My 2013 in review

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I should take stock. Here I am winding down the hours of 2013. For the first time in my life, or since I was single any way, I’m invited to four New Year’s parties and one private New Year cocktail party with a BFF so I’ll probably hit the two parties and that one cocktail party.

But I feel a little melancholy. Maybe because my brother-in-law Dan had a stroke a week and a half or so ago and it really bummed me and the whole extended Jones family out. He’s an aces kind of guy — good listener and all. He’s recovering but has a long freakin’ haul. And I guess that’s the thing — no one’s promised another day. This is it. This day’s all we’ve got.

In 2013, I continued to draw life, energy, humor from my kids. What can I say? They drive me bananas but I like bananas. My husband also drives me bonkers. And I’m not as much a fan of bonkers as bananas. He got a bad deal with the Parkinson’s Disease and it’s slowing him down. When he asked the neurologist about the progression of his disease a couple of weeks ago, the doc basically said his progression is average.

Chris was diagnosed almost 11 years ago. It’s been a long time and continues to be a long downhill slide. That being said, I have a compulsive need to always mention him positively on this blog — in the event anyone who knows both of us reads this, so here goes: He continues to be a wonderful person — still very much into theater and cooking and family. He had a nice success in 2013 being featured on the radiolab podcast.

For myself, I also enjoyed some writing successes. The biggest deal was being featured in the Listen To Your Mother Show, a national reading by authors about mothers. We performed live on Mother’s Day at Symphony Space. My piece was funny and angry and honest. I loved performing again. The best part? I made some awesome new friends.

On the creative front, I’ve also been working on a novel that I’ve begun to show some people and the responses are pretty good. And I like it. It’s kind of like Breaking Bad for middle-aged mothers — angry, funny, and honest again! I want to add more sex scenes, but am overcome with embarrassment every time I try that. (And again, I’m very worried about people I know reading it and judging me!)

On this blog, I tried to systematize my posts and hit publish every Friday and Sunday, which helped me in the discipline department. I’ve loved posting pics and media on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook too!

For paid work, I’ve had some nice successes. But I’ll post more about that in the new year. I’ve got a couple of new things brewing. But I’ve got to run now — put on some lipstick and dress up for a night out.

So let me shake off this melancholy and shake the champagne bottle. Here’s to 2014!

***

Here’s the WordPress.com 2013 annual report for my – MBCoudal blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013.

Click here to see the complete report.

20131231-175646.jpgHere we are at a sushi restaurant in Montreal a few days ago! So cold!

20131231-175736.jpgThis was after our 5K run on Thanksgiving Day. I considered doing the New Year’s Central Park run tonite, but it’s too damned cold.

Wanted: Help

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I do not like asking for help. At last week’s lecture on teen boys, Rosalind Wiseman said getting help is a lifelong skill, I agreed, intellectually.

I am the driver who does not like asking for directions. In fact, I am the sole long-distance driver in my family. Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease — or his meds — have compromised his ability to drive. My son does not yet have his permit. We don’t own a car any more. But I am the family driver, metaphorically too.

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At the Yacht Club with Lindsay a few weeks ago. We were toasting out new rules for living.

In 2009, on Lindsay’s birthday, we made up 7 rules for living on the back of a paper napkin while drinking champagne at the Yacht Club. This year we did it again, but had to finish up over coffee the next morning at the Inn. Lindsay Pontius and I made up seven new rules for living. And I will blog about these rules in the coming weeks.

In the last round of rules, my number one rule was Pile on the People. Which I then changed to Pile on the Useful People. Because, at some point, I felt that I was helping more than I was helped by helpful babysitters, caregivers, friends.

For example, I remember hiring a professional babysitter when Hayden was a tot. She took Hayden to the playground, while I stayed home and folded laundry. I loved the playground. I hated the laundry.

Luckily, at that time, I had a therapist, April Feldman, who helped me see the error in this equation. Do the fun stuff. Farm out the chores, like the laundry.

Because of Chris’s Parkinson’s, everyone says to me (and I say to myself) “Get help!” But piling on more people (for me) is often piling on more work. I am exceedingly generous, even to the point of bankruptcy.

This may have to do with my white (and wife) guilt for needing to hire caregivers at all. Caregivers are often people of color. I dont’ want anyone to think that I am better or believe I am better than they are. We are all equal.

The typewriter on the counter at the inn in Westport. So charming.

The typewriter on the counter at the inn in Westport. So charming.

So what can I do?

  1. Care about the helpers
  2. Go to the park
  3. Farm out the tasks I don’t like
  4. Get help
  5. See that asking for help requires practice.

I wrote this at the 475 Riverside Drive ecumenical library’s first and third Wednesday of every month writing group a couple of weeks ago.

The post was inspired by today’s Daily Prompt. The task was to grab any book, open anywhere, go to the 10th word. I grabbed Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale: A Memoir. My word was “wanted.” As in, Wanted: Help.

A Little More

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Last night we saw A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend, a funny, sad one-man show with and by Chris Clavelli about the death of his 6-year old son Jess.

clavelliThis sucks. I mean the play is awesome, but the show reminds you that life sucks.

Life is a total crap shoot. You get shit. You get joy. You live. You die. Other people live and die too.

You have to talk about it. You have to write about it. You have to tell about it. You have to live it. You have to make something, maybe theater, out of it.

The sucky part, sometimes, is living on and getting up when you feel like curling up in bed and not getting up.

***

Taking the garbage out last night with my daughter Charlotte, one of our neighbors, a former Hollywood starlet from the 1950s (and this is not even giving her away because we have several senior actresses in our building), asked me, “How’s your boyfriend?” or something like that.

Charlotte looked at me quizzically.

“He’s doing good,” I said, about my husband. “He’s got a great creative spirit. Is directing a show upstate this summer.

The former starlet said, “He’s wonderful. He’s got a twinkle in his eye and great artistry despite the tragedy of his life.”

We said good bye at the recycling bin.

“What did she say?” Charlotte asked. “The what of his life?”

“The tragedy. I suppose, she meant the tragedy of his Parkinson’s diagnosis,” I told my daughter.

I don’t think of my husband Chris’s life as a tragedy.

This is not the first time a neighbor has used stark terms to refer to my husband’s disease in front of my kids. I guess, in the dailiness of life, the reality of Chris’s illness is not a tragedy, it’s normal.

It is not always a comedy, but tragedy? I don’t know.  Chris feels he is lucky. He feels there are worse diagnoses.

***

This is the second time I’ve seen Clavelli’s play. It’s blown me away. Made me laugh and cry.

I am friends with Clavelli, and his girlfriend Leonisa, who funnily enough, was my work out buddy at my former workplace, before she and Clavelli got together.

The play reminded me to hug my darlings, to love the people in my life, to laugh and cry with them, to talk about truths, to listen to other people’s truths, to make art.

When someone tells their truth, I can’t argue or judge. Hearing someone’s truth makes me want to tell my truth. Because, I know, making art is a way of healing.

Life is a tragic-comedy.

***

Any way, go see Clavelli’s show. It’s really good. It’s only running in June in NYC.

Related stories

Chris Clavelli

A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend

Beauty in Tragedy, The Poem (writingsofamrs.wordpress.com)

I blog about happiness and honesty

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When I started blogging, I had four blogs:

  • My Beautiful New York, my NYC people and places
  • Running Aground, my goal to run a 5K
  • the Connected Life, getting my kids off technology
  • A Church A Day, on trying to find meaning by visiting a church a day.

Now they’re all rolled into one (thanks to web developer extraordinaire Felicity Fields). This one, To Pursue Happiness, is about those four goals and the primary goal: to stay happy.

I pursue happiness though I may have absolutely no reason or right.

I feel a loss that my kids are growing up at lightning speed. I feel a sadness that my husband is increasingly challenged by his Parkinson’s Disease.

While these are challenges, they don’t define me. I don’t have to enter or stay in a place of permanent sadness or loss. Life is about what you do with the hand of cards you’re dealt. And I’m dealing.

I’m thriving. I’m staying honest. I’m finding joy. Two great joys in the last couple of weeks were:

Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show

Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show

  • As a cast member of Listen To Your Mother at Symphony Space
  • As the leader of Artists’ and Writers’ weekend in the Adirondacks.

I was anxious about how these would turn out. Would I deliver the goods? Could I? I did!

In these forums, I could be honest, funny, and surprising.

I could write about and share a lot of feelings, including but not limited to sadness or happiness. A range of emotions, even ambivalence and anger, is acceptable and encouraged in my writing.

So while I still do feel, at times, lost, I can find myself through writing and in the company of other women writers. That’s how I pursue happiness.

***

from LTYM

Before the Listen To Your Mother show, the cast warmed up. And that’s Shari Simpson-Cabelin, assistant director, doubled-over, laughing. (I’m in the white pants.) (Photos by Jennifer Lee)

At last week’s Listen To Your Mother show, I was reminded that I am not alone. There are a lot of women telling their truths, deep stories about hardship and love.

Here are some of the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) New York City posts from my fellow cast members.

Thanks to Shari’s blog for compiling these so I could repurpose! And thanks to producer Holly Rosen Fink, a steady presence, who made this show such a hit.

I got to work with the fab director Amy Wilson, who blogged on motherhood conspiring against her, even as she put on a show.

Here are more stories from the Mother’s Day show.

  • Co-producer Varda Steinhardt‘s piece was about tracking the orbit of her sons’ stars. 
  • Marinka received the dreaded call from the nurse’s office, It’s Always Bad News.
  • Kim Forde, 8 and 1/2 month pregnant, read Welcome To The Circus, a guide to the family circus.
  • Elizabeth (Kizz) Robinson wrote About Me, on how to be child-free and loving.

I haven’t posted my story yet. I want it to be a surprise.

Over the summer, you can see the show at the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel. There will be videos from all 24 shows across the country, some still going on. Also, upcoming are professional photos of our NYC show by the awesome Jennifer Lee.

***

At my Adirondack retreat and at my LTYM show, I heard a lot of stories that make me go, “aww” – and I feel in the company of AWW — Awesome Women Writers.

Through relentless honesty, these women writers (and one guy) make it okay to be honest and to tell my story too.

***

In the Slow Lane

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When Chris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease nearly ten years ago, more than one family member said, “Now you’ll slow down.”

I thought the same thing. And I thought this again as I left my full time work almost five months ago. I will relax more, volunteer more, work out more, write more. I will do all of these things and I will slow down.

Um, not so much.

As my husband slows down, I feel inclined to twirl in my life twice as fast.

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Last week my daughter and I went to New Jersey for a camp reunion. This was the view that late afternoon.

I know I overdo. One day last week, I left the house at 7:45 am and got home at 9:30 pm. This was the fourth day in a row with these kind of hours. I had so much to do!!!

On any given day, I like experiencing a variety of settings — the after school office, spinning class, lunch with a girlfriend, free wifi at the local cafe, teaching, subway to SoHo, a meeting about my short comedy film, happy hour.

The only time I am in the slow lane is when I run. My goal is always to run a 13-minute mile.

Having a spouse with a chronic illness has made me want to get out there and interact with the world more, because, at times, the sadness of the disease’s progression simply brings me down and I cannot stay there.

Yet as lively as I want my outside world to be, I want my inside home to be a safe harbor and a cozy nest. This mama bird wants to fly back home with a mouth full of worms. I want to chill in front of the TV with my chicks.

And I want to do it now because I know my chicks are going to start to fly away soon.

My Mom, My Worries, My Optimism

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Today’s daily prompt is Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.

red barn

Took this pic a couple months ago upstate New York. I love a working landscape.

A few days ago, the prompt was:

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?

My five people include dear ole mum, so this blog post fulfills two daily prompts.

  1. My mom – though I don’t talk to her every day (or even, every week) I think of her all the time. I thank her for passing down her good looks, sense of humor, personal style, and intelligence to me. Of course, she did this in combo with my dad, I know. But Mom still does yoga, teaches college, and stands on her head every day. What’s not to love?
  2. My secret garden – I would like to say more but, ya know, shhhhhh, it’s a secret. And it’s a garden. So ya… (it’s one of 7 Rules for Surviving, so revisit this post.)
  3. My three kids – they are my front and center; my alpha and omega. Everything I do and everything I want to do, I do for the darlings.
  4. Jolain and my girlfriends – When I became a mother, I found my center, but I also worried I’d lost my mojo. With a strong community of women friends, I’ve kept myself intact, even when I regularly lose it.
  5. Hal and my former colleagues. I know this is crazy, but I love my ex-coworkers so much. I love their intelligence and their passion for making the world better. I’m glad I’ve moved on from my full-time work, but this year, my heart and my social life is still full of the awesome staff from United Methodist Women and the General Board of Global Ministries.

I know many wives would put their husbands on their top five people. And Chris and I do have a great thing going, but, let’s be honest, the Parkinson’s Disease has really put a cramp in our romantic lives. We still are great co-parents and movie-going comrades.

Speaking of movies, next week our Screen Actors Guild special screening, Chris and I will see Les Mis and the Hobbit. How does anyone ever work full-time when there are so many amazing movies to see every damn week?

I have three persistent worries. And these are:

  1. Will we manage as we embark on two and a half months without health insurance?
  2. How long does my husband have in fairly good health? (I know, I know, no one knows how long any of us have, but with a spouse with a chronic disease, you worry.)
  3. How will we pay for our three kids’ college?

My sources of optimism:

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my mom and my daughter, my raisons des etres.

  • my boot camp for writers, my new biz
  • my ability to make funny jokes
  • my obtaining more wisdom and patience as I age, (right? tell me there are gifts to ageing)
  • my crazy creative writing students
  • my president
  • my belief in the restorative nature of nature
  • working out
  • movies and books

Daily Prompt: Time Capsule

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2012 is drawing to a close (3 weeks left!). What would you put in this year’s time capsule?

collage for UMCOR

collage for UMCOR

I would put:

  • My collage art to promote UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Am so proud! This was an early version.
  • My bike. Oh, my bike. I love my bike. Biking in NYC makes me happy.

    seen in a bike shop window in Portland

    seen in a bike shop window in Portland

  • My first (ever!) unemployment direct deposit check. Definitely mixed feelings, but overall grateful.
  • My new business cards.
  • Masks that the girls made at Art Students League. We all play roles, wear masks, make art.
  • Chris’s SAG movie pass. Going to the movies together has been a great way to connect. Due to Chris’s illness and our busy-ness, I feel we are ships passing in the night. But we’ve sat together at such amazing movies this year! Yesterday we saw Amour. Formidable! (my favorite French word!) Today we are going to see The Guilt Trip.
  • Abeach handful of sand from Siesta Key beach. The kids and I had such a restorative time hanging out at the prettiest beach in the world last spring. Great times, too, with my bro, Nicole, dad, and Marty.
  • A mosquito from the kids and my ill-fated camping trip to Fire Island.
  • Yoga mat. Because my mom still practices yoga and stands on her head.
  • Shake Shack fries. After teaching a semester of middle school creative writing, I take my kids to Shake Shack to celebrate.
  • School Swimming Pool and Van Cortlandt Park. I watch my kids play basketball, soccer, and baseball, but I spend most of my spectator time on the sidelines of the long benches of the pool or on the edges of the Van Corltandt Park track.
  • all the cousins

    all the cousins

    All of the cousins. Being with my four siblings and their kids for Thanksgiving was definitely the highlight of 2012.

  • President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Just in case anyone, in the future, has any questions. The man is an American, all right already. Forward.

2012 was a very good year.