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.
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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:

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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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What I Learned and What Next?

I’ve spent this last month writing every day about creativity. Even when I didn’t feel like it (and I knew that would happen), I did it.

The first few days flew by in a flutter of enthusiasm and newness and then, there was the sameness, the place of not having anything new to say or retreading where I had tread before. Looking to hone my message of hope in some new-fangled way? Boring!

Then, I felt my own resentment for taking on something a little too large. And futile — what difference does my writing make any way?

How can I, someone so inconsequential, turn the axis of this country, governed today by the swamp of greed and fear, to shape the narrative into a story — my story, the country’s story — of overcoming hatred with love? Of somehow looking for and, occasionally, finding a pathway to grit. To grace. To forgiveness.

To make compassion the bottom line of life, to be open and vulnerable to others, to make community life the focus, and to let prayer be the breath of your life – that requires a willingness to tear down the countless walls that we have erected between ourselves and others in order to maintain our safe isolation. This is a lifelong and arduous spiritual battle because while tearing down walls with one hand, we build new ones with the other. After I had left the university and chosen a life in the community, I realized that, even in community, there are numerous ways to play the controlling games of individualism. Indeed, true conversion asks for a lot more than a change of place. It asks for a change of heart. – Henri J. Nouwen

I’ve drawn inspiration from the heroes who came before me.

So, this month, I’ve learned to write even when I didn’t feel like writing. To speak even when it would’ve been more judicious to stay quiet. To get quiet and listen to the still, small voice within.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to change the whole world, just myself. And if my writing moves the needle, even a fraction of an inch, towards more compassion, more self-empathy, more kindness, that’s good enough.

Still. I want more. Here are five possible next steps for next month:

More NaNoWriMo — national novel writing month. While I have loved joining this collective writing community and have done so in past years, I hesitate to produce a novel in a month from scratch. I’d love, even more, to revise past efforts at my novel-writing madness. I have many half-baked novels, wedged into the back of an overstuffed file cabinet. I’d like to unearth and revise these more than I’d like to begin something new. (And to clean out my file cabinet.) I am trying to strategize on how I can use the resources of NaNoWriMo for my own dastardly purposes. Rather than writing some new 50,000 words whole cloth, why not rework my old 50,000-word stories? I can still join the meet-ups and the timed writing opportunities, I just might not earn the badge.

More polished essays — I have a dozen, crafted essays about our political climate from my own humorous point of view to submit to places for publication. I would like to be more consistent with sending out my essays and getting them published.

More fitness — since my shoulder surgery, I’ve found I’m not as physically active as I was last spring. I really want to be more consistent with working out. Yes, citibiking to and from work is better than catching a Via, however, it’s still not enough. When I bike, I coast. When I work out at the gym or go for a long walk or short run, I get my heart rate pumping. This reminds me: support me as I undertake the 5K fundraiser for United Methodist Women. And I am probably going to run a 5K Turkey Trot in Chicago as well.

More workshops — I’ve got a little idea cooking on my back burner. A neighbor who’s taken my writing workshop literally stopped me on the street to suggest that I offer a class on writing to overcome and heal from sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. So, this is a goal for the month of November — to get this workshop on the calendar and promote it so we get a healthy enrollment. And we will all begin to heal the rape culture in which we live. I’d also like to plan some spring get-away writing workshop.

More travel — There is nothing like travel to open the mind and fill the heart.

So that’s it — continue to fill your days with creativity and hope. Believe that change for the good is always possible.

bradbury

Beautiful Boy and Beautiful Fall

This is what love is and what love does too. Was thinking of this last night when I watched Beautiful Boy at the Directors Guild. I have a special place in my heart for movies about recovery. I am always curious as to how AA and Alanon meetings are depicted in films. And is the preceding drug addiction or alcoholism or family disease glamorized at all?

One new twist in this movie is that the father’s worry over one child seemed to rob him of love for his other children. The younger children are merely props. Growing up in a big family, we five children had a radar for this kind of fairness among children. Any Coudal child that was getting any special treatment — say, you wanted to stay home from school because you were sick? — the others would whine, “you’re not sick! you’re faking it?” (Ugh, I’m sickened by the immature insult of calling someone or some news outlet ‘fake.’)

This is also the dance of addiction. “You’re not sick! You’re making poor choices!” The movie is a bit slim on the discussion of addiction and alcoholism as a disease; maybe that’s because we already know this, perhaps it is assumed. The film’s not preachy.

There’s some tough love in the movie too, which is new for movies about addiction. Steve Carrell, who plays the father, is stoic. I would like to see more chinks in his armor. He seems out of control only once — in the time-worn, film-weary trope of throwing his phone to show his anger. At least in this movie, he asks his wife to call his phone so he can find it. I could’ve used more ragged emotion from Carrell. But that’s me — I relate more to imperfect, sensitive people than walled-off, guarded father figures.

What the movie gets right, on so many levels, is that the disease of addiction is conjoined with mental illness. This actor who plays Nic, Timothee Chalamet, is perfect — so lovable, one moment, and monstrous the next. Is his brief, drug-induced ecstasy worth the pain, torture, heartache he causes himself and his loved ones? Again, he is in throes of addiction so naturally, the cause and effect of his illness are not forefront on his mind.

This movie does bring to light the scourge of drug addiction in this country. Starkly, at the end of the movie, this fact appeared:  Overdoses now are the leading cause of death of Americans under 50. Wow! Sobering.

There’s another theme found in the movie, which I love — the depiction of a writer’s life. In many films, you get the feeling that being a writer means you sit for about two minutes staring at a computer screen, maybe you wad up some paper — throw the wad, oh dang, it misses the waste basket — and then hooray! we see our hapless writer hero on their book tour. But the hours of research, loneliness, procrastination? Not so much. I liked that this movie depicts a writer’s life somewhat realistically as the solitary life of an artist — much like the life of a visual artist. In this film, Maura Tierney plays the artist Karen Barbour, the stepmom of Nic, who, too, is plumbing the depths through her visual art. Sitting alone. Which is what I’m doing right now.

Just a last thought and perhaps a feminist take on this movie, now that I’ve mentioned Nic’s stepmother, I’m wondering if this movie would’ve been made if the caring parent of a teenager in need of recovery was a female writer. I think we tend to glorify fathers and husbands (and male writers) in our Hollywood films, but from my true life experience, from what I’ve seen: most caregivers, at least among spouses with Parkinson’s Disease, are female.

It could be part of the novelty and romanticism of Beautiful Boy, in that it is the father is the parent depicted as the consistent, caring one. In real life, I’ve found, more women are primary caregivers for physically and mentally ill family members. But they rarely have movies made about them.

I’ve written about other movies on addiction: Great movies about alcoholics and mental illness: Great movies about mental illness.

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Am writing this from the Cooper Hewitt cafe. A beautiful fall Halloween day.