Alone Together

I like when we are alone together – it is one of the reasons that I love writing workshops. I set people on the path to write and then we write. Parallel play, we called it, when the kids were toddlers, doing their thing separately, happily, together in the room. Safe, solitary, together, alone.

Sometimes in art class, I feel all the other painters and I have dropped into a zone together. Like whoosh, we took an elevator down to a sacred place. We’re all this deep quiet, meditative place together, working and creating.

Any creative and collaborative venture can do this. Theater, too. When people are rehearsing their lines separately and then come together and one at a time, take their turns.

On Sunday, Chris and I, each played several parts in a reading of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas as a part of New York City’s Welsh Church. I played Mrs. Organ Morgan.

Mrs. Organ Morgan: But they’re two nice boys, I will say that, Fred Spit and Arthur. Sometimes I like Fred best and sometimes I like Arthur. Who do you like best, Organ?

Organ Morgan: Hm? Oh, Bach without any doubt. Bach every time for me…

This got a big laugh. But I certainly can relate to Mrs. Organ Morgan. Chatting away, happily, and then realizing that I have not been heard. Sometimes I feel alone in a marriage. And hey, tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day so I am offering a dollop of reality with all the day’s sweets: being married to someone with Parkinson’s — or any serious illness — can be lonely.

After the Under Milk Wood reading, an acquaintance of Chris’s patted him on the back. “You’ve still got it.” I hope that this made Chris feel good – that his Parkinson’s hasn’t ended his acting career. While I can complain about my loneliness, let’s face it, he’s the one who really got the raw deal.

Back on the bright side: I dig creating theater for the communal and solitary aspects of it. Everyone buys into a shared imaginative scenario. There’s magic in suspending disbelief. To me, it’s therapeutic to drift off into a dream-like world.

All creativity and making things is therapeutic. I like to make art, make friends, make dinner, simply make.

Lately, I have felt a new blossoming — thinking about possibilities for creative living and working.

Under Milk Wood takes place in an imaginary Welsh village Llareggub, which comes from ‘Bugger All’ backwards.

Thought for the day:

We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood – prayer of the Reverend Eli Jenkins in Under Milk Wood.

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Positive Self Regard

What you see is what you get. If you look for signs that you are disliked, you will find them. If you look for signs that you are loved, you will find them too. I believe this.

But this rugged self determinism doesn’t really take into account the reality that, in certain environments, there are truly biases working against you and, yes, biases, too, working in your favor. You do not even know what you’ve got or don’t have going for you. We discussed this the other night in a book club around the topics of hidden bias presented in Blindspot by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.

I encourage myself through positive self talk in my journals — I first learned how to do this, I think, when I read Gilda Radner’s book, It’s Always Something. She conducts a conversation with her childhood self at the end of the memoir. I have always believed there are many personalities within one person. This is why I love the theater, I guess.

My encouraging self talk is a way to drive out the nagging self doubt. We all have doubts. I always remember that even the pilot Sully who made the heroic landing feels he could’ve done more. Than what? Landing his plane on water? The Hudson River with its smooth runway caught his plane like a net ten years ago.

Yesterday in my watercolor class at the Art Students League, I was totally doubtful about my work as a fine artist. All of my watercolor sketches were spread across one wall for everyone to see. I felt like hiding under a bushel.

Later, I overheard two women talking — one was saying she would never be very good. The other said, ‘If you didn’t believe you could get better, maybe you’d stop trying.’ We are always on road to perfection. We have never arrived.

Yes. We need to encourage ourselves through positive self talk. But we also need to know we are moving towards becoming better. And there are forces working for and against us. The main point is to never quit.

Give yourself a break from self doubt.

What you are must always displease you if you are to accomplish that which you are not. – St. Augustine

Why Write?

I write to make sense of the world. I write because I am on the hunt to find meaning.

I write because I worry and need to reassure myself.

I write to make lists and tell myself to do tasks.

Sometimes I wonder if a woman should write as much as I do. I wonder if someone took away my keyboard — Would they tell me to get out there and get living? For me, living is writing. And writing is living. Writing is as essential as breathing. As dreaming.

Our dreams are our brains telling us stories. We need stories. We — I — write through the night.

The other night, I had a dream that I was on my phone, texting or scrolling. Scrolling or texting. I woke, feeling like I’d been cheated — you should not be on the phone when you are dreaming or writing.

Although my one writing friend is working on / writing a novel on his phone. I don’t know how the project’s going. He was swallowed into his phone and no one’s seen him for months. Maybe he will come back in a dream. Or in my writing. Like now.

When I ask myself, Why write? It is so that I, Ishmael, do not become swallowed into the big belly of the beast.

I write to find my way out of the whale.

I write my way in and my way out.

I wrote this Why I Write on 750words.com I don’t write every day, but I like looking back at what I’ve written. I like checking the boxes.

The Gifts of Growing Older at Work

Teaching is seen as a young person’s game — maybe it’s the sheer physicality of it — the bending down and looking at papers on short desks or stooping to have eye-to-eye conversations with rugrats.

Despite a possibly dwindling supply of energy as teachers dash between classrooms, older teachers bring truly needed gifts to schools. While many school administrators might be attracted to the enthusiasm and malleability (is that okay to say?) of young people, older people still have the zip and a growth mindset, as well as the patience and wisdom, of their younger colleagues.

Older people may also bring a larger connection or network of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, having spent years building up their rolodexes, filofaxes, and then, moving all those hard copy contacts to their LinkedIn sites. And of course, the best PR for any school or non-profit is word of mouth. If a school or biz wants a good rap, give the older people in their employ somethings to brag about. Let them brag about the awesome intergenerational mix of employees. It’s so good for teachers to model for their students how older and younger teachers work together and learn from one another — true examples of character-building and growth mindsets, attributes we all love to see in one another.

Total generalization here — but it seems to me that people over 55 are slower to anger. Working with kids requires a ton of patience and a great sense of humor. These are some of the reasons I love my second career of teaching.

Sadly, one former older teacher colleague has said that he stopped learning some of the lower school and younger teachers’ names because they come and go so quickly. I believe that older teachers stay longer, have more loyalty.

Not that anyone asked, but I would advise all teachers to:

  1. Learn each others’ names
  2. Keep up with their professional reading
  3. Stay positive about the contributions of all faculty, seasoned and fresh
  4. Make friendships across generational lines
  5. Realize that teachers of all ages can master tech in the classroom
I photographed this radiant couple a while ago at my favorite cafe, Margot Patisserie, on the Upper West Side. It’s true — everyone looks beautiful when they smile. Especially old people.

Was inspired to write this after reading the Sunday NYTimes interview with the founder of Encore.org

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Maya Angelou

Successful Aging and Your Brain (on Parkinson’s)

Last night Chris and I attended a fun JCC Parkinson’s Holiday Party. After rounds of singing and before the raffle, music therapist Barbara Yahr, and Parksinson’s docs Alessandro DiRocco and Rebecca Gilbert spoke about ways to successfully grow older with the disease.

Here are four take-aways — and these apply to everyone:
1. Get more social. Apathy is a real problem for people with Parkinson’s (and thus, their families), because the dopamine, the reward mechanism in the brain, dwindles. To combat this, make sure that you’re getting out and continuing to wire new neuron pathways through interesting conversations and activities. Change your routine. Don’t do what you’ve always done.
2. Eat well. Best foods for Parkinson’s? They really don’t know. Someone from the audience recommended non-inflammatory foods, but the doctors on the panel could not confirm that this was the optimal diet. There was some consensus that the Mediterranean Diet works well for everyone as we age.
3. Be active. What’s the best kind of exercise? The one that you do! If you have Parkinson’s, exercising for 45 minutes six days a week will likely stave off the steady decline.
4. Make a joyful noise. Music helps. Anecdotally, Yahr spoke about the magical powers of music — a way to communicate when speaking fails. And the docs emphasized that any way of making or participating in artistic endeavors — fine arts of performance arts — is good for the brain.

Caroline Kohles
Caroline Kohles: Chris always says she should receive a genius grant. One of the amazing JCC Parkinson’s teachers, Caroline sparks health through exercise and a growth mindset in her NIA class. (photo courtesy of NIANow.)

So, as the moderator of the panel and Chris’s great friend and brilliant teacher Caroline Kohles summed it all up: “Keep a beginners’ mind.”

Keep growing mentally because the brain, at any age, has neuroplasticity. Instead of a fixed mindset, a growth mindset, built on a foundation of persistence, hard work and optimism, provides maximum health benefits.

December Slump

I’ve lost my mojo. Is it under the table? Maybe in the kitchen? Is this normal? Or maybe hormonal? Seasonal Affect Disorder? The empty nest?

Oh, screw it. I have to dig myself out of my slump. Walking to my Via, the $3.25 car service this morning that takes me to work, I tried to give myself a pep talk. ‘Walk tall — remember the old adage, “Have the confidence of a mediocre white man.”‘

I reminded myself that I used to produce and star in — yes, star in — a Manhattan talk show. Sure, it was on cable access. But I was a star. Now, I’m a bit player. Maybe the dresser. Maybe the bartender at intermission. In any case, I’m definitely no longer a star. I feel like a has-been who never really was.

‘Tis the season for the December slump. I made a list of things To Dos and it includes making doctor appointments for family members and them gifts.

Whaaaaa! What about me?

Poor me, poor me. Pour me some egg nog. How to overcome this? I googled tips on SAD from the Mayo clinic and read the suggestion to use a light box. I bought one last Christmas for someone’s gift so will drag it out again.

Beyond increasing your light, the Mayo Clinic suggests you exercise, socialize, and meditate. I found this postcard in my bag. And I share it with you:

IMG_6985

And then, at lunch time, I remembered the secret task of the Artist’s Date from the Artist’s Way path.

I felt compelled to swing over to the Guggenheim down the block for 20 minutes and was BLOWN AWAY by this show featuring Hilma af Klint. OMG!!! A spiritualist and an abstract artist from Sweden produced these mind-bending paintings in the early 20th century  — moved by the spirit, joined by four other women (the Group of Five) and dismissed by the likes of Rudolph Steiner.

When I see Abstract Art, I like to pretend to fall into it. And I really fell into and for Klint. She is cool af. (Actually that’s part of her name, I gather, and not just that she’s cool as  f*^k.) A true prophet, way ahead of her time. New York never fails to lift me up when I’m feeling down.

So, yes, I’m in a slump, but I took in some culture. Now, feel cheered immensely.

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Write to Heal Rape Culture – press release

Join Mary Beth Coudal and Sheryl Burpee Dluginski for a series of workshops to focus on healing a culture that normalizes rape and sexual violence. Through memoir and non-fiction writing exercises and discussions, participants will create hope, healing, and a new vision for a safe, fair society, in which all people can thrive without fear of harassment and assault. To support participants through the process of turning their difficult stories into art, short periods of mind-body movement including yoga and energy work will be interspersed with writing, reading, and discussion. In four bi-weekly sessions participants will receive validation, support, and feedback as they progress through four steps:

Week 1: What I Want To Say

Week 2: Telling My True Story

Week 3: Using My Story as Fuel for Personal Growth

Week 4: Using My Story to Help Heal Rape Culture

The workshop will culminate with optional participation in a public reading and/or a published collection. Additionally, writers will receive suggestions for where to submit their polished work.

This workshop series is ideal for writers of any level who would like to be part of a supportive network of people involved in the important work of speaking out about, healing from, and preventing sexual violence. Due to the potentially triggering material to be discussed, we suggest that participants have therapeutic tools and support in place to help process issues and emotions which may emerge.

A portion of the proceeds from this workshop will be donated to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

When: Sunday, January 13 and 27 and February 10 and 24, 2019 from 10am to 12 noon

Where: Creating Health Studio, 222 East 75th Street, New York City.

Price:  $190 for all four sessions. $50 per session for less than four.

Early registration price, before 12/31/18:  $150 for all four sessions. $40 per session for less than four.

Mary Beth Coudal is a writer, teacher, and founder of the Writers Boot Camp. Sheryl Burpee Dluginski is a writer, mind-body fitness instructor, and founder of Generations Fitness and the Creating Health Studio.

For more information and to register, email Mary Beth at bootcamp4writers@gmail.com or Sheryl at sheryl.genfit@gmail.com.

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