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I Am Not A Damn Smart Phone; I Am A Body!

10 Aug

Today, in an act of defiance, I left the house for a hike and purposely left my cell phone at home. I typically take it with me even though I have a no-talking-on-the-trail rule. I like to have it in case I want to photograph something and because the hills are remote, it’s not a bad idea to carry it. Today however, I couldn’t bear to take the damn thing with me.

I debated at first. During the ten minutes it takes me to walk through the neighborhood to the mountain, I thought to call a friend I needed to get in touch with today. I also contemplated listening to a podcast. I could make use of the time and multi-task, right?

I’m so sick of multi-tasking! We reply to texts while our cars idle at traffic lights, we answer emails while we’re standing in line at the grocery store, and we talk on the phone while washing the dishes and cleaning the house. While all of this makes us extremely efficient, I am so tired of constant device time. I want to hear silence in my head for once and to look at something that is not virtual.

I never want my smart phone to become an appendage. If you look at people walking around these days, phones look like an extension of individuals’ bodies. I want my body to remain what it is – flesh and blood! I don’t want it to grow a selfie-stick or I-Phone.

On my hike, I started to feel a peace descend on me that I haven’t felt in awhile. I smelled sage, saw a butterfly cross my path as opposed to my screen, and felt myself sweating profusely in the Southern California sun. It reminded me of surfing because you can’t take your gadget out into the ocean, nor would you want to if you could. Your life depends on paying attention to what you’re doing – watching the tides and sensing the momentum of the waves.

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Our bodies too are like waves. Each inhalation and exhalation is a cycle. We need to be attune to them if we are to live in an embodied state.

For an hour and a half I was free- blessedly free. When I returned, I made breakfast and felt completely in the moment. I didn’t resent my work or my computer when I had to eventually get down to business. My body and mind had needed a break and they got one. I felt refreshed.

Seth Godin recently wrote in a blog post, “Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.” Me too. Will that kid grow up knowing how to sense his or her body? Or how to access his or her imagination? The other day a friend and I noticed that little kids these days hold picture books and try to swipe the page or press a button. This breaks my heart. Will there come a time when books can’t hold a child’s interest because there aren’t any whistles or bells to stimulate the nervous system? Are we there already?

Technology robs us of boundaries and privacy, if we don’t set limits and reclaim quiet corners of our lives. For instance, when I was writing my book, I refused to answer non-emergency email except for during certain times of the day. I’m trying to get back to that personal protocol. I also have started to power down my devices by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. unless I’m working on something special. I value my sleep way too much and am not a night person anyway. When I stay away from screens a few hours before bed, I sleep a full eight hours. This is something that matters to me. I am a body; not a machine.

We do everything in front of a computer. We work on-line, we pay bills on-line, date on-line, read on-line, make travel arrangements on-line, etc, etc. etc. Modernity isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. But I can carve out time for my body. I can power down, look around, and sense my surroundings. Because I am not my damn smart phone! I am a body in a human form and that is something that I never want to take for granted.

Quality Time Vs. Play Dates

6 Aug

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Certain times in our lives are more flush with close connection. For me, elementary school, high school, and college were such periods. No one carried the adult responsibilities we do today, which made friendships easy to cultivate and maintain. Everyone was in close proximity, which made things convenient, particularly when living on the university campus. There was always someone around to share a meal with or to chat with. And it didn’t matter what time of day.

I also recall wonderful summers with my grandparents that were rich in social interaction. There was a slow lazy rhythm to the August days. My grandfather would go to work while my grandmother and I ran errands, baked cookies, and tended to all things domestic. Then when my grandfather came home, we’d eat dinner together. Afterward, we’d go for a walk or work in the garden. Sometimes we watched a show on television. Other times we read books together.

In my twenties, when living in Manhattan, my friends and I would take the city by storm. We spent hours verbalizing our dreams over glasses of wine and walks in Central part. Even in my thirties, I still had some single friends with whom I pondered the meaning of life while sharing meals and life together. Although my friends’ marriages altered the dynamics of our relationships, there were still incredibly meaningful moments spent together. When my friend’s son was an infant we’d take him in the stroller for long walks, cherishing him and each other. We lived in the same neighborhood so it was easy to get together on a regular basis.

But then there are the seasons where no one has time to do anything. When both parents are working and kids are hyper-scheduled, and no one’s children attend schools anywhere near their homes, which results in hours of chauffeuring time. That sentence is a mouthful for a reason. It’s exhausting and exhaustion doesn’t lend itself to intimacy.

But human beings need depth intimacy. Whether falling in love or maintaining friendships, relationships need time to grow. Without that time, there are gaps in connection.

Of course when people pair up and find a significant other, most of the relationship investment gets funneled into that union. But as a friend of mine said to me the other day, (and she happens to be married), “It’s unhealthy to make your spouse your only go to for companionship. It’s way too much of a burden on one person and it makes for a stale marriage. We need to feed our friendships too.”

Modern life doesn’t accommodate well for depth relationships. With everyone’s busy schedules, we pencil in “play dates.” These might consist of a coffee, a dinner, or if we can spare a few precious hours, maybe a movie. In an age when people rarely even talk on the phone anymore, play dates are welcome. But I miss the wonder of unstructured, spontaneous time when it was easy to cross the street and hang out with someone.

The more we indulge in a frenzy of hyper-scheduled activities, the more difficult it becomes to nurture quality time. Even people living under the same roof are not necessarily bonding well. We can’t stand to sit still for longer than a few minutes before looking away and grabbing our Smart phones.

The only way off the merry ground is to step off it, but that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, if everyone else is still on the ride. Loneliness settles in and we wonder if anyone else is feeling it too.

Years ago I worked in an outpatient program that served the high functioning, elderly population. Not many of our clients had a history of mental illness. However, many met criteria for situational depression and anxiety brought on by the death of a spouse or retirement or illness. People were lonely and little to do during the day. They came to our program in the morning, attended a psycho-education lecture, ate lunch and then attended two process groups. Within a few weeks most folks were thriving again thanks to the friendships created and a renewed sense of meaning.

I’m a fan of play dates. In fact, I have two today. But I’m even more a fan of quality time that emerges when there is no plan, no rush, and no strain. When intimacy just happens like the sun rising and setting each day.

Sobriety of Mind

6 Sep

It’s astonishing how obsessed we can become with our own thoughts. It’s an addiction not really discussed but we’re all susceptible to it. Our thoughts can take us down quite literally. I have seen in it myself and I have seen it in others. Sobriety of mind is a noble undertaking.

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Ultimately, recovery is a process. We can never completely free ourselves of our thoughts. It’s the nature of the mind to look for trouble. To cling and grasp, catastrophize, and create drama.

We can gain some degree of sobriety though. We can learn to tame our minds. We can alter the way our perceptions tyrannize. And we can practice serenity.

I weary though of talking heads who say we create our reality and that everything external is a reflection of our internal perceptions. To a degree that is true but tell that to the woman diagnosed with cancer. You’re basically telling her that her diagnosis is all her fault. Tell that to the little boy sitting stunned in blood caught in the crossfire of war whose photo went viral. It’s a cop out to say something like that as it reduces life’s crap and evil to simplicity and allows us to abdicate any responsibility for helping others in situations far less fortunate than our own.

If I get hit by a bus, the reality is that it is going to hurt. I am going to have to deal with the aftermath of the accident. While I have some measure of control regarding how I deal with that reality, it’s still going to have to be dealt with. If my legs get broken, they’ll have to be fixed. Pain is a part of life. Our minds will react to circumstances and stimuli.

So where is the line between addiction and sobriety? When do our thoughts make us spin out of control into complete excess? And what do we do about it?

It’s not as simple as mind over matter or willing ourselves out of our feelings. Emotions are crucial because they give us information that something is wrong. As the brilliant Sufi poet, Hafiz wrote, “The Heart is right to cry even when the smallest drop of light, of love, is taken away.” Quite frankly, it’s not the tears that are an issue. That is just energy releasing that ultimately frees us. When we move the energy out we break long held karmic patterns of hurt the yogis refer to as samskaras. Instead it’s our thoughts that can keep us stuck, prisoners in our heads.

When we cling to what happened or what could happen and then dissect every angle of something completely beyond our control, we are simply grasping for control. And that is absurd.

We want perfection out of life. We want everyone to like us, for there never to be a mishap, and to micromanage ourselves and others. This will never be attainable yet the mind will keep questing for it. Why we build an alter to worship at it, I will never understand.

There is no constancy, as much as we long for it. There is our breath and this moment. That is it. The more we can move from one moment to the next without clinging or rejecting, then we achieve a degree of sobriety.

It’s okay to have pleasure. It’s okay to say, “F— it to worry and pain.” The pain and the worry will always be there because we are masters at it. We can ruin even the happiest of moments with obsessions but we don’t have to live with drama 24/7. For a bit, we can let go. We can enjoy ourselves.

Lady, You’re Gonna Get Wet!

1 Sep

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Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. This morning a woman in a water aerobics class started screeching at me for “splashing too much”as I did laps in the lane next to the class.

I didn’t understand what the problem was until the life guard approached me, embarrassed, and told me the woman was upset by my swimming. “I don’t understand,” I said. “If she wants me to switch lanes, I have no problem but how am I to swim without splashing?”

Lady, if you’re going to get into a swimming pool, chances are you’re going to get wet!

I switched lanes. The lady continued to scowl. The man in my new lane smiled. I smiled back. Because you’ve got to keep a sense of humor.

When people are that angry you almost have to feel sorry for them.

The woman didn’t understand that I’d just received a string of bad news and that I’d come to the pool to try and feel better. It didn’t matter. As I get older I just can’t be bothered anymore with bs – my own or other people’s. When I’m embroiled in my own, I have to shake myself and say, “Stop it! You’re driving even me out of my mind.” Because none of us knows how much time we have on this planet and I want to enjoy as much of it as I can.

Here is the thing. We are going to get splashed. We are going to get our hair messed up.

Why be alive, why sit by the pool, if you’re not going to get in it?

 

The Beauty of Boredom

16 Aug

Boredom isn’t really in my repertoire. Raised an only child, I learned to entertain myself at an early age and never really felt bored. I came to appreciate that there is plenty to do in life.

Yet every now and then, particularly when I’m super pooped like I am right now, I have to spend a day doing almost nothing. I always find this somewhat frustrating. I mean what could be more boring than just sitting on the couch or lying in bed when it’s sweltering hot both inside and outside? Just being is not terribly exciting, thought provoking, stimulating, or pleasurable. Nonetheless, I sometimes work myself into such a frenzy of career demands that the exhaustion comes with the territory.

I dislike these days yet I know there is beauty in boredom. Watching the hours tick away, not even reading or watching t.v., I find myself in a weird free fall. Just sitting here on the couch in the last hour I have noticed the sky change from pink to violet and now I see the moon almost full. I have painted two pictures and emptied my mind of weeks of teaching and travel. I have felt spaced out and my head has buzzed with a weird tingling vibration.

And I know this is absolutely vital to my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

The other day I was so happy to be home I bought three bouquets of flowers for different rooms in my house. Today, I noticed each arrangement yield more to its blossoms. When we’re bored, we start to pay attention.

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Tomorrow is another day. The to-do list never ending. The I-want-to-do-list even longer.

Yet today I had moments of boredom and in those pockets of empty space, I heard the still small voice that beckons me. As always, I doubt where it will lead me, yet know I must find the courage to follow it. Without the down time, I wouldn’t have paid attention to its presence.

Emotional Heroism

3 Aug

This horse and I had a couple of moments. They were only a few moments but life is comprised of moments. It is the moments that make or break us.

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Studies show that the bond between humans and animals directly impacts our evolution as a species.

Specifically, exchanges between owners and their pets release high quantities of oxytocin, which profoundly impacts mood state and biochemistry. The process is highly similar to what occurs  between infants bonding with adults. When owners and their pets observe and are observed by each other, oxytocin releases that fosters feelings of calm and increases concentration. These are the opposite impulses that tear us apart. Excessive aggression, dissension and isolation become lethal for civilized society.

Linda Kohanov, a pioneer in the field of equine therapy and its effect on interpersonal relationships speaks specifically about what animals can teach humans regarding how to interact in ways that preserve vs destroy the herd. Horses are animals who wield enormous amounts of power yet still take care of their own. Kohanov writes, “Using power well is not a soft skill. Even so, it requires a sophisticated integration of leadership and social intelligence to channel potentially explosive forces into a focused and benevolent source of energy” (from “The Five Roles of the a Master Herder, p.4).

Linda recently spoke at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. In the audience were people with vested interests in how horses enhance humanity’s humanity, including a much beloved actor from a much beloved t.v. show. Probably more than anything during Kahanov’s talk, I was struck by a term she called “emotional heroism” to describe the act of keeping one’s heart open even while knowing that the inevitable result is heartbreak. She uses the term to describe when an owner has to make the excruciating decision to euthanize an animal or when bonding with an animal may result in some other painful separation. She also mentioned this concept in conjunction with the risks entailed in various stages of relationships. For instance, within a herd, animals play different roles including nurturer, sentinel, dominant, leader and predator. All animals play the different roles at times to ensure the herd’s well-being. We humans have much to learn from what animals know about how to look out for one another. Likewise, learning to embody these roles fully is not for the faint of heart.

To be connected to others requires presence. It is a dance of interaction. Of the observed observing the observer. It also demands that we drop our social masks and be authentic. Horses can read through the bullshit we put out and so can most people. Horses are straightforward. They step away from you if they don’t like you and walk towards you when they do. What you see is what you get. They will also show deep concern for you if you are in pain and will invite you to play if you want to join them.

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We are becoming disembodied as a culture staring into our little screens and taking selfies of ourselves instead of looking out at the world around us. Increasing disparities in power and social isolation bring pressures often with little relief. So there is no shame in looking to nature for solace and sanity. It may be the thing that leads us to a higher evolution than we’re currently headed towards as a people.

 

Just Give A Shit

22 Jun

In 1984, Time magazine arrived at my home one day along with Newsweek and US News and World Report. My father subscribed to all three. I remember looking in horror at the cover stories about the San Ysidro McDonald’s shooting. I couldn’t fathom such violence. I also couldn’t fathom how anyone could heal from witnessing such carnage. I instinctually knew that most people don’t fully recover. I remember thinking this was the beginning of the end of world as I knew it. Yet if you had told my young high school self that by 2016, mass shootings in the US would be the norm, I would have wondered if the sky was falling.

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For the last six years I’ve done contract work for the National Council for Behavioral Health certifying individuals across the country to teach a public education course called, “Mental Health First Aid.” The seminar equips the general community to assist someone in emotional distress. A student in one of my classes summarized the core values of the curriculum as “giving a shit.” “How tough is it?” he said. “Just give a shit. It’s not rocket science.”

As the Senate yet again vetoed measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, “Just give a shit” ran through my mind. Think about what it would be like to be a survivor of gun violence. Think about what it would be like to be Gabby Giffords, one of your own, a senator whose life and health was irrevocably changed because of a mass shooting.  Think about what it would be like to be a parent of a child at Sandy Hook or a victim, survivor, or loved one of someone at Orlando. Think about the vicarious trauma of the emergency response team, or the physicians having to operate, or the physical therapists helping with limb rehabilitation, or the psychotherapists trying to resuscitate a human soul. How hard is it to have empathy? How hard is it to use that empathy to effect change? As humans, we are not entirely helpless. If we can send people to the moon, why can’t we work on this problem?

Can anyone feel anything in a moment of silence? Most of us need at least ten minutes to settle into a state of meditation and reflection. Are we even thinking of the victims or are we reflecting on what we want to eat for lunch? Because that is the way the mind works. It takes a certain degree of quiet and spaciousness for the mind to settle. Unless we’ve experienced loss ourselves, sometimes we can’t put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Yet we can imagine…

Sadly, in my six years of teaching I have interfaced with most communities impacted by mass shootings in this country. I have seen the psychic bullet wounds.

Yes, anger is a healthy response when something is inherently wrong.

I also understand my emotions well enough to constructively express and contain them. When people do not know how to manage anger and have easy access to guns, pulling a trigger can have devastating consequences. Much of violence stems not from mental illness but from poor anger management skills, lack of impulse control, and a very quick and easy way to discharge those feelings for immediate gratification. Unfortunately, what is a quick solution for some, creates a lifetime of pain for others.

Our nation has a terrible problem and if we don’t start giving a shit, we’ll all have blood on our hands.

 

On Sacred Ground

22 Apr

My father loved the topgraphy of the United States and wanted to make certain I had the same appreciation of it. When I was little, he pulled me out of school for a few weeks so we could travel across the United States in a motor home. That trip left an imprint. I remember seeing Old Faithful and Morning Glory, the Grand Tetons, and hot air balloons dotting the sky in New Mexico. I also recall Mt. Rushmore and the Bandlands of South Dakota. I have a picture of my dad with his back to the camera staring out over that dramatic landscape. My dad knew he was on sacred ground.

In South Dakota we also went to a place called Wall Drug. Founded in 1931, the store is both historic and a wonderful place to shop. I was allowed to buy a souvenir and wanted an Indian Princess doll and a pair of moccasins. I loved my Indian doll. I had her for many years.

Scroll forward forty years later. You know you travel a lot when you look at the flight departure/arrival board and think, “Okay. Which Rapid am I going to? Rapid City, Cedar Rapids, or Grand Rapids?” Clear the head. Rapid City. I’m going to Rapid City, South Dakota.

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Recently I interfaced with a number of individuals working in the Native American community. I loved hearing about the rituals and customs of the people here and was saddneded to hear accounts about the on-going impact of historical trauma, although I am aware of how deep it runs. Suicide is an epidemic in certain parts of South Dakota and racism and discrimination continues. It astonishes me what we humans do to one another and how we just don’t seem to learn how to stop mistreating one another. Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Mt. Rushmore… This land was beautiful prior to the monument, as impressive as it is. It was once someone else’s sacred ground.

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I wish we would just stopping messing with nature. We passed a dead deer on the road making me think once again, “What has our so called progress done? At what cost and at whose expense?”

Without a doubt the land here is sacred ground. Would that every step we took in life be one on sacred ground. If we could bring a sense of Spirit into the every day and realize that each step on the path can connect us to the Grandfather, I think we’d all live with more reverence, respect, and awe.

Just Say No!

17 Apr

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When I was in middle school and high school I was expected to get up at 5:30 a.m. to water the plants and take care of our animals before going to school at 8:00 a.m. This was in Southern California where delicate potted plants needed to be watered in both the morning and late afternoon. Much of our shrubbery had automatic drip and spray sprinklers but the plants that didn’t would easily die within a few days without consistent care, particularly the fragile, moisture loving flowers such as orchids and fuschias. These varieties are tropical in nature and not meant for an arid dry climate.

This was also the era of Nancy Reagan’s, “Just say no!” campaign to help young people not sucuumb to drug use. I think of that phrase now. As direct as Nike’s, “Just do it!”, “Just say no!” is a great motto, if you can adhere to it.

I bring this up because these days many of us the minute we wake up log onto the computer or our phones to check text messages and emails. There is little division anymore between work and private life. It’s all mushed into one undifferintiated mass.

I’d rather water plants at 5:30 a.m. and walk and brush two magnificent large dogs like I did when I was young than look at a screen the minute I open my eyes. It’s a more humane way to wake up. It’s more embodied; more centered; more intimate. It’s a semi- equivalent of a toddler jumping on your bed or a lover kissing one awake. When outdoors at 5:30 a.m., you see the sunrise and the way the colors shift with an ever increasing degree of light. Even if engaged in a type of physical labor, there is something balanced in it because it involves the body fully vs. sitting sedentary at a screen.

I was raised with a Midwestern, farm mentality work ethnic and that ethic is in my DNA. However, that ethic can be brutal when it’s not mixed in with nature and natural rhythms and interpersonal relationships.

Sometimes we just have to say no to work and to technology and to get into our bodies and into nature. This actually feeds productivity because relaxation restores the mind and soul. It opens new vistas. As all farmers know, sometimes you have to let the fields lie fallow in order to create a better yield. If you demand the goose that lays a gold egg each day to produce more, she can stop producing all together.

Creativity always demands a tension between inner/outer, surrender/will, rest/activity. There is day and night, light and dark, life and death, order and chaos. There is a reason on the 7th day, the Lord took a break. We must take a moment to see, “That it was good.” Otherwise, we miss the show all together.

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Dating and Other Life Tips from Nancy Drew

9 Jun

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Every woman could stand to learn some things from Nancy Drew.

I have been reading Nancy Drew mysteries since I was five years old. At 46, I realize just how far ahead of her times the titian haired heroine actually was. We women have much to gain by looking at her character.

Nancy Drew is eighteen years old. She lives with her attorney father, Carson Drew and their beloved housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. Nancy’s own mother died when she was three years old. The one fantasy element in the books is that Nancy doesn’t have to earn an income. Her father makes a more than generous salary and Nancy never wants for anything. There is always cash for fashionable clothing, last minute air tickets to follow up a lead on a mystery, for car repairs, and for luncheons at tea houses and hotels. (Most likely, these would be tax write offs, as Nancy often assists her father, investigating leads on his cases).

Other than that, all of Nancy’s attributes and successes can be attributed to herself. She is intelligent, determined, curious, passionate, kind, and ridiculously talented. She is exceptional at swimming, golf, tennis, dancing, figure skating, skiing, horse back riding, scuba diving, drawing, and acting. (I realize that being upper middle class, Nancy has exposure to opportunities that help refine her innate abilities). Many of her mysteries feature these very talents. She is also perceptive with an extraordinary ability to read people’s true natures. Although polite and classy, she doesn’t mince words, nor is she mousy. She is assertive and at times, ballsy and forthright. She doesn’t cower when people don’t like her for either getting close to solving a mystery and/or because she is so exceptional. Nancy has a spine of steel despite her refined, waspy exterior.

Yet what is also extremely interesting is the way she operates vis-a-vis the men in her life. Nancy is never short on dates. There is always some young man around interested in taking her to dinner or to a dance. Her regular beau, Ned Nickerson, clearly adores her and makes regular arrangements to take Nancy out to concerts, the theatre, picnics, or boating. As the reader, I get the sense that Nancy very much enjoys male company, yet on the other hand could care less about it. Nancy is not driven by romance. It’s a nice secondary gain to her life, but it is not running the show. While on a date, she doesn’t think twice about dropping the original plans to attend a function if a clue comes up. The man can accompany her as she follows up on a lead, but the message is 100% clear. Mysteries come first; dating second. A guy who dates Nancy has to deal with this, or he isn’t the right guy. Paradoxically, this makes Nancy all the more attractive and fascinating. Ned Nickerson clearly adores her, but then Ned Nickerson gets her. Not all men would put up with Nancy. Nancy takes up space. Although kind and considerate of others, she doesn’t rearrange her life for a man. The man has to rearrange his life for her.

Given that most of the books were originally written in the 1930’s, dating for Nancy is old fashioned. The men around her properly court her. They aren’t trying to get into her knickers and Nancy would have no tolerance for that if they tried. Instead they take her out because they genuinely enjoy her company and want to get to know her in a day-to-day context. Nancy doesn’t live in 2015 where most men expect you to sleep with them by the third date and if you don’t, they drop you because it’s easy to find another woman who will. After all, why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? Nancy values herself too much for such nonsense.

Nancy would be both appalled and intrigued by our current trends, dating and otherwise. Without a doubt she would have a smart phone. She’d need it for researching clues and following leads. She’d use the GPS navigation and would text her friends about appointed meeting times. She’d use FB sparingly, partly because of her extreme humility but mostly because she wouldn’t want to leak information regarding cases or let crooks know her whereabouts. She might have a website advertising her detective services and she’d probably track her expenses in an excel spread sheet. Nancy is so modern and yet so old fashioned.

I sometimes wonder if the books continued, if Nancy would marry and have children. I imagine she would. She is too beloved and too relational to not take this fairly normal step in her evolution. Yet it’s hard to think about her married and with children because these elements would change her radically and infringe on the freedom that so defines her. She’d need to be with a man who truly assisted her in all things domestic so that she could continue to solve mysteries and be her own person. I could see Hannah Gruen dramatically assisting with the child rearing.

On the other hand, I could see Nancy perfectly fine as a single woman. I doubt she’d feel sorry for herself. I think she’d roll up her sleeves and get to work. She’d also have hobbies and friends and volunteer work.

Yes, ladies. I think we could all benefit from the example of Ms. Drew, even if she is just a character in a novel. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.