A Poem for History and Heritage Day

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Who was the nomad?
Was it you?
Did you use a walking stick?
A talking stick?
Did you find — as you journeyed — a sense of home?
Why did you leave?

Were you told to honor your father and mother?
But left any way
And now you are being left.

The natural right loneliness of the child, your child,
who fills his backpack, walks away and never looks back. Not once.
I don’t begrudge my children growing up.
I just didn’t know what you went through.
Until it happened to me.
It explains why everything fell apart.

Ancestors before me, have compassion. Forgive me.
I get to thinking it all began — I began –
when my grandparents and great grandparents came on a big ship
From Ireland and from Denmark and Norway.
Separate big ships. In the turbulent Atlantic sea.
Colliding in me.
Making my brothers and sisters too.
But mostly me.
I was born on three big ships crossing the Atlantic.

But I go back to fields and plains and caves.
Nomads.
Just like you.
We were all of us. Walking.
Walking with sticks.
Singing and laughing and arguing
And wondering who our children would be.

And now we set out, as nomads, again.

Where is your journey?
I hope you will find — as your journey — your way home.

Walking with a bag on a stick in Kenya

Walking with a bag on a stick in Kenya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wrote this and am reading this poem for History and Heritage Day, an alternative celebration to Columbus Day today at the Interchurch Center, NYC.  

Be Disruptive

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Yesterday I was at the awesome NYU Entrepreneurial Festival. A highlight for me was Luke Williams’ class on disruptive thinking. Here’s what I got out of it.

In your biz and in your life, chose the scary route. In this picture, look at the dude on the left, “Who is he? I don’t know — just the happiest guy I could find on the internet,” Williams said. “Why is he so happy? He’s complacent. He’s the face of all the companies we know. Doing what he’s always done, making small incremental changes.”

Luke Williams at the NYU Entrepreneurial Festival.

Luke Williams at the NYU Entrepreneurial Festival.

Like Kodak, everyone saw that Kodak’s biz was going down when digital cameras came along, but the CEO of Kodak basically said, “Why stick your hand in an engine that’s running?” If you’re the mechanic, you don’t reinvent the car while you’re supposed to fix it. Right? Williams is smart.

Now look at Janet Leigh. This is how your client or company should look — scared. And ready for change.

Hitchcock killed off his leading lady in the first 30 minutes of Psycho. No one had ever done that. Be like Hitchcock. Be counter-intuitive.

How do you do that? If sodas are supposed to be inexpensive, sweet, and aspirational; make them expensive, sour, and real.

Look for cliches — “widespread beliefs that govern the way people think and do business.” And then disrupt the cliches. Be like Little Mismatched, the company, that sells socks, not in pairs, but in singles or in threes.

Feed your own rebellious instinct — the one that wants change for the sake of change.

I plan to disrupt this endless winter with spring.

Spring starts in five days for me. I’m going to Sarasota, Florida for a few days, back to NYC for a few days, then to a dude ranch in Patagonia, Arizona with the family for almost a week, then just me and Hayden, my 11th grader, go to look to North Carolina (where I’ll offer a writing and art workshop with the fabulous Cindy Sloan.) And Hayden and I will visit a couple of colleges in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham for a few days.

I have been so slammed with work. Tomorrow and maybe a couple of more days this week, I’ll be subbing middle school English at a nearby prep school. I’m also continuing posts and articles with my fabulous blogging client. I have lovely tutoring jobs. I have an annual report due for a new client. I have to meet with my mentor to get my paperwork signed for my self employment assistance program.

I don’t want to disrupt my busy work life. But I don’t mind disrupting winter to get to spring. And summer.

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Walking towards 8th Street near NYU.

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Tending Twilight

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the day darkens. i get too tired. i find the housework oppressive.

i ask for help, then don’t want it. like in the decluttering. i don’t know why it bothered me. what to do with the tapes from my old show? leave me alone.

Today #snowday #gopark #riverside #park #urban...

Snow day in Riverside Park via mbcoudal

the snow — more of the same color of the same grey sky.

i like when the sky is a crisp blue, like today. then i can forgive the weather gods. i can go on. but when dark and grey, i want to stay in bed. i have only a few weeks left of winter. i would like them to be azure blue.

i would like blue sky days. but after all the grey — why is grey so like death?

i go to Florida — old people, malls, alligators.

for a few days, i sleep in a twin bed, and laugh with Nicole and my brother, (and dad and Marty). we talk about creativity.

Tonite at the lower school #sunset #riverdale ...

Lower school sunset in Riverdale via mbcoudal

that is the start of my spring. and that is followed by the buds on the trees in Riverside Park.

my kids get older, get away from me, find fault in me, our apartment, why don’t we have nicer floors?

the sun does not ask for thanks. so i try to just give light too. just do my job — mother, wife. but the endless giving becomes a chore.

sure, the sun must want a thank you. the grey day gets no thanks. for it takes my energy. it does not give. it is the negative ion. i need the positive.

the wind whips and the shadows blend into dark night. i know spring comes after winter, always taking me by surprise. then the summer. lighter, longer days of laughter, hugs.

we are destined for spring.

Laughter is the language of the soul

Laughter is the language of the soul (Photo credit: symphony of love)

I wrote this in a writing group last weekend. Here’s more writing from a blogger in the group: Wendy: the prompt that made me cry

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What To Do With My Free Time: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

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I thought when I left my job more than six months ago, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Um, not so much. As my friend, Linda B. said, “Looks like you’re having fun!”

Work is overrated. A regular paycheck definitely has its benefits, but there are way more valuable assets than money. One of which is time. I have had time, especially recently to visit with old friends.

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On one of these scorching hot days, we walked the High Line, the public park converted from railroad tracks. After walking this path from 30th street for a mile and a quarter down into NYC’s trendiest neighborhood, MeaPa, (the meat packing district), we stopped for brunch.

The flowers on the High Line are lovely.

The flowers on the High Line are lovely.

Besides time with friends, there’s something I’ve come to treasure lately: time alone — to read and paint.

Book club seems to be on a summer hiatus. I’m a huge Kindle fan, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of books: all kinds of books (don’t judge me): feminist, erotic, non-fiction, self help.

I started these three. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too.

These three books are on my bedside. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too. (Lest you think I’ve lost my literary bent.)

I love to make collage art and book journals.

I started taking class again at Art Students League. You receive very little instruction, but you get a ton of inspiration. Here’s a little project I worked on.

I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.

I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.

And then of course, I work on my biz, Boot Camp for Writers, teaching memoir writing workshops. I love teaching and writing. It’s really all I want to do. Well, that and walk the High Line, visit friends, make art, go to the theater, perform improv, make short films, and read books. That’s all.

Here’s the latest offering for the writing workshop biz: An afternoon memoir workshop and an evening salon in the Adirondacks – August 29, Thursday, 2-9, $25, dinner on your own.

This post was inspired by the daily post: a mystery

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.

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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.

***

Conflict Resolution and My Ideal Saturday Morning

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Writing about anything but yesterday’s tragedy in Newton, Conn, feels insensitive. But to cope with horrors, ordinary or extraordinary, I need to write. Through any endeavor, creative and artistic, we find out who we are, what we think, and how we feel. And we figure out how to go on.

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This morning I dropped off one of my daughters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I feel calm looking at art and making art. Thanks, Andy Warhol.

I’m a teacher, a mother, and a writer. I’ve been thinking about conflicts.

I know in families and schools and all our relationships, conflict is inevitable. But how we deal with our internal and external conflicts is optional. I believe our society preys upon our conflicts. Our media exploits our differences — red state vs. blue state; stay at home mom vs. working mom.

Honestly, we have more that unites us than divides us.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have to find a way to seek common ground and lift one another up, not put each other down. We cannot whip out automatic rifles when we cannot get along — with ourselves or with our mothers.

We have to find and share our public spaces like our schools and our museums. Our public places and institutions are sacred.

I teach my writing students that conflict is the essence of drama. We mustn’t avoid conflict. But we cannot rest in a place of constant conflict. We must learn to use conflict to further the plot of our lives, to reach out, to state our needs, and to work on how to find a common humanity. Even when we want to find a common enemy.

Every child and every adult should lean how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Those of us who live in cities and ride the subways or share public spaces know we must coexist. And when we cannot live peaceably with ourselves, our families or our neighbors, we must get help.

And as every one is saying on social media, getting help should be a whole lot easier than getting a gun. There is no shame in experiencing conflict or in getting help with whatever arise in our lives. The tragedy arises when we cannot resolve our conflicts without hurting someone else.

To manage our inner and outer conflicts, we can:

  • make art
  • write in a journal
  • talk to a friend
  • work out
  • seek professional help
  • listen to music
  • walk in nature
  • attend a worship service
  • read a book

I don’t know. There are probably a million ways to handle conflict healthily. But we must be taught them; they don’ t just come naturally.

Today’s daily prompt, What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

Ideally, I may do any of the above conflict resolution items.

I write in my journal. I read the paper. I drink coffee. I go for a run. I make a nice brunch for my family with bagels and lox. My kids clean up the brunch without being asked. Then I go to a nearby spa for a massage. The kids get themselves to wherever they may need to go — basketball, Bat Mitzvah. I feel at peace. I make art.

While the first few things I listed do happen, reading, writing, drinking coffee — the last few things don’t. I cannot control other people. (I am concocting a plan to make the kids more self-reliant and supportive of one another and of me and my husband.) I also do not get lox or a massage on a Saturday morning because I worry about the expense. I feel guilty spending money on myself during the holiday season. My budget is already pretty tight with kids’ presents and holiday travel. I guess that would be an ideal too, not feeling guilty.

Just for today, I teach my kids to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. I love them well and hold my dear ones close. Just for today, that is my ideal.

Here’s the link to today’s daily prompt: Me Time

Here’s an earlier blog post on Navigating Conflict. I learned these skills at the Girls Leadership Institute, an amazing group that empowers girls.

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