Visiting Colleges

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Here are some random things I’ve learned after our recent college tours. (We’re in the middle of visiting Skidmore, Union, Hamilton, Colgate, Syracuse, Binghamton, Kenyon, Case Western, and Oberlin. Over Spring Break, we visited Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, Elon, Davidson, and Wake Forest.)

It is so fun – and only slightly worrisome — to watch your tour guide walk backwards. They are really good at this. Only a few times did we NOT have backward-walking guides (at Syracuse and at Binghamton – we were very disappointed). Only once did we fret that our backward-walking student guide was about to walk into something. In this case, a chair. I alerted him. Disaster averted.

Many tour guides will tell you of their school’s fun traditions. Here are a few:

  • rolling the quad – in toilet paper (Wake Forest);
  • sitting on a stone bench and whomever you you sit with, you will marry; sit alone, you’ll  never marry. Guide advised us never to sit there (Syracuse);
  • neighbors bake you cookies the night before finals (Davidson).

Some guides are totally honest and tell you the stuff that really matters to them. Like Anan at Colgate showed us the best places on campus to nap. A few times since coming to Chautauqua yesterday, I’ve thought, wow, I wish I could tell Anan about this cozy nook. He’d like to nap there.

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napping at Hamilton

The admission people who do the information sessions are super nice. They are often very smart –such as our admissions director at Duke, a slightly older slimmer version of myself. She was very funny.

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me, napping at Hamilton

When we were about to depart on this college tour from Westport, New York, my brother-in-law was a bit cynical. He said, “Aw, they’re all trying to sell you their school. These college tours are marketing ploys.” Yes, I agreed. But later, I remembered something — I love marketing. Marketing is cool. Marketing is a good college major. Bring on the marketing.

They are actual students taking us around, not supermodels. Several of our guides were totally unique – with very human quirks, disabilities, neuroses, what have you. And they shared their stories with us — often, about how they chose their schools.

I love meeting these young people. They are studying so many cool things. My favorite, Antonia at Union, is like me — into social justice. I loved hearing about her volunteer work with Girls, Inc. I also liked the trimester system there.

I guess one thing that’s surprised me is that I haven’t made friends with the other parents. But a lot of the other parents look shell-shocked — either at the cost of these colleges or at their jealousy over their children getting to go away to these awesome campuses. While we parents are stuck at home (with the bill).

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a fun tradition at Syracuse — you jump and hear a reverberation

As for which one we like best so far, it’s hard to say. We like them all for different reasons. And I think Hayden can see himself on many of these campuses. (Financial aid does play a big part in the decision.)

It has made me think about my own college classroom experience. While I loved going to a gigantic school, NYU, I did not love those classes that had more than 40 people in them. I never met the teachers in those classes, or cared too much about my attendance. I liked the symposium-style classes in the English Department of 6 to 8 people (like in my Henry James or Joseph Conrad classes).

But another reality hits me when we are on these tours. And I try not to think about this for too long. In a year’s time, I will miss my son incredibly when he does, God willing, go away to school. This college-touring time is special. We are together 24/7. And we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves — but then we rebound — we laugh together or nap. Or enjoy watching our tour guides walk backwards.

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really getting into the college groove. more napping.

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the porch at Union. a nice place for a nap.

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this is a study room at Hamilton. you could definitely nap here.

Alone this Summer

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At the beach association #huntington #longisla...

I went away to Southampton this weekend with a girlfriend and the weekend before I was in Huntington with my book club. How lucky am i?

I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks. And I’ve put Facebook on the back burner.

I’ve been rethinking my confessional writing.  It’s a relief and a release to write honestly about my life – writing helps me with my struggles and shows me that I’ve got resilience. Besides, as I’ve said, the more honest I get, the more readers I get.

But I do wonder if I have gotten what I needed from blogging and personal essay writing. And what is that? Money? Attention?

I have written about:

  • my struggles with marriage to a chronically ill spouse;
  • my desire to not spoil my kids in an age of helicopter parents;
  • my business lift-off and sometimes my business failures;
  • my beautiful New York City places;
  • my advice for writers, bloggers, creatives.

But life’s gotten busy.

For this one week, I’m deliciously alone.

My family’s been blown to the winds. My son is in Botswana. My daughters are at camp in Vermont. My husband and his brother, who also has Parkinson’s (my husband diagnosed 12 years ago and his brother a couple years before that, I believe) are traveling together — on a fishing trip to Canada.

As for work, I’ve had a wonderful client for whom I’m cranking out the work — blogging for them and totally pleased to put in a bit more time now and then.

I’ve had a crazy art handling job. This job would make an excellent sitcom – the curator and fellow art handlers are so funny and fun. Art handling means that I’m the grunt who puts up and takes down art for two art galleries — the treasure room and the lobby of my former office building. So, ya, pretty much lately, the people I used to sit in conference rooms with are the ones who occasionally walk past me as I’m working with the maintenance staff. Of course many stop and chat. And then I’ll feel guilty for not doing the art handling, and instead, schmoozing on the job. (Well what job does not benefit from schmoozing?)

I’ve also really been trying to put in an hour and a half a day (or three pomodoros (25 minute work blocks)) on a sexy, short novel. More about this at a later date. And for this stick-to-it-iveness on the languishing novel, I thank my coworking chum, Patty Golsteijn, over at Minimal Switch

In any case, for this one week, my immediate family is unreachable. And I’ve toyed with the idea of giving up my smart phone entirely. (Or maybe just checking in on it a little bit.)

In July:

  • I want to embrace my solitude;
  • Become more spiritual;
  • Work out;
  • Finish my novel;
  • Ride my bike;
  • Reassess my social media habit.

I want my social media to work for me. And I’m not sure how to recofigure my writing for the web, my websites.

In the meantime, let’s face it, I also just want to have fun. (Thanks, Cyndi Lauper!)

Bloomsday

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Celebrate fiction. We all know that fiction is truer than real life.

This summer every person in my family is taking a big trip. My oldest goes to Botswana tomorrow; the girls to camp in Vermont next week; and then, my husband fishing to the Canadian wilderness. I am going nowhere.

Wait. I am going to be in Dublin — just for a day. Just in my mind. On Bloomsday.

I’m going with the Irish American Bar Association. You don’t have to be a lawyer to attend. I’m not. Join me. Buy tickets for Bloomsday with the Irish American Bar. The event is so inspiring. I have attended several years now. It is always hilarious and moving. And reminds me of the reasons I love the First Amendment and this novel that opened up the possibilities for our literary creativity.

“Copyright, Creativity and the First Amendment,” will be delivered by the Hon. Gerard Lynch, United States Court of Appeals Judge for the Second Circuit, and will be followed by readings from Ulysses.

I like to introduce my tutoring students to James Joyce’s Ulysses by asking them to read and riff on Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. Lay out your own stream of consciousness. Yes. And yes.

I like to show them that this, some say the greatest work in the English language, breaks all kinds of rules.

Joyce said of his work, “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book. – said in 1918, from the book James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses” (1934).

The pity is the public will demand and find a moral in my book — or worse they may take it in some more serious way, and on the honor of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it. – from an interview published in Vanity Fair (March 1922).

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This is not Ireland. This the Riverdale section of the Bronx. And yes, some people walked barefoot in the grass #wavehill #bronx via mbcoudal

 

heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit. - James Joyce. Ulysses.

It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness… - James Joyce, Ulysses.

 Amazing, right?

Yesterday’s WordPress prompt verbal ticks. And yes, Molly Bloom had a verbal tick. And yes, I will hear it on Monday. Can you come too?

Is there a word or a phrase you use (or overuse) all the time, and are seemingly unable to get rid of? If not, what’s the one that drives you crazy when others use it? – Ben Huberman

Something Good About to Happen

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I have had this uncanny sense that I’m about to experience some miracle.

Is it the onset of summer? A time of less work? I have been freelancing, leading workshops, substitute teaching, tutoring and working my ass off. Okay, I wish I worked my ass off, just a little — not that my ass is too big — but well, you know, metaphorically.

And then, there’s the work of family life — the endless meals and maintenance that my three teenagers and disabled spouse require.

But two of my darlings will be in summer camp and one will be on a school trip to Botswana soon. And my husband will be on a fishing trip in Canada. So, maybe it’s just that — soon, for a couple of weeks, I will have less responsibility. I will be free. I can watch what I want on TV. I won’t have to work so hard.

Maybe, it’s the longer days and the light. The birds are definitely chirping when I wake in the morning.

Long summer days, picnics, in Riverside Park.

Long summer days, picnics, in Riverside Park.

I can ride my bike everywhere and I am always happy on my bike.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel lighter in spirit. I just know that something good is about to happen. And I wonder what it is.

 

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Maya

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Ah, Maya, I never knew you. But you knew me. You spoke to me and valued me. You valued us all, enough to invoke us to tell our stories. You held yourself so regally. You made it okay to be a performer, an artist, a writer, a teacher, a mother, a friend. To be creative and public in so many outlets.

At times, I have felt, I am too many things. I should be only one. But you showed me that we contain multitudes. Besides that, we shared the same birthday – April 4.

I felt in you, a kinship. Your words inspired me. Your poetry, essays and advice.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as autobiographical fiction. If I say it happened, it happened, even if only in my mind. I promised myself that I would write as well as I can, tell the truth, not to tell everything I know, but to make sure that everything I tell is true, as I understand it.”

“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library.”

“We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans — because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.”

Shooting into the light at the end of the day ...

Shooting into the light at the end of the day #goldenhour #adirondacks #amwriting via mbcoudal

It is in this candy shop, in this exploration, that I have ventured forth, offering my writing, encouraging others to write. I only want to hear stories. And to tell stories. And to get at some truth.

I believe stories live on. That the story teller disappears but that the truths remain.

And when you die, somehow you are home. “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” (This was one of Angelou’s tweets — so awesome that she embraced twitter – a forum for poets or pundits, snarky or sincere.)

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On Confidence

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One of my girlfriends and I talk about this a lot. We bemoan that our schools don’t teach our daughters how to be confident. In relationships and in the workplace, confidence seems to be a make-or-break key to success.

How can we inspire confidence? As parents and teachers, we can model confidence. Or, at the very least, model competence. Then, move on towards excellence.

I tell my kids the best way to be confident is to be prepared.

I have had a funny relationship with confidence. At times, I am overly confident — optimistically reporting my capabilities (and then, behind the scenes, scrambling to skill up). Other times, I am insecure. My voice shakes and my body posture gets smaller.

I attribute my confidence problem to one small fact – I don’t like to be wrong. And when I am, I get defensive, mad at myself for not knowing all of the answers from all of the angles.

Last week I led a blogging workshop at the Hudson -Mohawk ASTD. (photo by Mark Grimm)

Last week I led a blogging workshop at the Hudson -Mohawk ASTD. (photo by Mark Grimm)

Recently, when I don’t know something, I’ve tried a new method. In my presentations or workshops, I’ll say, “That’s a great question. I really don’t know.” I might say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Or better yet, I’ll kick the question back to the group and use my curiosity as an opportunity to find the wisdom from the crowd.

Another inspiration has been from the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy on body language. Cuddy shows that when you strike a power pose for even two minutes, you are perceived as “assertive, confident and comfortable.” A power pose could be a Wonder Woman stance, a wide-armed and wide-legged stance, or a feet-on the table, hands behind-the-head stretching pose.

Cuddy advises that we not ‘fake it ’til we make it,’ but we ‘fake it ’til we become it.’

That’s what I’m doing with confidence. Only I’m not faking it. I truly am curious and I am prepared. My friend Evelyn suggested that in presentations, we should get ‘large and in charge.’ I like that. And that’s what I will suggest to my girls.

 

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Women and Ethics in the Newsroom

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Mortimer and Daniels on the set of The Newsroom, HBO series. (photo courtesy of The Newsroom)

Mortimer and Daniels on the set of The Newsroom, HBO series. (photo courtesy of The Newsroom)

Have been watching The Newsroom featuring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. I love the snappy dialogue and the urgency of the news in our shared recent past. 

The show raises important questions, like, Is the purpose of television media to educate or to divide? 

Let’s look at health care. Since Obamacare passed, the news has had a freakin’ feeding frenzy on a side topic — the website’s technological failings. The media fed this vulture of divisiveness, serving the egos of a few recalcitrant Republicans who loved pointing out what went wrong.

Why not educate us on what we should do about this new law? How can we sign up for our newly granted right? Why did the media not walk us through, step by step, the best plan for a newly covered individual? Or tell us what are the benefits (or drawbacks) of universal coverage? How does a person register for the health insurance? Let’s take a look. No, we didn’t get any of that.

Maybe we don’t get these service stories because the media is ruled by the New York Times. I love the Times - don’t get me wrong – but it is written for the intellectual (and economic) elite. Maybe the staff there has health insurance, but what about the rest of us? We need to know. We need all the news that’s fit to print. Inform. Inspire.

The news has a noble purpose and I believe it is to educate. We are not supposed to simply whip each other up into a mud-slinging party of hatred.

We are social animals. Humans, like horses, need to stay together as a pack. Why are we so divisive?

The Newsroom addresses these ethical questions. Last night I saw the episode on bullying and the news anchor and reporter realized that they had bullied their guests. And they were sorry. Wow!

Brendamessick

Brenda Starr, reporter

I think I love The Newsroom because I have always loved the way pop culture portrays the smart news reporter or television producer. Emily Mortimer is so smart. Remember Mary Tyler Moore and Brenda Starr? They were reasons I wanted to be a writer.

The news room is one television genre where brilliant women shine. And these fictional women make me proud to be a girl reporter. Okay, just call me a reporter. And in real life, there are real brilliant women reporters like Arianna Huffington and Helen Thomas.

I don’t want to brag (much) but do work and have friends who work in the media biz and they (we) are, like these characters, super bright and super committed.

I’d like to write more about this but I have to read up on the firing of Jill Abramson, the perhaps underpaid, fiesty executive editor of the New York Times. 

Wait. I want to consume a divisive newstory? Me? I guess I like mud slinging just as much as the rest of the world. For that, I’m sorry.

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