Body Pride

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I have been tall and slim.

I have been dumpy and short. (The first stages of a twin pregnancy is not known for its svelte-ness. But something wonderful was cooking in me and that made me gorgeous.)

Recently a friend of mine visited the Fashion Boudoir Project in Seattle – a few sexy pics appeared on her Facebook stream. I wondered if I could do it – bare all or some?

Mom and I once went to a topless beach in Hawaii once. No biggie. (I did feel free.)

On Beauty

The most beautiful women I know have some beautiful physical unique style – my Great Aunt Marie had a big nose – my friend DeB is completely bald. It’s what’s cooking inside — intelligence, humor, kindness, creativity — that make us beautiful.

In the car, the other day my friend said, “The positive thing about Kim Kardashian is that she brings body pride to women with large booties.” (I did not know this.)

And I recently saw this way-cool Tweet from Lorde — she posted a pic of herself without the photoshop. Yup, still beautiful. (Amazing young woman!)

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(Lorde from her Twitter feed)

I stared a Pinterest board – “I Look Forward to Getting Old.” These women (and a few men) are uniquely beautiful.

One of my darlings saw my Pinterest pins and asked, “This is where you celebrate aging?”

Yup, that too!

Parkinson’s and Depression: My Perspective

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It should be obvious from my blog posts that my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease is not a death sentence. It is a “shit-this-sucks!” sentence. The disease has slowed down Chris’s ability to move and, perhaps, to think.

But it is not a stopping or a slowing down of the love he feels from and to and with other human beings.

Chris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 12 years ago. His first symptom was stiffness in one arm. It didn’t swing much when he walked. He seemed to have an ever-so-slight drag in his step. More symptoms, such as a mask-like visage and stooped posture, have appeared since the time of his diagnosis. The years have not been easy.

Chris still thinks he got a better deal with a Parkinson’s diagnosis than a diagnosis of A.L.S. or some other fast-acting kind of cancer. He thinks Parkinson’s is not the worst disease.

Like Robin Williams, Chris is (and was) an extraordinarily talented comic and dramatic actor, conversationalist, and, yes, humanitarian. Chris is not acting that much anymore. He’s winning awards for his translations of Chekhov. He’s working on writing projects and directing plays. (He’s still a pretty good conversationalist and humanitarian.)

More importantly, he continues to excel at loving his children and his family. That is essential.

Now, about depression.

This is tough to talk about. Chris was briefly on anti-depressants (Lexapro, I think) for a malaise or depression that may have appeared around the same time as his Parkinson’s. He felt that the pills did not help. He felt that it was just one more damn pill to take. He has to take a lot every single day to keep his neurons firing.

The neurologist did not push these pills. He addressed my complaints about Chris’s symptoms by suggesting that they fit the criteria of apathy, not depression. And apathy, Dr. Ford said, is more annoying to the people living with the apathetic person than to the person who has the apathy. (And there was a bit of joking that I, as the complaining party, was the one who needed the antidepressants. Not the identified patient. But I declined.)

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Chris and his friend Dan are making a documentary about their life in the theater and with the disease of Parkinson’s http://www.theendgameproject.com/

Apathy, turns out, is not an uncommon side effect of Parkinson’s.

From my point of view (and I have encouraged Chris to write from his perspective), depression, apathy, and Parkinson’s Disease – these diseases do, in fact, totally suck. They deplete the quality of life. Because Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive disease, the symptoms continue to worsen. The disease and its symptoms require a person to constantly fight inertia or apathy. Or depression.

And for some, perhaps Robin Williams, who carried a compounding of diseases, the heavy weight of the battle was too much to carry. (I am not judging. I am writing from my own point of view. I know that we — every single one of us — is fighting his or her own battles. I cannot judge. Only love.)

From my experience, the part of a human being that is capable of giving and receiving love does not seem to be affected by Parkinson’s Disease. Perhaps, one’s capacity for love is what makes us human. And life worth fighting for. (But, again, it may not be enough.) Is love, in fact, what makes life worth living?

Just for today. One day at a time.

When all else – body, mind — fails, perhaps, we should celebrate when love remains.

Mental Health is Wealth

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I’ve blogged after a celebrity death before. And I don’t really want to do it again. I have nothing new to say. What does it matter whether it was a celebrity, friend or family member who committed suicide? It’s horrible.

Chris in the movie Awakenings, played Dr. Sullivan.

Chris in the movie Awakenings, played Dr. Sullivan.

Robin Williams worked with Chris once. Chris played a doubtful doctor in the movie Awakenings. And he said Robin Williams was very funny, acerbic, a great mime on the set. He was always on and creative. Chris liked him.

I felt sad. As if I knew this guy. That he was one of us.

And then I felt angry too. Shit. He had it all – career, money, relationships, friends. But wait — he was missing one important thing – he didn’t have mental health.

I have only occasionally been sick. It sucks. Physical illness sucks. Mental illness sucks too. If I just have a little cold, I’ll tell you about it. But depression is another beast. A lot more than a psychic cold.

I think I was depressed deeply, 20 years ago, when my ex and I split up. All food tasted dry. I didn’t feel like eating much. I lost about 20 pounds. But I got myself back (with the help of friends, family, comedy, and cinnamon rolls, oddly – something about their gooey sweetness made me feel glad to be alive.) It was a situational depression. It abated. It was about the loss of my first marriage.

Sometimes I feel slight depressed about my situation now too. I wish that Chris was who he was before he had Parkinson’s Disease. When he was in big movies. But this morning in the Adirondacks he and I played tennis and then we swam out to the reef (what is that? Like a mile?) How lucky — how blessed are we?

Tomorrow I’m picking up our daughters from camp. And Friday, I’ll pick up my son and his cousins from their flight from Chicago. Next week all five the Coudal siblings and their kids and our parents will be together. I have so much to be grateful for.

But mostly, I have good physical and mental health. That’s not nothing.

The Sharing Economy

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I’m a believer in the sharing economy. I think the world is changing. We are no longer worshipping at the altar of capitalism. We are divesting. I love minimalism.

The point of life is not to accrue, but to share. The more you share, the richer you are. Here are my examples: On my blog, I’m oversharing. I’m into carsharing and bikesharing.

And I’ve jumped into housesharing. My first experience was a few weeks ago with AirBnB – it was  wonderful.

AirBnB

Chris, Hayden and I were in Vermont. We were visiting the girls at camp. Charlotte was in the show, Twelve Angry Women, an all-female production of the classic Twelve Angry Men. The show got out late so rather than driving back across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks, I drove us fifteen minutes to a neighboring town of Essex Junction. We stayed with Mike and Iris whom I’d booked with on AirBnB.

Mark and Iris, 50 ish, greeted us at the door at about 11 pm. They showed us in to a screened-in porch and laid out a cheese and fruit platter. They were friendly and very good listeners. I’m a huge fan of deep listening. But they were good talkers too. We chatted about politics, parenting, and the arts. We could’ve talked well into the night. But finally, we went to bed.

Hayden had his own room and so did we. We had a private bath. I think the two bedrooms were formerly their grown sons’ rooms. Breakfast was lavish, delicious, and healthy. Mark and Iris have opened their house to 70 some travelers over the past four or five years. They said everyone’s been interesting and nice. Their experience with housesharing has been great.

A week or two ago, Hayden and I trekked across several states, staying with family, friends, at hotels, at a guest house in Chautauqua. Outside of Cleveland, we were going to stay at another AirBnB – a former Brooklynite, actress and writer – Hello, new friend! But that didn’t work our –some glitch in the listing and they didn’t have two rooms. No worries, I received a full rebate. And we had an even better time with old friends.

I asked Hayden, “Among all the places, the half dozen, where we’ve stayed in the past few weeks, where was your favorite?”

“With Mark and Iris,” he said.

Chris and I are going back to stay with Mark and Iris on Sunday. The girls are in another show — this time, my darling has the lead in Drowsy Chaperone! (brag!)

Because of our housesharing experience, I’d love to open our big, gorgeous, family-friendly apartment to weary travelers, but I think it’s still a sticky wicket in the city. (And I do not want to jeopardize our lease.)

In any case, I’ll find new ways to share.  That’s the trend and the currency that counts.

 

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Charlotte (in black and white) argues a point. Twelve Angry Women. Jury room dispute.

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Fenton Memorial Deaconess Home in Chautauqua Institution, one of our stops on the road trip.

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Our beach on Lake Champlain. Sharing room on the raft.

Meeting the Coach

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Before we embarked on this college tour, I pestered Hayden mercilessly to contact the swim coaches of the schools we were about to visit. He would say, “I’m not good enough for a swim scholarship.” I thought it was worth a shot. And his high school coach thought he could swim at division 3 schools, (which don’t give athletic scholarships).

But I’d back off from the pestering, knowing the more I pushed, the less he’d do. He’s an excellent student and a great swimmer. He places in the top few spots against all of the other small private NYC high schools. Next year, he’ll be captain. But he tells me he does not register on the nation’s or even the east coast’s list of top-notch swimmers. He’s good but not great.

So after an infraction last Saturday night, (which I won’t go into here – but use your imagination, he’s 17) one of his seven punishments or consequences was to write to three college swim coaches. The whole list of consequences he deemed to be more “productive” than punishing.

He set up one interview at one of the small Midwest liberal arts schools last week. The interview went really well. He was a little nervous. I thought I’d wait out in the hall. But I was with the coach and Hayden the whole time.

The coach, who looked like a college student himself, was impressed by Hayden’s height and potential. He told H. about the practice hours for the college swim — 6:30 to 8 am and then like 4 to 6 pm. Grueling. He showed us around the pool and the weight room. He seemed interested in having H. come back for a visit with the team.

If Hayden’s swim ability gives him an edge when considered for admission into a fantastic school, bring it on. He could contribute well to a team. It would give him a ready group of friends. He is already a hard worker. Discipline and practice would make him even better.

The experience of visiting colleges with Hayden has vaulted me into my own college memories. How hard my classes were! How I learned the knack for sitting in the front row of my classes, knowing then, as now, I am prone to distraction. And I loved getting to know my teachers. You are more memorable when you sit in the front row.

Beyond evaluating my own college experience, taking Hayden on this college tour has reminded me that parenting is a dance of push me/pull you/back off/stay on it.

After the interview with the swim coach, Hayden told me, “Mom, I should have been interviewing with swim coaches this whole time.” I bit my tongue. I did not tell him, “I told you so.” Though I felt like it (and I’m telling you!)

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Campus at Colgate University

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Another amazing guide. Tour of Hamilton College (we thought this looked like Harry Potter-land).

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!)