Bridges of Madison County

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While Hollywood continues to ignore women, Broadway continues to do an awesome job of letting women run the show. This is a delicious musical made from a bestselling book. I never read the book, because I thought, “Oh, that’s trashy reading, not for me. I’m so literary.”

But this show was for me. The musical explores stay-at-home mother Francesca’s complicated feelings when a handsome artist, a photographer from National Geographic, crosses her small town path, just for a few days.

I made the mistake of going to see this with one of teenagers. I should’ve seen it with a girlfriend. Because, yes, it’s a show about an extramarital love affair, but it’s also very much about best friends and women supporting each other. I need to debrief this show.

As her affair unfolds, I worried that our heroine, played by the brilliant Kelli O’Hara, was going to be busted by the gossipy neighbor Marge, played by the funny and charming Cass Morgan. But Marge never outs Francesca. She helps her. See, there’s marital loyalty, which is on the wane, and then there’s girlfriends’ loyalty, which never goes out of fashion.

I love the singing. And I love the set. The covered bridge is this simple, floating, bare-bones structure, not an oppressive, dark archway. Nice. I’d like to think that this ‘lightness of being’ can translate into our idea about marriage too. Marriage, a covered bridge, can be lighter and less oppressive than it looks.

Francesca’s heaviness of marital love is brightened by something — or someone — light. The two artists are drawn to each other, even in Iowa, even in the 1960s.

I love the way they talk about art and photography. I love the story.

Marriage is simpler and more complicated than it seems — less trashy novel, more sophisticated musical. And Francesca was loyal and unfaithful at the same time. Bridges of Madison County got me thinking about all that.

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(Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale, courtesy of Bridges)

Disclaimer: Thanks to Bridges of Madison County and the Serino/Coyne group for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

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Wordless Wednesday

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This morning I felt so downhearted when I saw the snow.

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But I rode my bike. I met my friend Barbara for breakfast. I led a writing workshop. I met some colleagues about meaningful work.

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And I saw this awesome play I Remember Mama tonite at the Transport Group Theatre — 10 older women play 25 roles. These pics are from the set. 20140416-230122.jpg

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So, despite the snow, it was a good day after all.

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Elizabeth Scalia: A Blogging Demon

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More #rain thru my cab window #NYC #urban #apr...

The rain from my cab window on the way to Opus Dei, religion communicators meeting.

Elizabeth Scalia talked about her Catholicism as a “terrible beauty of a life.”

When she began blogging, she said, she wrote way too much about Peyton Manning. Or maybe it was Derek Jeter.

I asked her how often she blogs,

“If I’m on a roll, five times,” she answered.

“A week?”

“No,  a day.”

Dang, I’ve been posting once a week! I’m inspired. I must tell you that I’m on a roll too. This month, I’ve got nine sources of income. So I’m busy, busy, busy and my blogging doesn’t pay. But maybe I should write about Manning or Jeter.

Scalia discussed her book, “Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life” The blogger critiqued the “gods” of the internet and social media as shrines to one’s self and an endles “echo chamber.”

Yes, she did. She called the internet the devil.

Despite the internet’s “evil,” Ms. Scalia found comfort in Pope Benedict’s dictate to “give the internet a soul.” Fun, smart, productive.

Scalia is the managing editor of the Catholic channel on Patheos. She blogs at the Anchoress.

Next month’s lunchtime religion communicators group will meet on May 15 and the speaker will be Norris Chumley. All I can say is he better not blog more than me.

Elizabeth Scalia talks to Leigh Rogers and other members and friends at the Religion Communicators Council.

Elizabeth Scalia (left) talks to Leigh Rogers (right) and other members and friends at the Religion Communicators Council.

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Beautiful – The Creative Process

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The other night I saw Beautiful: the Carole King Story. It was an awesome rumination on the creative process. Want to be creative? You have to be dogged.

Sure, King (born Klein) was brilliant — the characters mention several times how she graduated high school at the age of 16 — but she was hard working. I love that. “Good things come to those who hustle.” And our girl Carole hustled.

I loved that the musical shows how creativity is a collaborative and a competitive process.

Mary Beth Coudal, blogger, and Anika Larsen, who plays Cynthia Wiel in Beautiful.

Mary Beth Coudal, blogger, and Anika Larsen, who plays Cynthia Wiel in Beautiful.

The cast was awesome. Everyone’s raving about how amazing Jessie Mueller is. But so is Anika Larsen as songwriter Cynthia Wiel, Carole’s gal pal, foil, and competition.

Now, from my lonely feminist perspective, I must point out that King’s songs really defined a generation of women finding joys in being a woman, “You make me feel like a natural woman!” (co-written by her partner, Gerry Goffin.) So fantastic — a real anthem and celebration of natural womanhood. I, for one, in this age of Botox and plastic surgery, would like to return to the beauty of natural womanhood.

natural womanI also wanted a little more about how Carole came to love herself and not just the ups and downs of her romantic and troubled love for her fellow songwriter and husband, Goffin. But this musical shows one slice of her life. To find out more I think I will have to read her memoir, A Natural Woman.

This musical is amazing. Carole King’s talent and output inspire me. Go. See it Sing along.

“Get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart.”

Disclaimer: Thanks to Beautiful and the Serino/Coyne group for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

 

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Presentation Skills

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One of my recent ad hoc jobs has been assisting in the Columbia University graduate business school, coaching on presentation skills and strategic messaging.

I don’t want to give away all of my tips and tricks. But here’s some of what I’ve learned and taught.

  1. Plant your feet to make a point
  2. Make eye contact
  3. Breathe
  4. Be prepared, but not memorized
  5. Put it in a story form
  6. Show the benefits to your listener
  7. Use emotion

Let me explain what I mean by all of these. I’ll use myself as an example.

  1. Plant your feet and make your point. Don’t wander around. Don’t fidget with a pen either. I need to remember this. I’m a passionate person, and so I like to really emote! That’s fine (see #7). Sure, move out from behind the podium, but move on the pause, and stop when you speak. Plant your feet. You can move as you think. But stop when you talk.
  1. Look ‘em in the eyes for several sentences. Six (?) years ago, when Hilary Clinton was
    Barack Obama

    Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

    debating Barack Obama, I noticed Hil scanned the crowd as she talked. Her eyes hopped from person to person. Not Barack. No, he spoke several sentences to one person, then moved his gaze to another person. Like #1, don’t wander – not even with your eyes. Fix your gaze on one person. Make sure they get your point and then focus on another person’s eyes.

I sometimes look up when I’m thinking. I do that on the pause. Then, I have to remember to look down and make eye contact when I talk.

  1. Breathe. A breath brings inspiration. Take time to think things through. I tend to talk fast. And so I get breathy and soft-spoken. When I take time to breathe, I’ve got fuller authority. I’m more centered. When you’re making a presentation, take time to inhale. Then, speak on the exhale.

4. Know your stuff. When I’m watching Shark Tank, I can tell that people who have memorized their whole pitch. If they lose their place, they’re lost. They only really need to know the salient points – their numbers, their benefit to the user, their unique factors. They don’t need the verbatim script, they need to speak just the basics.

5. Make a story. Everyone loves a beginning, middle, and end. Put your presentation in a story form — perhaps, a context of overcoming great odds. Or making the story about a heroic journey. You were lost and now you’re found. These story types are so primal and so inspiring. Everyone loves a narrative arc.

6. Show the benefit. I realized people were a bit self involved the first time I had skin cancer. I blogged about it. In conversations, people would ask me, “Does this mole look like yours looked?” People weren’t asking, “How are you feeling? What’s the latest?” No, they were telling me how they were feeling. All people are basically self-interested.

If your presentation is relevant to people, they will be interested. If you can help people learn about themselves or help them make money, then they’ll be into your presentation. I love inspiring people to learn about themselves. It’s why I love coaching writing.

7. Emote. Don’t be afraid to laugh, cry, admit that you don’t know something in your presentation. It’s all part of the human experience. People will remember what you say when you are passionate, but they may not remember your dry facts and figures.

Give yourself away. Go deep and don’t be afraid to be human. Get real.

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Mothers and Sons on Broadway

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Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor and Tyne Daly (photo courtesy of entertainment weekly, Joan Marcus)

I saw Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons in previews on Broadway the other night. I liked it. It threw me back to a really sad time. This play is the story of a deceased actor’s mother showing up like 25 years later, after all this time, to reminisce about her son with his beloved.

I think the two main characters, the mother and the lover, want forgiveness from each other. And basically I want that too. I want the characters to love each other, to get over their awkwardness.

The mother, played by the amazing Tyne Daly, cannot give love and can hardly give acceptance. The two circle one another without coming to a resolution. Fortunately the new husband, played by Bobby Steggert, and the couple’s son arrive. Just in time, to cut through the BS and awkwardness.

These two are the heroes because of their forthrightness – the new husband calls out the mother’s past injustices and the little boy articulates the family’s need for a grandmother.

The play reminded me of how the AIDS crisis in NYC swamped us. I felt overwhelmed by this again, when my son was reading Angels in America for his Constructing America class and he asked me and Chris, “Did you lose friends to AIDS?” And we told him “Yes.” Among them, Chris’s actor friend Robert Farber, a great artist, a great friend, whom we visited in his West Village apartment when he was getting close to death. And I think that we are still bothered that we didn’t visit him more.

So the play brought that up for me – how much of yourself do you give when you know someone is dying?

It was particularly heart-wrenching in the play when the survivor told his lover’s mother, “You and I are the only ones who still remember him.”

I don’t think that’s true. There are people, like me and Chris, friends on the margins, who remember. We know what happened and we still talk about it.

In the ’90s, I used to host my TV show, Mary Beth and Friends, at Manhattan Neighborhood Network right after Act Up taped their show. And I would schmooze with the on-camera people and the crew. I told them their stuff was cool, their interviews, their lying down protests, their silence=death. And I told them I supported them. But honestly, they weren’t all that interested in my opinion. They appreciated my support, I guess. But let’s face it, they had bigger issues.

It was a crazy time. I worked at the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center in the mid-late ’80s and lost a friend, fellow front desk clerk, He was a few years older than me and I was still in college. And he seemed to be one of the first deaths by AIDS. And it was so very hushed, very uncertain, a gay man’s disease, that we didn’t know how to talk about it. We didn’t have the words.

The play reminded me about all that. About how we talk or don’t talk about death and dying. A year or so, I bumped into an actor friend whose partner/friend had died of AIDS. I told him I still often remembered his friend fondly. In the coffee shop, we didn’t get all maudlin. We just reminisced. We just talked about his friend, like it was 9/11. Like, such a tragedy. Still, it had not stopped our lives. Remembering a death can cause us to stop in our tracks, unprepared for grief, but the remembering doesn’t make us stop living.

That’s the thing about Mothers and Sons and the death of someone you love — you see that serious illness, death even, doesn’t stop loved ones from living. You can’t stop living, even when someone you love is sick or dying. (And, of course, for me, this brings up Chris’s Parkinson’s. How can I stop myself from living? How can I not stop and treasure each day? Each day, a gift.)

Now, about my home girl, Tyne Daly – she just throws lines out there, so naturalistically. I love her arch intelligence. She owns the stage. The other actors were wonderful too, but it was hard to know if their awkwardness was due to the great lady on stage with them or just the scenario of the play itself – the mother of a deceased ex descending for a night on your boisterous, wonderful, ongoing family life.

What can you do? Keep living. Keep remembering. Keep talking. Silence=death.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Mothers and Sons and Pivoting Media for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own. 

http://www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com/

Robert Farber’s art

 

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How To Talk About Your Business

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Everyone loves a winner. So talk up your winning biz. You can take several routes.

The humble way – Shucks, we’re just ordinary plain folk who got lucky.

The hardworking drudge – Well, sure we’re a success, but all we do is work, work, work. And we never see our kids, spouses, or mothers.

The boaster – I’m pretty fricken’ amazing. That’s it. I kickass.

The passionate soul – I love this work. Man, I’d do it for free. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And it’s a labor of love.

I suggest when you talk about your biz, mix it up and use all four routes. Go the humble, hardworking, boastful and passionate way. “We got lucky, we work it, we’re awesome, and by the way, we love what we do.”

Mary Beth Coudal and Cheryl Sandberg exchanged a few laughs at BlogHer in Chicago.

Mary Beth Coudal and Cheryl Sandberg exchanged a few laughs at BlogHer in Chicago.

Note: I say “we” because, sometimes people appreciate the ‘we’ better than the ‘me.’ Or at least, we think so. Who’s we? Me and Cheryl Sandberg of Lean In. I think she said something like this at BlogHer last summer in Chicago — how women are more powerful when we’re collaborative rather than competitive.

Even though I’m pretty much a shop of one, I feel like I bring a team with me on my assignments. Ya know, I get by with a little help from my friends.

This post was inspired from a post by Seth Godin, marketing guru.

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