Write it Down

I do not know what is on my mind until I write it down. I journal every morning and sometimes I write gratitude lists at night.

Why write? This is a difficult national and personal time. My husband Chris’s health is declining. And our democracy may be unraveling. My small contribution — whether I jot down my feelings or write to my congresspeople — feels futile.

The world is falling apart. I’d prefer to write about the joys of female friendship or my take-aways from the Press Club journalism conference? I wonder, Who cares what I think and why bother?

Usually in October, I’ve tried to post on this blog every day. The more I write, the more engaged I feel and the more I engage with other bloggers. New York City is so beautiful in the fall. I feel an uptick in civic and personal contribution when I write on a daily basis.

The impulse or compulsion to write fuels me, provides me with greater resilience to cope with worries, be they about work, family, or country.

I want to write:

  • essays
  • poetry
  • grocery lists
  • goals
  • to do lists
  • dreams
  • money matter musings
  • resume and cover letters
  • emails to far-flung family
  • witty status updates on social media
  • biting commentary on twitter
  • handwritten letters

I want to write about the smell of flowers at the bodega – how they’re trying to be fresh despite their lengthy stays in the refrigerator.

The world is roiling. The anger of the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg is justified and righteous. She does not censor herself. Her words and spirit remind me to not suffer in silence and to speak out about my fears and hopes.

Unashamed to work for Hillary Clinton, I will not be ashamed to work for whomever the Democrat party presents as their candidate — although my top choice is Elizabeth Warren.

The unethical and immoral behavior of our current commander in chief shocks me. I am not afraid for the future because young people – okay, yes, some are obsessed with their own selfies and videogames — but they are also leading the charge for justice and for full inclusion for all people. For after all, the government is supposed to be run by the people for the people.

And that is why I write. That quote from brother’s company, Field Notes, sums it up, ‘I’m not writing to remember it later, I am writing to remember it now.’

I snapped this pic as I was heading via ferry to my friend’s place in Hoboken – sometimes you need to get away from it all and see the big picture. Writing helps me do that.

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The Press Club’s Journalism Conference

On September 7, I attended the 27th Annual Press Club Conference on Journalism at NYU. As a former staff writer, and frankly, an American citizen, I appreciate the role of the press in a democracy. A free press is a pillar upon which this union stands and if the press crumbles, so goes the country. I’m not being old school here – responsible journalism and truth-telling is a civic responsibility. And, as Chris Cuomo says, “Let’s get after it.”

Journalism panel at the Press Club – more diversity, please!

The keynote speaker was Ross Buettner who along with Susanne Craig and David Barstow got after it when the New York Times reporters broke the story of how Trump inflated his ego (and flat out lied) by calling himself a self-made millionaire. Truth was he inherited, squandered, and exaggerated his millions. It’s curious why this story did not have legs, as they say. Maybe it’s that we, the American people, are bombarded with falsehoods every fricken’ day, including on this day, September 11, 2019 – has Trump (DT) no shame? — and we’ve become inured to this shady executive in chief’s penchant for falsehoods and exaggerations.

One question for the keynoter: “Is DT an outlier?” And the answer is, indubitably, “Yes,” the man is an outlier. We, the people, are so much better than this charlatan currently occupying the Oval Office.  

Investigative reporters like Barstow, Craig, and Buettner are my modern-day heroes. And like so many people of principle, they choose humility over self-aggrandizement. For example, Buettner admonished, “You always wanna’ be checking your own BS.” Wise words.

Also sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid,” said Alana Pipe in the workshop on Making Data a Routine Part of Your Beat, which featured two additional amazing investigative and data savvy reporters, Irina Ivanova and Will Bedderman, who specialize in using data to unearth hidden stories. These data and investigative stories take time to simmer so this kind of reporting requires patience, which is difficult for me. However, I remind myself to stay on topic and not chase side stories. I am so easily distracted: what’s the shiny new thing? Hey, I tell myself, follow the truth — but make it sparkly. After all, writers are competing for the attention of readers who might prefer shiny games like Candy Crush to the depressing news.  

Amanda FitzSimons listens to Hannah Bae’s wise counsel for freelancers.

The workshop on Workin’ It: Making It as a Freelancer was chock-full of advice. Hanna Bae  (@hanbae) was a fount of knowledge. Here are a few of her suggestions, plucked from my Twitter feed @MaryBethC

  • New voices, submit your writing to the WSJ and the Washington Post’s the Lily.
  • Use your interests. The topic of academic stress was interesting to Bae so she wrote about specialized high schools.
  • Reach out to local bureau chiefs in international settings for assignments and for professional development.
  • Peer mentors and friends are the best networking buddies!
  • Never pitch on social media; use thoughtfully worded emails.

In the conference’s opening plenary, panelists Zach Fink, Harry Siegel, Ruby Cramer, and Michael Calderone discussed The Media’s Responsibility in Election 2020. How can the press report differently (better!) this time around? Here again, my advice? Do not chase shiny objects!

On a discussion of whether journalists fear for their safety in a climate of hate-mongering from the president, both Ruby Cramer and Michael Calderone agreed that female and people of color journalists receive more hate on social media than their white male colleagues.

Zack Fink spun the current political morass as one that has sparked an uptick in civic engagement, a new “level of wokeness,” calling the current political climate “a backlash to elitism.”  

Still, there were calls for greater diversity in newsrooms (okay, that was me). Most of the audience seemed to be young people, women, and people of color yet the panelists and our media’s talking heads are often white, male pundits.

I think that the event was sold out because the Press Club supported college students and young journalists to attend the conference. We need these young people and we need the freakin’ press. Support your local journos.

To join the Press Club, I had to submit a few of my press clippings and pay my membership dues. Growing up, my father was a member of the Chicago Press Club and to me, there was nothing fancier than a night out to dinner with my parents and a bunch of press people. This is still true today!

On Twitter you can follow the thought leaders whom I heard from: @russbuettner @JenKayW @AbigailPesta @ZackFinkNews @mlcalderone @alanapipe @iaivanova @WendyJPollack @aefeldman @marypilon @rubycramer

They work in outlets such as: @CNN, @NY1, @BuzzFeed, @politico, @nytimes, @CrainsNewYork, @CBSNews,

Family Update

I posted this info on CaringBridge today. That website is so helpful for staying informed on the health concerns of family and friends. So here’s the latest on my friend and family (and spouse) John Christopher Jones.

Chris has been struggling lately. He has lost a lot of his get up and go. This is the result of Parkinson’s (diagnosed in 2003) and shorter periods of the medicine kicking in and doing its thing.

We are taking some proactive steps. And looking in to some alternative living situations where he can get more care — one way we’ve done this is through hiring our beloved caregiver Loreeta to come and spend the night four or five nights a week for the last couple of weeks. She helps Chris up several times in the night so that we all can get a good night’s sleep. Hayden and I and any other child or friend who is around are all on duty at all other times to give him a lift or a push or adjustment or whatever’s required. While Chris still loves to shop and cook, his mobility needs are becoming very challenging.

We realized how challenging things were for Chris when he went for two weeks of respite care to the Will Rogers Home in Saranac Lake. Chris totally enjoyed the activities — hours of bridge and outings. He saw a moose! But Chris needed more help than an independent living location allowed — for example, he was calling to the front desk in the night for a hand up to get to the bathroom and this was a bit beyond the pay scale of the night clerk. So for the last few nights there, Chris hired a live-in helper.

Saranac Village, Will Rogers Home. Chris enjoyed happy hours on the porch and pool in the basement.

In any case, we’ve begun doing some due diligence back in NYC — researching places for more support. Chris would like to stay near New York as this is where his family, friends, church, career, life have been. We visited Woodland Pond in New Paltz where our friends live. But it seemed like a pricey investment and may not even have been viable due to Chris’s preexisting condition of advancing Parkinson’s — and again, he needs more help than independent living places offer.

Next week we’re looking at a residence on the Upper East Side. And Chris will be going for respite with his sister, generous and caring, in Florida in the coming weeks. We are blessed with loving families.

All this news and on a personal note, my wonderful father Edgar’s health is declining — his heart appears to be problematic and he has lost a lot of mobility as well.

So keep us all in your thoughts and prayers. The girls are entering their sophomore years. Catherine has returned to Kenyon College last week. She has a job in the film department and thinks that film might be her major. And Char heads off to Northwestern University as a transfer student — perhaps majoring in theater and computer science. Hayden had a great summer making beats and teaching at Horizons at St. David’s summer camp. He was an Italian and music major at Wesleyan and has begun looking for a job. We love watching our kids grow into young adults. They are and have always been our front and center — the heartbeat that we dance to.

One more side note: On this year’s Labor Day, I want to thank the unions that my husband is a part of — the SAG-AFTRA Union and Actors’ Equity. Our family gets our health insurance through SAG-AFTRA and it has always been a great comfort to have such a strong union supporting our family and, especially, Chris.

Spa Day for the Weary Writer’s Soul

author
stately noble
fussily editing
slowly
accurately
wearing tweed
male

writer
flowing dreaming
on a tear
sassily
barefoot
wearing silk
female

When writers write and share their words, the words circle above them like fairies who fly to awaken the Ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Then the deities, grand and small, gather, as if around a beach campfire, to send the red crackling words into the air.

It is the author or writer’s task to grab the words before they dim. Words like fireflies who once roamed the land, begin to fade, come Autumn.

another poem – a haiku

central park green lawn
sunbathers, frisbees, babies
grass, a blanket from below

below the earth, worms
tunnel, aerate, make new homes
with roots, turning soil

central park green play
sunny day leads to starry
Shakespeare night, above

These words emerged from last weekend’s writing retreat with J. Ann Craig — so good. We wrote prayers, songs, and erotic poetry.

I sort of organized the day. (I wanted to say ‘helped organize,’ but honestly, I did most everything: found the place, procured the leadership, encouraged attendance, ordered and set out the food.) But it was Rutgers Presbyterian Church who hosted the day at the House of the Redeemer. More than a dozen of us, beautiful women, writers and artists of life, gathered to set the world right.

Do not doubt for a minute that writing has the potential to heal the world. In this fractured time in our country, there is something necessary about writing down our truths — in our revealing, there is revelation. The authentic self emerges and writers’ words are free to bind the brokenness in our hearts and in the hearts of our communities.

Here is the room where we wrote. I did not snap any pictures on the day of the retreat, because I wanted to immerse myself in the here and now. I chose not to get tugged away from the day — as my instagram feed, at times, pulls me away from feeling fully present.

Join the Summer Writing Weekend – June 20-23, 2019

Writing is a solitary endeavor so the connection with other writers inspires and energizes you. Fill your soul with stories. Feel braver after a weekend away when you return to your writer’s desk. Write your one, true, beautiful story.

Here is my advice on getting the most out of writing conferences:

  • Go deep fast
  • Take time to walk alone
  • Read your work
  • Make one friend
  • Whisper the words that you long to hear
  • Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest
  • Reveal the unspoken story
  • Know that you are not alone

I love writing weekends because, beyond the substantive information, there is always depth, laughter, and understanding among writers.

Last summer we were a small and mighty group at our weekend in Lake George. We empowered each other as writers and fellow travelers on life’s crazy and unexpected journey. We want to do it again.

In this writing workshop, you’ll feel a sense of belonging.

For more information about the June 20-23 weekend, check out
http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/register/adirondack-writer-retreat/

(The early registration pricing has just been extended until April 15, 2019. $545 all inclusive — $285 without housing.)

more details? Click on the Adirondack Writing Retreat

Melissa McCarthy – Happy Living Women’s History

Melissa McCarthy takes a bath every evening. This is something my sister-in-law Shami advised that I do when I first had children. I love this advice. A bath is a great way to unwind. Ya know, ‘Calgon, take me away!’ and all that.

Today, let’s celebrate McCarthy for Women’s Living History Month. I know it’s International Women’s Day and McCarthy is from Illinois. Well, so am I. Yet. Her humor (and mine) is international. Like a Monty Python comedian, she is not afraid to play a variety of good-natured, but unattractive and clueless characters — Sean Spicer, anyone?

She’s real. It’s bizarre that I have to say this but for a woman to appear less than perfect in the media is an act of courage in this crazy era.

I love to watch someone who just goes for it and isn’t worried about whether it’s silly or awkward or unflattering. – Melissa McCarthy

Me too! I love the silliness of McCarthy’s humor. She was so good in Can You Ever Forgive Me? I have an affinity for movies about writers and movies about alcoholics and this is a good one. Although I could quibble with the way that alcoholism is portrayed, I do appreciate her characterization of Lee Israel as a fun-loving, hard-working, criminal loner. Writing is a lonely business — we get that from the movie. Like Lee Israel, I think every good writer has seen their income decline. I know, I relate to the present-day financial slump of a writing career.

McCarthy is a major Hollywood producer. I would like to shine a light on other amazing women performers who produce too — looking at you, Reese Witherspoon. But I chose McCarthy because she is so prolific and her production company is, according to this New York Times magazine article, an assemblage of good-natured and varied women.

McCarthy brings warmth to all of the characters she portrays, such as the fun mom in the movie where she goes to college, Life of the Party. So funny. I can totally relate to that character too — as I try not to be an embarrassment to my kids, in my trying, I become an even bigger source of “Oh My God, MOM!!” (Endearingly so!)

McCarthy is every woman — or maybe she’s just me — smart, sassy, multi-faceted, funny, enthusiastic. Her movies are a balm to my soul. McCarthy, take me away!

photo courtesy of wikipedia By Mingle MediaTV – Melissa McCarthy DSC_0812, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33233911

Heather McGhee — Women’s Living History Month

Happy Women’s History Month! Let’s celebrate the month by engaging in a little Shine Theory, which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded the world about this week. That is, we amplify the women. While it’s thrilling to celebrate all of the amazing women of yesteryear, I’m looking around today to celebrate the phenomenal women who are making real differences in the arts and letters today.

Let’s cheer today’s hero Heather McGhee — brainy, creative, and passionate. She was president of Demos, a liberal think tank, for years. She is now a Senior Fellow there, in addition to her work as a commentator on MSNBC.

I first met Heather when my friend Joanna’s mom, Donna Parson, was in the hospital and Heather and I were in the waiting room together. Yes, she was president of one of the biggest and most influential think tanks in the country, and, on that Sunday morning, McGhee still found time to bring coffees, pastries, and, I think, bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, to the family and friends of a colleague in the intensive care unit.

Whenever I see McGhee as a pundit or thought leader on television, I am reminded that she does not run from difficult situations and places. She sits with you and brings food for thought. It is a comfort, in these times, to know you’re not alone. McGhee also has a background in the arts, I learned, when I did a quick Google Search.

Incidentally, Joanna Parson, cross-discipline genius of the written, spoken, and performed word recently reminded her social media followers to honor Donna Parson, her mother, by taking one or many of these actions:

1) Drink a chocolate ice cream soda.
2) Drink a rootbeer float.
3) Send a card to someone.
4) Give a teeny little present to someone.
5) Shop for a teeny little present and hold it, knowing you will someday give it to someone.
6) Read and pay for The New Yorker, The Nation, The American Prospect, The New York Times, Mother Jones, the Washington Post— this list grows and becomes more urgent as our need to support the free press grows.
7) Celebrate the incredible tenure of Heather C. McGhee, of whom Donna was so proud, as President of Demos, by making a small donation here: www.demos.org.
8) Read Thomas Paine, Lillian Hellman, Donald Hall, or anything, really.
9) Go to a cultural event or live performance.
10) Learn where Estonia is on a map (and celebrate the successful return of our family land in Viljandi County to my sister and I after a process began in 1997 by my father, and sustained by Donna for so many years, finally completed!)
11) Call a relative.
12) Talk to someone substantially older or younger than yourself.
13) Shop at a thrift store or flea market.
14) Plan a trip.
15) Eat a good meal, preferably while laughing.