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.
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.
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.
What you are must always displease you if you are to accomplish that which you are not. – St. Augustine
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.
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!)?
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!
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 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.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, talked about how women can step into their rightful place as leaders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last night we were out at an Irish pub eating steak sandwiches. My son H. and I returned to a recent argument.
See, because of a conversation with a fellow coworker at new work city, I’ve become interested in bitcoins.
Honestly, I’d be interested in kumquats or any new kind of currency to replace the almighty dollar.
I’ve spent my whole adult life — spending and making and spending and obsessing about dollars. And if this bitcoin thing takes off, then maybe I can be free from the shackles of the national pastime – the pursuit of and the obsession with the American dollar. (This blog is called To Pursue Happiness, not To Pursue Wealth.)
Beyond that, I’m sick that banks get bailed out and individuals suffer bankruptcy. Where’s the love? H. told me, “Then blame Obama.” But I’m not blaming anyone (except the big banks. I’m so incensed that congress raised the student loan rates to 6.8 percent, and yet, you still consider yourself lucky if you get 1 percent interest on your savings account. Again, where’s the love?)
But I try to be part of the solution rather than the problem. And maybe bitcoins will solve the big bank monopoly.
I took one semester of economics at NYU with a Marxist professor, so my understanding of world economics may be skewed.
But as I understand it, bitcoins are a peer-to-peer exchange of value, a digital currency. They’re “mined for” on the internet so they’re scarce. They’re global.
Bitcoins need to be spent. Like all currency, the system’s messed up if you hide them in a shoebox under your bed. And they are currently valued at something like $90. They are not overseen by any vast financial machine (thus, making them perfect for drug dealers.)
My son and I had a good, heated discussion. Like, he actually said, “Do you think middle-aged and older people who take your writing workshops are going to pay you in bitcoins?”
“They’re not all older. And I don’t know,” I said, laughing “But I’d accept them as payment.” I started laughing so hard.
The idea was funny and true. I often think I am the first to discover great ideas. I had just told my son earlier how I was the first person to discover the artist, Pink, because I’d loved that song, Get the party started. And H. admitted he was the first to discover Cee Lo Green.
I digress. “Hey,” I said, returning to our economics argument, “I could pay my web developer with a bitcoin. We already use PayPal.”
My son thinks I’m crazy. That’s nothing new. To show I’m not the only crazy one, I mentioned how the early adopters, the Winklevoss twins, those of Facebook fame, are opening a fund for bitcoins. H. was unimpressed.
So, to conclude my 4th of July rant, let me just say, when our founding parents set up this beautiful country, they set this country up as a DEMOCRATIC not as a CAPITALIST society.
A democracy means we all count. A democracy means we are free. We have free speech and we have freedom to try different currencies. We are free to pursue kumquats or bitcoins. Or happiness.
I thought when I left my job more than six months ago, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Um, not so much. As my friend, Linda B. said, “Looks like you’re having fun!”
Work is overrated. A regular paycheck definitely has its benefits, but there are way more valuable assets than money. One of which is time. I have had time, especially recently to visit with old friends.
Besides time with friends, there’s something I’ve come to treasure lately: time alone — to read and paint.
Book club seems to be on a summer hiatus. I’m a huge Kindle fan, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of books: all kinds of books (don’t judge me): feminist, erotic, non-fiction, self help.
I love to make collage art and book journals.
I started taking class again at Art Students League. You receive very little instruction, but you get a ton of inspiration. Here’s a little project I worked on.
And then of course, I work on my biz, Boot Camp for Writers, teaching memoir writing workshops. I love teaching and writing. It’s really all I want to do. Well, that and walk the High Line, visit friends, make art, go to the theater, perform improv, make short films, and read books. That’s all.
I had an awesome weekend. I am writing this from the southbound Amtrak from Westport, NY to New York City. I am so high and grateful for the time to simply write and make art. I’m so happy about my (and Kelly Wallace’s) business, Boot Camp for Writers or Writers Boot Camp East and West, or whatever the hell we call it.
I’ve been offering writing workshops — sporadic, weekly, or weekend-long – since August ‘12. This weekend, May 16-19, the workshop was held at Skenewood, the Georgian manor house owned by my husband’s family on Lake Champlain, five hours north of New York City.
As in any adventure tale, this weekend had suspense, characters, details, and setting.
Whether this weekend was going to go was a mystery. A week ago, after I came down from the high of being in the cast of Listen To Your Mother, a collective of New York city writers at Symphony Space, I wondered whether to offer the weekend retreat. The turn out was so small that I couldn’t foresee breaking even. But my passion for helping writers is bigger than my desire to make a buck (I know, I know. I have to work on this!).
My goal as a writing teacher is to make writers, skill writers up, and build their confidence.
So what if we were a smallish group? Fewer people meant fewer people to please and less dishes to do.
Every story needs some sympathetic characters. And my workshop crew — Rashida, Kathryn, Lena, Joanna — was totally fantastic. They offered so much, so much artistry, integrity, skill.
We began on Thursday night with a candlit dinner in the dining room. On Friday we wrote in the morning, walked and made art in the afternoon. Late afternoon we hung out at Ted Cornell’s amazing art farm, populated by massive sculptures, oil paintings, Adirondack charm, intellect.
On Friday night, I invited a handful of local authors and folks to our evening salon. Several — Dan McCormick, Scott Gibbs, and Lindsay Pontius – joined us. The last two read some of their work. Brilliant. And we retreatants read some of our stuff or shared our book journals. Joanna Parson rocked us out with some guitar.
On Friday and Saturday afternoons on the table in the children’s dining room, we spread images and words cut out from books, newspapers, or magazines. With Rashida Craddock’s and Kathryn Cramer’s guidance, we made collages and covers for our journals.
I got in the zone, getting lost in the details of visual art and print. Totally inspiring. I made a half dozen pages of my crazy art journal that I’ve been working on for a year.
Without diving too deeply into the waters of our writing, I can tell you we wrote about parents, grandparents, children, relationships, theater, and more. Some of our work was fiction and some non-fiction and some blurred the boundaries.
I slept so heavily over the weekend. Maybe it’s the fresh air or just the big house wrapping its arms around me.
I think the house likes it when a nice group settles in. Words fail me when I try to write about the feelings of being at Skenewood – because there are so many feelings, and so many smells and sounds.
Like the smell of the lilac bush.
Or the smell and feel of the earthy damp basement when I go barefooted for raspberry jam.
Or the crack of dry wood in the fireplace.
The talent of my friends is not limited to words and music and art. Some of my friends are artisans with food. Thanks especially to Carolyn Ware of Ernie’s and David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadows Farm.
And Edward Cornell for the visit to the Art Farm. And Michelle Maron for the soothing, restorative morning yoga.
The thing about a literary journey is that the hero ends up in a different place than the one she set out for. But the journey makes her stronger or wiser. And that is the case with this weekend.