never get over this” or “I’ll never be happy again.”

I believe a person can turn any negative thought or experience into something positive simply by defining it differently. If we make a mistake, we don’t have to call ourselves stupid or a failure or any sort of terrible person. We can say, “I’m sorry for that. I’ve learned that lesson and I’ll never make that mistake again.” We can say to ourselves “I’m going to try my best to do that” instead of “I’ll never be able to do that.”

It’s hard to keep up this positive thinking, happiness thing, because those negative voices in our heads are so persistent. When we were young and vulnerable, those voices might have come from others, but now we need to understand that, as an adult, we define ourselves. No one else can tell us who we are.

It might take practice, though, to think about ourselves and our experiences in positive terms. It helps to deliberately practice. It’ll feel funny at first, but soon it will become more automatic.

So…go out and have a happy day. You can do it!!

Do Stone Walls Unmake a Prison?

Last weekend my daughter and I took a tour of the Lorton Prison complex. Until its closing in 2001, Lorton Prison was a prison complex of the Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections. It started its life in 1910 with a lofty purpose, an improvement over the deplorable conditions of the D.C. prison, a place of reformation of nonviolent prisoners modeled after a college campus where the inmates would work the prison farm and learn useful trades. It did not retain this positive purpose and eventually added a maximum security prison and became a warehouse for D.C. prisoners.

Its history is also marred by its treatment of 168 women suffragists arrested for picketing the White House in 1917. The suffragists were tortured, beaten, abused and force-fed after they began a hunger strike. Their incarceration lasted from June to December, 1917, and ended only when the news of their treatment reached the public.

Since 2006 part of the prison was renovated into an Arts Center and museum. And now the rest of the five campus complex is being developed into a multi-use community, with prison cells turned into apartments, buildings turned into recreation centers, and the maximum security prison ultimately developed into shops and restaurants. Open areas will have single family houses and townhouses built. The tour was offered to show off the renovation plans.

Here’s what we saw:

The apartments that used to be prison cells flank this central lawn. All the bricks in this complex were made at the prison, by the prisoners

This is the door to one of the apartments. The signage is from when this was a prison.
These archways link the buildings.

There was also a swimming pool built in what was once a building. They left the brick walls up to be privacy fencing around the pool.

My daughter and I decided that, no matter what, we would not want to live in what was once a prison, with its sad history.

Would you?



Homage to Helen

Helen Hester Ossa, my friend of over thirty years, moved away this week.

Helen and I met through our husbands who worked together, but we didn’t really become friends until I started writing. Our friend Julie and I formed a writers group with a couple of other young women we met in a writing class. Helen heard of it and joined us . The two young writers dropped out, but Helen, Julie and I persisted. Our Writers Group, later including Virginia, another of my husband’s coworkers, continues still.

One of my first memories of Helen was a visit to her house and seeing artificial flowers in her garden, ironic for a member of her community’s garden society. Around the same time she admitted to having a crush on Sting. I loved both of those things about her. I, of course, have had crushes on actors and celebrities (Gerard Butler, anyone?). I loved that Helen admitted to it!

Together Helen, Julie and I learned about Romance Writers of America and Washington Romance Writers, the local RWA chapter that has continued to be very important to all of us. We’ve each been active in WRW. Helen was the treasurer for over two years. Julie is just finishing up being president. I’ve taken on lesser roles.

Not only has Helen helped my writing (especially my placement of commas) she also has taught me to be fearless. In the very first WRW meeting Helen, Julie, and I attended together, Julie and I were ready to scurry to the back of the room, but Helen, said no. She taught us to sit up front. Helen has always had the self-confidence to be noticed.

Maybe that’s why she wears hats. Helen owns lots of hats, including one I found in a vintage shop, made of pheasant feathers. She started a Christmas tradition for us. Every Christmas we have déjeuner avec des chapeaux, lunch with hats. We are always noticed.

Helen is a great seamstress. She made me two Regency dresses over the years, the first from an authentic Regency era pattern.

In the last year or so, I’ve seen even more of Helen. She invited me to have lunch weekly with Anne, another of my husband’s coworker’s wives who I’ve also known for 30 years. We’ve lunched at First Watch and have been regulars there, on a first name basis with the wait staff. They know our drink orders by heart.

Helen also convinced me to attend Wednesday Night Writes, an informal get together of WRW members who meet weekly at a Panera Bread and simply write together. Wednesday Night Writes enabled Helen to finish her manuscript, a goal that alluded her–mostly because of all her other interests.

Like costumes. Every year Helen and her husband have a Halloween party and we must dress in costume. And Helen was behind our costumes worn at the WRW Retreat Romance Jeopardy game. The theme was weddings.
From left to right – Monica is a vampire bride; I am Miss Havisham; Julie is our bridesmaid; and Helen is a Day of the Dead bride.

Between lunch and Wednesday Night Writes I’ve seen Helen at least twice a week and now she’s gone. Oh, I know I’ll talk to her. We can Skype. She’ll be back to visit and we’ll visit them. She moved to be near her daughter, son-in-law, and little granddaughter. A grandmother myself, I totally understand.

But I will miss her terribly!!