A writing exercise

I remember…

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 I Remember 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.

morning walk with Charlie
I think he likes the new dog bed.

Visited by Grace

Grace comes from Latin, meaning ‘pleasing’ or ‘grateful.’
When are you in a state of grace?
Find grace in nature:
dolphins,
butterflies,
that fox there darting across the field.
Graceful
belongs in a dance.
But also in the way you make your coffee,
set the table,
wipe the counter,
turn the page of the book you’re reading as you snuggle in
before you fall asleep.
Grace is found in dreams.
Grace is found in bedtime prayers.
And before we eat,
children with their heads bowed
mouthing words, an incantation of gratitude,
in remembrance of the hands that grew and picked and prepared
the food we eat.
While there are many things that I miss about life and school
BC (Before Covid)
Oddly, I miss the ruckus of the dining hall
and the hastily said grace,
the pause before the pandemonium of
eating, laughing, arguing.
You still have grace, I remind myself.
There are still dolphins, butterflies,
foxes that dart.
There is still the coffee, the table,
the countertop to wipe.
There are still rote prayers of gratitude
for the hands who grew, picked, prepared our food.
And I am visited by grace as I use my hands to cook,
to clean, to pray,
To turn the page as I snuggle in.
Before the dreams dart like foxes into the night

This morning, I walked the dog. I prayed. I asked to be visited by grace – a gift, not a given.

Amelia Flew Alone

Amelia

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia it was just a false alarm

-Joni Mitchell

Amelia Earhart. Flew alone. Flew and disappeared.
I’m thinking about Amelia as I wait and watch.

The view from the office window, I call command central.

The snow falls in slow motion;
that sideways snow,
white falling from the sky.

Watching from the window as if I had nowhere to go.

(I have nowhere to go.)
Nature puts on a last gasp of a winter show.

Like this little pup, we care for

for a few months,
we nap.

Unused to flying like Amelia,
unused to stillness,
to silence,
to slowing down.

To stop, stop, stop,

when I want to go, go, go.

Like the snow,

quiet,

sideways falling.

Embrace the view from and of and in the sky.

Become like the snow in a
slow motion life,

turned upside down, a snow globe.

Flying in the crystal sunshine.

Landing safely, slowly.

Amelia Earhart “passed the time by reading poetry, learning to play the banjo and studying mechanics,” while convalescing from the Spanish Flu one hundred years ago.

according to Wikipedia.
  • Who are your heroes?
  • How are you getting by?
  • Are you able to write? Make art?
  • What’s your secret to slowing down?
  • What’s the view from your ‘command central?’

Not Giving Up For Lent

For Lent, I’ve usually given up some small pleasure. But I’m not giving up anything this Lent.

Not giving up kindness. No. The world needs it now more than ever.

Not giving up coffee. I did that once and went the whole 40 days and nights with a headache.

Not giving up gossip. When I did that one year, I missed too many juicy conversations by the water cooler. I want to bond with my colleagues, not feel smug and act superior.

Not giving up TV. As a kid, I had to forego my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, which only showed once a year. See, kids, we didn’t have Netflix or streaming services back then. If you wanted to watch a show, you had to wait until it was on.

Not giving up social media. When I started to give that up one year, I missed a party invitation. Not this year.

Not giving up meat or alcohol.

I’m not giving up so many good things in life. Not giving up friendship, letter writing, and social justice.

I’m not giving up my writing and/or blogging habit either. I’ve tried, but I don’t seem to know what I feel if I can’t write my thoughts down.

What about you? Giving up your Jeopardy habit? Candy? Complaining? Good for you. I’m supporting you from the sidelines as I pop bon bons from the couch in front of the TV.

I think this photo was by my friend Charles Chessler after our Central Park birding excursion several years ago.

I realize that I wrote a similar Not Giving Up for Lent message several years ago.

One Day, One Week, One Month of Happiness

You want to be happy but there’s so many chores to do.

For one moment, put your happiness first.

The other day, I bought myself a really cute pink party dress from Talbots. Once, as a preteen, reading Young Miss, an article said: ‘In order to be popular, do not wear a new outfit right after you get it. Wait at least a week.’

I have internalized this advice and have for more than 40 years tucked away my treasures in the pursuit of popularity. But WHY???

There is another truth: Don’t hide your light (or pretty pink dress) under a bushel. I am wearing the dress today.

Also, to increase my happiness quotient, the other night I went to the 52nd Street Project. I saw plays written by 10-year olds, performed by top-notch adult theater professionals, like Bill Kamp and Edie Falco. Going out to the theater makes me so happy. But especially because I like hanging out with my friend Joanna.

So for today’s happiness advice, I suggest you:

  • Do something nice for yourself
  • Wear something new
  • Go to the theater
  • Meet up with a friend
  • Admire the creativity of children
  • Plan something fun

Tomorrow the girls and I leave for almost two weeks in Italy — Milan, Ravenna, Bologna, Florence, Rome. Looking forward to this trip has made me happy.

http://www.art-vangogh.com/

Forgotten Phone

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow.girl in bonnet

 

As I was driving back into Manhattan Thursday night, I realized that I’d left my phone plugged in to a charging station at my kids’ school. Should I turn around and drive the 10 minutes back to Riverdale to get it? No, I had another social engagement; I wanted to get to book club — we’d read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was looking forward to the discussion.

Besides, I thought, as soon as I arrive, I’ll call Cate who could email her dean and ask her to hold my phone. But we didn’t bother the dean. Because Cate reassured me, “It’ll be there in the morning. I’ll get it for you. You’ll be fine. It’ll be like a game. See how you do without your phone.”

Occasionally, on Friday, I found myself reaching for my phone, like a phantom limb. Especially, last night. See, I had an invitation to a preview of a show at Christie’s auction house and wanted to to snap a pic of the two- to three-million-dollar painting by Mary Cassatt of a girl in a bonnet.

The girl’s eyes drift to the side. She looks ready to play. Or maybe she is not allowed to play and she has become reflective. There seems to be as much nuance in her expression as in Mona Lisa’s smile. She is watching something. (She is not on her phone.)

Without my phone to snap the painting, I had to simply gaze at Cassatt’s intense colors and brushstrokes. Apparently, at an auction house, you don’t have to keep back from the art like you do at a museum, you can get right up in a painting’s grill.

Mind-blowing. The girl’s peachy skin reflected the peachy color of the bow. There was a quality of androgyny to the girl that I don’t think you can get in the reproduction.

Also, a painting, like this one, probably took forever to paint whereas a phone photo is snapped in an instant. In those museum photo grabs, the painting is like an animal — once hunted, purposefully captured, immediately stashed, promptly forgotten.

Having to look at the painting, without photographing it, made me remember it and interact with it. There was no screen, no filter. Nothing between me and the painting. It was refreshing. It was meaningful. It was a moment.

On the M5 bus ride home from Christie’s, if I’d had my phone, I would’ve gazed at the screen. Maybe scrolled through my Twitter feed, become irate at the first 100 days of the pres’s failing administration. I’d have begun to seethe.

But, without my phone, I read the Christie’s catalog. I learned Cassatt painted many children in bonnets. I thought about art. I gazed out the bus window. I saw many people with their heads down, looking at their phones.

When I returned home, Cate handed me my phone. She told me that it’d been right where I’d left it, at the charging station. I set my phone down.

“You were right. I don’t need it. I’m fine.” I’d been recharged by art without my phone.

International Women’s Day

Why Resist?

Because I believe in protecting the rights of the marginalized, especially women, children, and the disabled.

Even though we have much to work do in our country, I tell myself to work on myself. Make a difference in the ways I can. Work on the things in my realm. This is the way I dug myself out of the 9 11 morass. I did small acts of kindness. I cleaned my kitchen. I joined forces with people who focused on children. I worked for social justice, which means a lot to me. I worked with the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Women. My life has been about fostering sisterhood and brotherhood across borders and countries, which are, let’s face it, arbitrary lines on a map, subject to interpretation. I’m now teaching. And teachers can make a difference.

malala

Why International Women?

When I went to China for the women’s conference in 1995, I was amazed by the beautiful diversity of women around the globe and the work they do. Especially women activists – rural women, college women, labor advocates, environmentalists. I don’t know if international women will save the world. But I think it’s possible. I find hope in knowing that there are countries where women political leaders are not anomalies. Diverse leadership teams always succeed in ways that homogeneous teams do not.

Young international women, too, like Malala Yousafzai, are making a world of difference. Can you imagine being shot by the Taliban and then rising like a phoenix from those ashes to write and speak so brilliantly (and win a Nobel prize!)?

well behaved womenSo Why Now?

I enjoy Maria Shriver’s weekly newsletter. In last Sunday’s paper, she said:

Feminine power is available to every woman because power starts within. You don’t have to act like a guy, talk like a guy, or dress like a guy to be powerful. You have to talk, act, dress, and think like the person that you are.

It’s not a man’s world. It’s everyone’s world, and it’s ours to go out and make better.

Yes, we have the power. We have the international connections. We have the authenticity to start right where we are. To do something, anything — with compassion. We can write a postcard, support a teacher, speak highly of women leaders, join a march,  vote, organize a huddle, diversify our boardrooms, or run for office.

On International Women’s Day and every day, women are looking out for each other, for children, for people with disabilities. And we are facing fear with love. We are calling out hypocrisies. We are finding our why and sharing it.

These are some of the reasons why I’m proud to wear red today and I’m proud to be a woman every day. I celebrate international womanhood and sisterhood!

Stay Happy-Go-Lucky

“I will never stop fighting for justice.” I told my daughter at the kitchen table, the morning after the election.

“I know, Mom,” she said.

I was glad that she knew this. I was glad that I had not lost the fight. I have been focused on teaching well and not so much on writing well over the last few months. I have felt defeated by this beautiful country that I love and the election results. But I refuse to give up. Je refuse. 

I will find beauty. I will make sure kindness wins. I will serve others. Throughout my journey, I will remain happy-go-lucky. It is my rebellion – to fight for happiness and to remain carefree. Despite my cares. I worry, mostly, about the progression of Chris’s Parkinson’s.

Last night Chris and I watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. Chris loves getting movies from the library. I love movies about writers. It’s a win/win.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do this.

-From David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on my blog every other Sunday morning before noon.

Yesterday, Jolain and I went to the Cloisters. Here are a few photos from the day.

Kindness Counts

One special night Chris and I took the kids to see the Big Apple Circus. The show was spectacular and Grandma, our favorite clown, was so funny. It was warm although it was Thanksgiving weekend. A golden moon hung over Manhattan.

“Look at the moon,” I told my son, who was eight or nine years old at the time.

“No, c’mon. Hurry up, Mom. I have to get home to see Drake and Josh.” That was his favorite TV show.

Duhrr! What did I do wrong? I had given my kids EVERYTHING — including the moon and what did I get? No ‘Thank you.’ ‘Gee, I’m so lucky.’ ‘You’re the best.’

I just read this Karen Weese article in the Washington Post about raising kinder kids. I love it. I relate. I know, too, that kids at certain ages are simply caught up in the here and now. And they cannot fathom that something wonderful is not right in front of them at any given moment. They deserve it. We all do. Even though something wonderful might just have happened for us. Are we all so entitled?

We have to learn to SAVOR. This is a stage I learned about at Global Ministries on the Marketing Team. Working for the United Methodist Church, I had worked on lots and lots of marketing campaigns. On the team, we needed to remind each other to stop and pause and savor how well we had done before we started some new project. It was hard to do.

Probably in all jobs and in all families, there’s this feeling — I’m on a treadmill. I just hopped off this one treadmill. And now I must jump on another. That’s life. No time.

Let’s remember to pause every day. Pause between our runs on the treadmill. We must savor. And in that savoring moment, have gratitude for the circus, for the moon, for our favorite TV shows, but mostly for each other — and for Grandma too!

20131231-175736.jpg
This was one cold Chicago 5K Turkey Trot. 

Daily Prompt: Daring to Tell Your Truth

Last year when Patrick Kennedy spoke about his family’s alcoholism on 60 Minutes — and his own — it totally inspired me. It made me happy that a man was telling his family truths. That he was seeking to heal by being honest.

Does every family think they are a little bit like the Kennedy family? I think my family is. And by family I mean the family I was born into, the family I married into, and the family I created. All three of these  families share a legacy of intelligence, humor, and service. And yes, a dynasty of not talking about feelings but forging on and accomplishing greatness no matter what.

Every family has their health struggles. How do you handle yours? Do you put on a brave face? Do you speak your truth? This topic often comes up when teaching writing to adults– What if writing my truth hurts someone? Maybe we should ask instead, What if it heals someone? What if the truth does set you free?

And then there is, of course, this advice (from Anne Lamott?) ‘If they didn’t want you to write about them, they should’ve treated you better.’ But some people can’t treat you better because they’re not in treatment.

I thought it was interesting that Patrick said his father Edward Kennedy suffered from PTSD because his two brothers were assassinated.

Talking about your family illness — whether is be Parkinson’s, alcoholism, depression, or cancer — is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

kennedy

 

via Daily Prompt: Daring

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