I have writing to do and teaching — and thinking to do. And don’t forget the gratitude list. There’s a new/old dog to walk and friends to phone. There’s much to do. And then, again, there’s nothing to do. A helplessness — a desire to read — to stay in, stay safe, stay put. And curl into a ball to let this big wave pass. So we hunker down in this farmhouse in this town that I love with family and friends. With children and trees. Set to bloom. Set to bud. Set to flower. Game, set, match. My mind keeps turning to this twist — my love gov says tennis courts can open. Where is my nearest tennis court? And does it matter that I have no racket, balls, nor opponents? Or tennis whites? I keep thinking about tennis. As if I was Billie Jean King. Fierce like that. All women are – for simply surviving this potus abuse. I cannot get over this administration – the way that man speaks to journalists, to women, to poc. I must to stop watching his cruelty. It breaks my heart. I aim to maintain my soft-hearted nature and happy-go-lucky disposition. I will not let this wave of fear and despair submerge me. Better days, ahead. Chin up and all that.
Think about tennis and flowers and Billie Jean King. Family dinners in the farmhouse.
You start your hand moving. And then you just keep it moving. You write, I remember… and you keep writing memories… popping like popcorn. One memory after another. Don’t worry about which era from your life wherein the memory emeges or how you feel or what it all means.
I learned this from Dani Shapiro who learned it from a book IRemember by Joe Brainard.
I remember. And the important thing with this writing exercise is to keep going. Keep your mind moving from memory to memory. I found it very relaxing and centering. It’s also a great way to mine some gems which may become sparkling jewels in your larger memoir story.
Weave the memory jewels into the tapestry of your life.
I have been thinking that I need a retreat from the world. With the grief that’s accompanied my dad’s passing, my worries about my husband’s health decline, and my general malaise with the current leadership in these United States, I need a break. The long, cold Northeastern winter does not help.
A fantastic think piece this week in the Wall Street Journal about Tapping Into the Sound of Silence by Anne Kadet who took a silent retreat within the framework of her own day-to-day life, got me thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t have to actually do any big whoop to retreat. I can simply turn down the volume.’
Incidentally, since getting hearing aids, I can literally turn down the volume. During the school day as I help to monitor middle school lunches, this turning-it-down feature really benefits me in the noisy dining hall. I can still hear boys’ conversations near me, but I don’t have to take in the whole big din. The dining hall becomes a bit more civilized when it’s not so loud.
When we get silent, there is a “freedom from self-preoccupation,” according to Richard Rohr. His message popped up in today’s emails. It is as if the world is trying to tell me something.
When we recognize something as beautiful, that knowledge partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries and symphony halls. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its particularity does not stand out.
Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation From the Center for Action and Contemplation
To get quiet, one needs to focus, to control the kneejerk reaction to respond to every stimulus — whether it’s the red flashing breaking news update or the ping of a new email hitting the inbox.
The reward for this focus, this silence, this mindfulness, this absence, is the gift of noticing the world around you — be it the beauty of this winter season or the humor of children.
I know that I can be a little chatty. I love to joke around with my coworkers and family. But by freeing myself from the need to make noise, I am giving myself the gift of focusing more deeply on the natural world and on the people in my world. I am opening myself to all that is beautiful. I love to look at art and appreciate the specificity of words.
I’m tuning out, but not to drop out; my purpose is to drop in, go deeper, take time, listen better. Create a silent retreat right where I am.
Join me on the winter writing retreat where we will spend time in silence, in looking at art, and in noisy meal times.
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:
to do lists
money matter musings
resume and cover letters
emails to far-flung family
witty status updates on social media
biting commentary on twitter
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.’
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
Happiness is doing something for which there is really no good reason.
I took a photography class today with Charles Chessler. We are friends from drama school way back when. I love his enthusiasm for life.
We met at the High Line to learn what makes a good portrait shot. We tried out various ways of lighting our model, the wonderful A.B. Lugo.
Here are a few unedited shots I took on my phone. The workshop inspired me to play around with my good camera. I want to capture some nice profile pics for people. I’m a good photographer, always getting better.
It was a beautiful day — a perfect antidote to the disquieting political revelations this week. It’s good to know there are good men, fun things to learn, and a beautiful city to explore.
Spent the morning flipping my wardrobe from spring to fall. Feels great to declutter.
Also, my friend Joanna suggested a closet organizing app so I downloaded Wardrobe to organize my closet’s work choices. With a new job this year on the Uppers East Side I’m trying to up my preppy game.
I tried to follow the guidance of the life-changing magic of tidying up by Maria Kondo.
Then in the afternoon I visited my doctor for my annual physical. Today is my doc’s birthday and she is 71. I noticed this on her desk.
This summer my doctor competed in three triathlons. She said it’s easy at her age to win first place. (So few entrants.) It is just good to be in the race. I love my doctor. When I’m 70, I’m going to do three triathlons too.
I got my flu shot. My arm is sore.
My health is great but I have to get my every five-year colonoscopy, go for my annual mammogram, visit the dermatologist and the ob-gyn. I can’t really complain that I have a few aches and pains — it is all part of the aging package. And you know, consider the alternative.
It makes me happy to take care of business. Feel good? You look good too.
I write every day. I write in my journal. Facebook posts and tweets. Blog posts for SPSARV and my own blog and website. I write emails and texts. I write lesson plans and press releases. Magazine articles.
I write very fast. I try to write faster than my inner censor. In NYU grad school, my writing teacher Philip Schultz called the inner editor the “shitbird,” who sits on your shoulder and tells you it’s shit. I’ve heard her chirp. She wants me to give up, stop writing. Watch TV or scan social media. Say nothing. Good girls remain mute.
And the “shitbird” is a term from a friend of mine who killed himself. He was the most talented poet. …And he wrote me a letter saying that he could hear my encouragement, but that there was also a shitbird on his shoulder, whispering that he couldn’t write. Maybe that shitbird is the Superego. Overly cautious. – From an interview with Philip Schultz.
But the bird flew away when I blogged 31 Days of October with a community of writers. Something shifted in me. The daily sharing of my interior life made me stop and notice my world. Maybe a little of my writing was shit. But mostly, the writing was deep and brief and full of wonder and gratitude. I have a tough time with my husband’s Parkinson’s and my three teenagers and wanting everyone to be happy all the time. I want to give these kids an awesome childhood. Still, I want to remain true to myself as an artist and a lover of learning. And always, I am looking for joy. When I write about these conflicts, I find meaning.
My commitment to writing in October made me a better, more effortless writer. I realized I didn’t have to write one grand oeuvre. I could write a bunch of short meaningful pieces. I don’t know what my writing life will hold in 2015. Especially as I am teaching full time for several months. But I know that my life is deepened because I am a writer. I know that my writing helps me find my purpose and cope with challenges and joys.
I love WordPress.com. It’s a free blogging platform. The creators of WordPress let people work in their own ways. It’s not like apple or microsoft, because it’s open source software. Which means, I think, that people can tinker with the software. (Not that I know how to tinker!). The WordPress peeps whom I’ve met, (or Automattic peeps) at the WordPress WordCamp this summer, are all very committed to sharing resources and knowledge. They’re not like, “Pay me $39 for my advice.” No, they’re like, “Here’s something cool you can try on your blog.”
When I started blogging, Beth Buchanan told me WordPress is where all the cool kids hang out. So, I thought, ya, that’s me. I’m cool. And I’ve been blogging since July 2009. What!
I thought when I started, I’d blog about writing, but it seems I blog mostly about family life. My most popular blog posts seem to be about non-traditional families, like when I wrote about Bridget and Amanda’s wedding this summer. Also, when I write about how annoying my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease is — that’s popular. Or how annoying my kids are. Also, popular. People like honesty in their blog posts. Not perfection. Readers like love. They also like failure.
WordPress prepared an annual report for my blog. I posted 71 times in 2013 and 68 in 2014. I wonder how many times I’ll post in 2015. In any case, thanks for reading about my loves and my failures. Happy New Year! Here’s to more blogging joy!
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.