What You Can Do vs. What You Love To Do

The difference between what you’re capable of doing and what you do love doing is a matter of life and death. I was capable of ignoring my feelings about my mother’s death and what it did to me. I was capable of keeping my feelings to myself. I was capable of sticking with safe jobs, safe partners and safe life choices. I was capable of letting her loss overtake my life. I was capable of having her memory be a curse that left me beaten down and hopeless but committing to do what I love (writing, cultivating meaningful friendships and relationships, traveling, exploring, smiling at strangers) is my way of honoring her.

An amazing mother deserves a successful, life-loving daughter who tries to be the very best human she can be, which is a proper segue to say today was my last day at a job I didn’t love doing.

I was plenty capable of doing it but it inhibited my ability to live life to the fullest. The sneaky, slow and steady digression was like a carbon monoxide leak. You can’t smell it but the detector is clearly going off telling you to vacate the premises and if you don’t listen, you will die.

At times I found myself before an imaginary tribunal holding up shiny apples with monikers like love, diet, exercise regimen, and 401k trying to distract their judging eyes from my mealy career red delicious. But my tribunal was full of authority figures from 90s sitcoms. James Avery, Phylicia Rashad and the guy who played Mr. Feeny just shook their heads.

The silver lining of grief is that you are profoundly drawn to an overwhelming gratitude for the years, months, days, moments and seconds you do have in life. You realize how important each one is and how very responsible you are for what you make of it.

My plans for the next phase are as specific as they are undefined. I will be blogging my whole way through it because it’s the only way I can figure out what I think. Sneak preview: book projects, public speaking, art classes and a cast of characters.

Two kisses.


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8 Things I Want for My 27th Year (to simplify!)

By Lauren Muscarella

Happy Birthday Cake

I read an article yesterday about a couple who sold their house, quit their jobs and started traveling around the world. Now they’ve been at it for five years.

They didn’t want children or to be tied down, then realized they were slaves to their “successful” desk jobs. Admittedly I read it with a curled lip hunched over my laptop taking a second to roll my eyes at every paragraph.

Now these two are living a dream and writing articles for people like me to subsidize their adventure. (I get a special day-before-my-birthday, bratty dispensation. )

That article haunted me all day.

They didn’t say, ‘Oh hey you can do it too! They were bragging. (Completely my projection, I know.)

Their story reminded me of my favorite E.B. White quote that says something like, I wake up every morning torn between enjoying the world and contributing to the world. It also reminded that I have a personal philosophy and standing rule to always be happy for others. There is plenty of good living to go around, more than enough for everyone. This couple sounds amazing. Not to mention, they do both! They explore while doing a lot of volunteer work. Given my track record and the witty article, I am sure I’d love these two.

But what about that birthday eve disdain I experienced?

I had to ask myself what do I want most. I took some quiet time to reflect on my birthday. I looked at all good aspects like friends and family and all points of contention like professional fulfillment and personal evolution. The resounding theme of everything I thought was I just want to…


From there like a powerful force had overtaken me I came up with this list for my 27th year.

1. Explore more of Boston. I moved out of Washington, D.C. in July 2010. It’s coming up on my two year anniversary and honestly I’m practically a tourist.

2. Buy really nice wine glasses. I love a great glass of wine but my owning-stuff resistance has driven me to using peasant glasses.

3. Learn Spanish. One of my best friends is Columbian. I have no excuse and being able to speak another language would bring me so much joy. (Maybe a little Russian too.)

4. Write every day. Writing is the only thing that turns day to night in a flash.

5. Visit more of my friends in their new cities.

6. Become organized like Martha Stewart on steroids.

7. Tech-free! Set aside one technology-free day.

8. More tech! Set aside one day to learn about technology.

Now this goals may lead to a lot of worldly traveling, they may not. Whatever is simpler.

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Why I Started (and almost gave up on) a Non-profit

When I orginally started Trauma to Art. It was a blog with posts of work I found inspiring and helpful in my own grieving process. My mother dying was one of the worst things, but also the most meaningful experiences of my life. It forced me to grow up quickly in some ways. It forced me to confront mortality and dissect my role in our very complex mother-daughter relationship.

Ultimately it led me to start Trauma to Art. At first, I was in love. My little site brought me to stumble upon some of the very best moments in my life. The traffic to the site goes up and down but the conversations it starts when I meet people is unparalleled. I share with people, they share with me. Simply put, that’s what I want t2a to facilitate: deep meaningful dialogue.

Months later I find myself working on website redesigns and fighting with GuideStar so I can accept donations on facebook. Surprisingly enough, I don’t find either activity exhilarating. Recently three big things happened.

One, I got fired. I was set to speak at a conference in August. I love speaking in front of people, especially about topics that excite me. However, the event will be great but it does not align with my thoughts on the subject of grief and in ways directly targets a group that I think is very well served. It’s the cynics that I’m after and they’re a hard nut to crack.

Two, after getting fired I started to think about what I really wanted to be spending my time doing. Instantly I had a burst of creativity and wrote 1300 for my chapter. My chapter refers to a book project I have going with an American University professor about bringing lasting international mourning traditions to the United States. That burst came at the perfect time. Just as I was about to shut down, call it a day, I had the best hour of 2012 writing those 1300 words. The chapter is 6000 but I’m in good shape.

Three, Trauma to Art is hosting a Mom-inspired Art Workshop at Mass College of Art March 22, 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm. The details are here. All of the work we create will be on display in MassArt’s Student LIfe Gallery May 15-18. Please share the event with people you think might be interested. The event is free and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

Oh whoops. A fourth thing happened. Our T2A jewelry is now on sale at the Karenna Maraj Studio in Cushing Square. Karenna is a dear friend, a fellow artist and the first person to teach a t2a workshop. Her support has been unbelievable. She donated the materials and the space to us plus she only takes 5% with the rest going to t2a.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for your support. Thanks for being you.


At the Karenna Maraj Studio in Cushing Square we are selling t2a Live Your Dreams necklaces. Each necklace was made with five beads to bring its owner a lifetime of abundance, love, confidence, happiness and goodwill.

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What the Komen Controversy Taught Us

Now that the dust has settled and a sufficient number of scapegoats have resigned, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has emerged from its decision to defund Planned Parenthood with fewer left-leaning supporters and a damaged brand. Their initial decision to defund Planned Parenthood came to pass after a board ruling to restrict funding to organizations under investigation by Congress.

After the backlash SGK amended the restriction to criminal investigations only. In the end, funding was not returned Planned Parenthood only the ability to apply in the future. Planned Parenthood snagged a slew of support and New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg coughed up some of his Hollywood cameo money in the sum of $250,000.

SGK never funded stem cell research but as of now they cut funding to organizations that work with embryonic cells.

We all know what this means. Blogs, tweets and every news outlet known to man forged a full-fledged frenzy attacking the organization’s decision. Fast Company, once an ardent supporter of SGK’s marketing campaign, even blasted its decision in How Susan G. Komen Torpedoed Their Brand

SGK is no stranger to controversy. For years, the group received criticism for putting pink ribbons on questionable products like Duraflame, KFC and Yoplait yogurt, which happens to be loaded with corn syrup and artificial ingredients. The hypocrisy caused many to question the organization’s intentions.

Pink ribbons on buckets of KFC may in fact raise money for cancer research but it intrinsically conflicts with the organization’s mission of health. Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO, defends SGK eloquently, yet with circumlocutory non-sense, by saying that it’s only right SGK uses capitalism in a capitalist culture to help find a cure.

The problem with this argument is that it discounts, even ignores, the power of prevention by eating well and staying active. When pink ribbons go on buckets of KFC, she asserts, SGK is simply using the market economy for the good of the whole.

While SGK’s actions intrinsically conflict with its own mission, it still manages to raise $180 million a year with a whopping 75,000 volunteers.

To be sure, organizations and non-profits fulfill important roles in our society. Susan G. Komen purports to be the leading breast cancer research organization in the country; but if it isn’t preaching prevention and its advancements never make the headlines, we need to ask what role does it play.

The SGK base is mostly composed of cancer survivors: women battling cancer and grievers of those who died of breast cancer. The founder herself, Ms. Brinker, lost her sister, Susan, to the disease.

Although I believe this group would welcome me with open arms because my mom died of breast cancer, I have chosen not to belong to honor my mother. She thought SGK failed to emphasize the importance that diet and prevention can play in ending breast cancer. She wasn’t a zealot. She didn’t begrudge people who did find solace in SGK’s offerings. She simply didn’t participate because she felt it ignored an important part of the problem.

There are several ways to look at SGK. You can see an organization run by a woman who lets her religious and political ideology discount her pink ribbon base. You could see an unbelievably successful marketing campaign that is studied in the likes of Wharton.

Alternatively, you could see what I see: a very successful, large-scale community group for people affected by breast cancer. For that, Nancy Brinker should be praised.

I also see a group looking for ritual and a way to remember their loved ones. They hold onto their pink ribbons as if it’s a Blessed Sacrament. It has become a symbol of the search for the cure.

And that provides hope. We idolize those pink ribbons in order to become one with the scientists, researchers and doctors developing the almighty cure. The supporters, I surmise, selflessly want a cure so no one will experience the heartache they have known. The organization may not be finding a cure but it’s possible we’ve been lying to ourselves all along.

Their history shows that of community group with a religious affiliation who happens to give money to breast cancer research. There’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps they just need to start being more honest about their true identity, and maybe we should follow suit. Don’t we all like to think we a little bit more noble and moral than we actually are?

Susan G. Komen gives a group of mourners a ritual and forum for anyone affected by breast cancer.  I’m not so much worried that the organization won’t survive the bad press, but I worry who is looking out for the potentially displaced community. The institution to which they belonged may have failed them but they still need a place to congregate.


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Celebrating Mama Alice’s Life

This is a story about trying to celebrate the anniversary of my mother dying. It includes two conflicts, four saviors, pesto and some other things.

I had a plan which was to attend my mother’s mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Gardner, Mass. But sometimes the universe has other plans.

6:38 am My roommate Nikki and I hit the road.

6:39 am We hit Starbucks.

7:16 am Conflict #1: The snow slows our cruise to a crawl. Conflict #2: The roads start to drown in snow.

7:27 am My sweet Altima sails straight into the median. My sideview mirror pops off. Everyone is safe. My brow is crinkled for fear of the extensive body work to come.


7:28 am Saviors 1 & 2 enter: Two gentlemen bravely cross the highway and push the car out of the snow trap.

7:31 am We exit the highway to assess the damage. The car looks fine but the mirror is dangling.

7:32 am Saviors 3 &4 enter: Two gentlemen roll down their window and ask if we need them to duct tape the mirror back on.

7:38 am We head back to the highway but now we’re going about 25 miles an hour.

8:22 am We enter Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church.

8:36 am I kneel to pray for my mother to watch over my father and brother to make sure they are happy and fulfilled. I imagine my beautiful mother blessing the smiling faces of my family. (Flashback: Five-year anniversary eulogy.)

8:42 am I do a sign of the cross with holy water as my family and I walk out with our family friend Pat O’Shea, who is critiquing Father O’Toole’s singing. “He’s a tenor,” he exclaims. That’s true.

10:45 am We stop at Quebrada Bake Shop for croissants (a Mama Alice favorite) and sweet treats for our dinner feast.


Quebrada trip! The very best roommate in the world!

8:20 pm My roommate Nikki, my good friend Iva and I break bread to celebrate with some of my mother’s favorites including pesto, bruschetta, salad and Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider. Everything was by the Alice book: No booze, all organic and lots of raucous laughter at the dinner table.

The feast!

My day today was perfect. I may have missed my mother’s mass but the mass is just a guideline to remember the day’s importance. The distuption only reinforced how many good samaritans are out there.

I see the anniversary of my mother’s death as a day that needs to be remembered for her not for me. My mother was such a fantastic mother. She deserves to be fussed over, remembered and celebrated. Today is holiday to me. It is a special day to reflect and be thankful for all of the wonderful gifts she gave me.

Alice Muscarella May 6, 1954 – January 12, 2006


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Cheers to Generosity in 2012!

People are funny about money.

2012, a year for generosity & love!

When I was growing up my father would put a certain amount of money away for retirement and for savings. I distinctly remember my mother saying, “Do you know what I could be spending that money on? But no, your father INSISTS on putting some away!”

This comment struck me as odd but not for the reasons you think. My mother never bought new clothes. Ever. She didn’t like expensive jewelry. She wore one gold necklace my father gave her and her wedding ring. She suffered from a pteromerhanophobia so she didn’t travel. She didn’t like eating out much because she preferred her own cooking. Every morsel had to be organic, whole wheat, salt-free and pure.

So what did Mama Alice like to spend money on? Her children. Every art camp, writing camp, and guitar lesson. Her neighbors. She opened her home and fed the masses. Her church. And of course, charities.

Some people with money are happy, some are unhappy. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. But lucky for me my mother taught me that the best perk to having money is being able to spoil the people you love and to be generous always.

How will you contribute in 2012?

Peace & love,


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What Did Your 2012 Look Like?

Muscarella's First Snowblower

The Muscarella's First Snowblower

The Muscarella family has shoveled around 1,796 inches of snow by hand. But not anymore,Baby. This Christmas my brothers and I surprised my father with a brand spanking new snowblower.

Let’s back up. So the other day I hobbled upon a list of 2012’s most popular baby names. The article claimed 2011’s baby names were all well and good, but what really matters is if those names will withstand the test of time and be popular one year later.

Will it be like Lauren’s 1985 hot streak or a 1970s Farrah 3-year flop? (Aside: My mother’s name Alice is in the top ten for this year!)

This Huffington Post fluffery inspired me to rethink the concept of resolutions. By the by, mine are:

1. The first 6 weeks of 2012 will be without a smidgen of alcohol.

2. I have given up saying, “Relationships and commitment give me hives” and anything of the ilk. I have replaced it with, “This is the year I stop thinking marriage and babies are a tireless commitment of loneliness and depression.”

3. Learn to Salsa.

4. Start the two kisses campaign. It’s a whole thing. Details to follow.

My hopes for 2012 are high and HuffPo is already talking in 2012 recaps. To catch up I took those four resolutions and mixed them with my other secret resolutions. Secret resolutions are the ones I’m too embarrassed to share. Yes, more embarrassing than number two. The result of this heady concoction was a short story about my kick-ass 2012.

By writing about my future as if it was the past, I saw what I wanted so much more clearly. I took some items off. Salsa stayed. Then I added some new things in and made 2012 the best year of my life.

You probably knew this but it’s a well documented fact that the interior of Massachusetts (not Boston) has an average annual snowfall of 69.1 inches. My father bought our home in 1986. That’s 1,796 inches of putting stuff off for way to damn long.

Let’s celebrate 2012 all year with wealth, happiness, peace, true expression and love, and wish love and goodwill for all.

So, what did your 2012 look like?

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