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

(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,

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:
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.

Women’s History Month — Anne Lamott

The thing I love about Anne Lamott is her brutal honesty. She admits her vulnerabilities, foibles, mistakes. She’s not shy to say who she is and she writes about all of the things I love — writing, family, nature!

She has written many books that I can relate to. Her latest book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is staring at me in the faculty library at school today. For some inspiration this morning, I leaf to a random page:

“Empathy begins when we realize how much alike we are. My focus on hate made me notice I’m too much like certain politicians…I, too, can be a blowhard, a hoarder, needing constant approval and acknowledgement, needing to feel powerful.”

– Lamott, Almost Everything

Then she talks about the Motley Old Us. How we, this ragtag collective, share “outdoor concerts, community hikes, birthday parties, worship services, street fairs.” The best things in life! Yes, I am one of her motley crew — in community. Yet I am also a solitary someone who needs approval and, at times, feels separate from the ‘in’ crowd and, even, the motley crew.

I remind myself to be ‘a friend among friends, a worker among workers.’ I think I’m paraphrasing from the AA Big Book. On a daily basis, this is all I can do — seek to connect and be a part of the communities in which I find myself. I want to bring healing and hope and radical unconditional positive regard for others — even people I hate, even people who do not yet know how much damage they have done .

This morning I’ve already connected on the crosstown bus with my neighbor and at the diner with the Greek manager. Both of these gentle people shared a meaningful loss with me and I felt a greater connection to them.

This push towards community and this respect for personal writing — these are reasons I like, admire, and, yes, am super jealous of Anne Lamott. She has written more than ten non-fiction books and seven non-fiction books and oh, yes, she has a Guggenheim Fellowship. I console myself — I have a lot too.

So welcome March — Women’s History Month — today we celebrate Anne Lamott. Incidentally, I’m going to celebrate this month by profiling a few of the many women I love — I am choosing living women — some women I know and some I wish I knew.

This is my living history month. I’m writing these quick moments in 10 to 20 minutes.

Wonder and Awe and Deep Listening

I may look back on my childhood with wonder — idealizing the sunny days spent climbing trees. But let’s face it, childhood years can also be a struggle and a time we may need protection. As children, we do not yet have words or power to express or change our deep and unspoken worries. I know many children have a heart for environmental justice. They care about preserving nature.

I like to think of myself as a good listener. I hear the concerns of children in my job as a teacher. Teaching is my second (or third?) career. I love how uncensored children are – so hilarious, so much nonsense, so many emotions, so playful. I especially love how they can be brave at expressing unpopular opinions, worries, vulnerabilities, and honest emotions.

Sometimes there is cruelty. The Seventh Grade class at school just finished reading Lord of the Flies. Tough stuff.

I cannot stop wondering why and how people can be so cruel – my inclination is first, always, to help, to be kind.

I try not to judge anyone. In my rush to support students, I can be righteous or judgey. I want to remember that I am not always seeing the whole picture — from the leaders at the school or the students — I do not always know what else is going on in a person’s life. As an admitted know-it-all, I have a million good ideas for everyone else’s right actions.

I want to keep the focus on myself. Last weekend, my son and I were talking about how listening makes you feel loved. We wondered whether we truly listen to understand or just to wait for the pause in the conversation to get our words in.

Yesterday, after a long day, I walked home from work. It was about 5:15 pm. It was cold, yes, but the residue of a sunny day hung like a banner across the blue sky.

Whether I know it or realize it — spring is coming — buds on trees and green shoots are going to burst from the frozen ground. I hope that all people with worries, especially children, can hang on to the power of spring.

Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power. – William James

When we know that God loves us deeply and will always go on loving us, whoever we are and whatever we do, it becomes possible to expect no more of our fellow men and women than they are able to give, to forgive them generously when they have offended us, and always to respond to their hostility with love. By doing so we make visible a new way of being human and a new way of responding to our world problems. – Henri Nouwen

Adirondack 2019
Look forward to this new writing workshop.

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.

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