Family Dinners

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.

BetterHelp

At about 10:30 pm, I went to sleep with three young adults laughing together in kitchen. It warmed my heart. At about 1:30 am, I woke to doors slamming and young people yelling. It froze my heart. I cop to joining in the fray. I am a beast when I’m awoken from a deep sleep. Or maybe a beast within me awakens. Even the dog started whimpering.

When the ruckus settled, I could not fall back asleep. Adrenaline. Guilt. Fear. Worry. Sadness. Failure. I don’t know. I’m reading Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion so I tried to comfort myself and recognize that we are in difficult times and there will be interpersonal conflict during our days and nights.

I am only human. And, as Neff suggests, how would I console a friend who was in a similar situation? Am I a not a friend to myself?

The upshot — hey, you know me, there has to be an upside — is that first thing this morning, I reached out to T.C. at BetterHelp, an online counselor. See, last fall, my primary care doc, Dr. E., had suggested, given the circumstances of my life, a regular mental health appointment could not hurt, might even help. I’m no longer on Zoloft. When I had protested, saying, “I’m too busy,” she, my wonderful Dr. E, said, “Try a virtual therapist. They can be just as good. Convenient.” Which I did. (I chose BetterHelp as it was offering free trials, which I discovered on one of my social media sites. But I’m sure TalkSpace or any other virtual therapy is also decent.) I was assigned T.C. who was smart and pragmatic. I think that she lives in the Albany area and has a bit of a Brooklyn accent.

We had several useful phone conversations and some texting check-ins. It definitely helped. But, hey, you know me, I was super busy. I did not want to be confined to any regular appointments, even phone calls.

Fast forward these several months to today: I am, like the whole world, circumstantially challenged by this time of necessary confinement. The circumference of my life has been compressed. While I’d rather not have woken and become a part of the middle-of-the-night mudslinging fest, I’m glad, in a way, that I did, because it prompted me to seek help. Over the course of my life, I have found therapy — talk therapy, especially — extremely beneficial. It helps me see the forest for the trees. I am grateful for any strategies for hope and healing. I look forward to better communications within the family about our emotions during these difficult days.

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

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!

You win some. You lose some.

During dinner last night, one of the darlings was waiting for the email on whether she had made it onto student council. Five people ran for three spots. Her speech was very funny, slightly quirky, personal, and poetic.

For example, in her speech, she mentioned, “I’m deathly afraid of squirrels. But I love whales.” A mom wonders (worries).

My other daughter said, “She’s going to win.”

“Whatever the outcome, you’re a winner in my book,” I said.

We started talking about rejection.

My husband talking about running for Actors Equity Council several times and not being elected.

I said, I can’t count how many of my stories and novels have been rejected.

My other kids talked about not getting parts in plays. Or not being chosen for a school leadership program or a semester exchange program.

Wow! I thought, as a family, we’ve really put ourselves out there. It takes courage to send yourself, your work, your potential leadership out into the world.

And the anxiety is intense — as you wait to learn yours or your work’s fate — from elections, an editor’s perspective, a director’s choice, or a program committee’s discretion.

So, we’d had no word yet on the results. Four of us were watching Modern Family. My daughter got the news.

She walked into the family room: “You’re looking at one of your 9th grade student council representatives!”

We can.
Yes, we can. Take a risk.

We cheered! Those moments of putting yourself out there pay off.

You’re no longer commiserating about rejection, but celebrating a win! We were so happy for her.

How do you handle rejection? How about those wins? Let’s celebrate our courage as we put ourselves in the arena.

Every risk — no matter how small — pays off. In some way. It may not even be the way you intended, but it will pay off. Today, take a risk to make something better.  

Ready, Set, Done. (I started this blog post in my journal and then finished it on my blog.) I am also a part of #31daysofwriting.

Lean In

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I felt so happy to meet Sheryl Sandberg at BlogHer

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, talked about how women can step into their rightful place as leaders.

Sheryl Sandberg
Lisa Stone interviews Sheryl Sandberg at the BlogeHer Conference in Chicago

Sandberg said she was inspired by Mellody Hobson, a Chicago businesswoman, who said she was “unapologetically an African American and unapologetically a woman.” Sandberg said she was “unapologetically a business executive and unapologetically a feminist.” Me too!

Sandberg’s blunt truth is that “men rule the world. Ninety-five percent of big companies are run by men.” We all have biases so let’s not be afraid to talk about them and fix them.

As women, we must do a better job of believing in ourselves and stepping up as leaders. And we don’t have to be titans of industries. This applies to women as leaders in our families, school boards, small businesses, classrooms, and hospitals — wherever we find ourselves .

I love this message. I’m glad people are hearing it. I’m glad women are lifting each other up.

I stayed for a small group session. That’s where I briefly chatted with Sandberg. I told her I, too, was a COO of a small biz.

“Really?” she asked. “What’s your business?”

“I lead writing workshops.”

“That’s great!” She said. She seemed genuinely excited and interested in Boot Camp for Writers

As a workshop leader, I’m always trying to improve my game. So I wondered what kind of workshop does the most powerful woman in the world lead. Turns out it’s not so different than mine. Yes, the introduction part of the workshop is EXACTLY the same as mine. It’s a way for people to get to know each other and it’s an exercise I learned from my mother.

Professor Carole Robin from Stanford University led the small group exercises. She told us that we are “three to six times more creative in a group than we are alone.” The power of the peer group can be seen in study groups, weight loss programs, and I would add, church groups. We are challenged and encouraged in small groups. We learn best when we move out of our comfort zones. In fact, “it’s impossible to learn if you remain comfortable,” Robin said.

In our group of six we talked about times when we were brave and times when we were unable to take risks. I can’t disclose more because we agreed to anonymity. We learned that disclosure begets disclosure. And I made a few new friends and cheerleaders!

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is a bestseller and it’s my book club’s choice this month. We meet on Monday night. And you know I’ll have a lot to talk about when we get together.

I’m going to check out LeanIn.org, which is the fastest growing and most engaged internet community . I’m going to value and encourage the leadership of the women and girls in my life. I’m not afraid to push back on sexism and the pay gap. I’m not afraid, even when I feel myself shrink from taking my rightful place at decision-making tables.

I have Sandberg on my side. So do you. So go ahead. Lean in. We’ve got your back.

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Stronger than the Storm

We kept singing the New Jersey jingle, Stronger than the Storm, when I visited Long Beach Island last weekend. Small businesses on the Jersey Shore are back.

The beach is beautiful. The Atlantic Ocean is freezing, 59 degrees, but there’s nothing the board of tourism can do about that. The ice cubes in the ocean didn’t stop us from dashing in. And dashing out, victorious, refreshed.

Every one rides bikes on Long Beach Island.
Every one rides bikes on Long Beach Island.

This stronger-than-the-storm theme applies to my life – raising my rambunctious teens, hanging tough with Chris, working on a novel, freelance writing, and all the while, procrastinating on the much-needed workout.

I admit some of my life’s storms I seek. I am a storm chaser. I could take the easy way out of town. But I like a challenge. It feels like starting my own biz is a perfect storm. But one that I can ride. I don’t think it will swamp me.

Sometimes, I avoid the storm, hunkered down in a safe sanctuary. I plug in my ear buds and wait for the storm to pass. I read a book, escape through literature.

Sometimes I seek safe sanctuary by making art. I started making collage art again. Making a collage is like creating and resolving your own storm. You get caught in the whirlwind of creativity. My teacher Mariano says, you can’t make a mistake with collage.

The Atlantic Ocean refreshes you.
The Atlantic Ocean refreshes you.

I rode out Hurricane Sandy last fall. I was leading a writing weekend in the Adirondacks. I was alone in the Big House.

Outside the third floor bedroom window, a big tree rattled the window screen. The scraping of the branch sounded like the knuckles of a witch trying to get in.

I beat it back to the hunkered-down city rather than stay alone in the mansion. I made it back to my wild and restless kids, my somewhat overwhelmed husband, my weathered city. I stayed stronger by rushing back home.

I should know I cope by rushing in. Just like I rushed back into the Atlantic weekend, though the waves hit me hard and the water was an ice cold bath. Life is all about rushing back in.