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.

Coffee at the Spa

A few years back, it was my first night at the New Age spa. A silver-haired woman sat across from me at the communal dining table; she slipped me something, very sly.

“You’re new here right?” she asked.

“How did you know?”

“You’re wearing a cashmere sweater and pearls. Look around — Everyone else is in sweats.”

I looked around. She was right. I smiled. I could see I was going to like this this place.

“I’m checking out tomorrow morning,” she said. “But you can have my packets. Don’t let anyone know.” She looked around, eyes squinting. I looked at the packet — Sanka.

I went cold turkey for the next couple of days. I never used the packets, but just to remind myself they were there, I’d occasionally tap them in the pocket of my sweats.

Just the idea of coffee comforted me.

Coffee was there for me if I needed it. And I do need it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere have been times my family, friends, colleagues failed me. But not coffee.
Coffee loves me unconditionally.

Studies show that coffee keeps women from depression. The Consumer Report Study on Coffee says Four or more cups a day? Fine, you’ll be 20 percent less likely to be depressed. So, go ahead. Have another cup of coffee. Better yet, have four. I dare you. Yea, try to keep up with me!

Not that I’m competitive. Okay, yes, I am a competitive person. I blame the fact that I have three brothers. I have even found I can be competitive in a spa-like setting – in yoga class or a moment for meditation.

How fast can you get into a meditative zone? Oh, yeah! I can meditate and relax twice as fast.

This summer I went to Kripalu, a wonderful, place. The breakfast is a silent meal. And guess what? I am more silent than anyone. I am also the slowest and quietest eater there.

In this political season, you may hear some politician brag of having good words or the best or hugest plans. Yes, well. I have the best silence. I have a huge mindfulness practice. The hugest.

I have trouble letting go of my competitive drive even while receiving a massage. I am probably the most relaxed person the masseuse has ever laid hands on.

Oh, God, who am I kidding? I am never able to relax. I am so tense. It is from the coffee. Or maybe the chai tea latte. Yes, they serve that at spas now. I had that at the quiet breakfast at Kripalu. I was bursting to tell someone — anyone — “Wow this is some good chai!”

But everyone was so quiet — unlike the old days when we chatted and discreetly passed one another little Sanka packets. Coffee tasted better when it was forbidden.

Still. Coffee’s perfect. With conversation or with quiet. Communal or solitary. The world may bring you down. But coffee and chai and a few days at the spa? They lift you up.

I read this tonite at noson lawen, translated as “happy evening” at the Welsh Church. 

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!

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This was one cold Chicago 5K Turkey Trot. 

Meditate

You might set the timer on your phone for five minutes. Try these three things:

  1. Sit quietly (Or lay down)mindfulness round
  2. Close eyes (Or half close eyes)
  3. Breathe (Or simply relax)

Yup, that’s it. Try to stay awake. And when the timer goes off, find a renewed sense of energy. Or feel rested. Maybe you’ll find clarity to a problem.

I took this picture last weekend at Wave Hill, a beautiful little nature center in Riverdale.


I love the image of the lotus flower as a symbol for the meditative mind. Like a lotus, let all cares rest on the surface. Let the mind be calm water. Or a cloudless sky.

I heard Thich Nhat Hahn once say that when troubles strike, let the troubles be like a storm that may toss and turn the top branches of a tree but your trunk, your center, stays strong. You bend but do not break.

Last year I dedicated the month of October to mindfulness. It worked. I felt more at peace — for a few minutes, for a month, for a while.

Tree

Ordinarily Happy

In the next day, my 16-year-old twin girls are going to tour nearby colleges. My 19-year-old son and his good friend are just home for the weekend to attend a concert, and they will fly the coop back to the university tonight. This leaves just me and my husband at home. And I am longing for a new beginning.

Yes, in the last month I have started a new job, I have refloored our kitchen. As exciting as work friends and home improvements are, I can easily feel stuck. My distraction of choice? I tumble down a rabbit hole, like Alice. I fall into the day’s election news.

In this morning’s revelations on Trump’s taxes, I will tell you, I pay A LOT in taxes. Last year, in addition to what we paid throughout the year, we owed and paid about $12,000 at tax time. Oy! That hurts. But I do not care. Gladly, I would pay more to be sure every single person in this country has health insurance. Also, I have to release my taxes every year to apply for financial aid, so if you want my family’s financial details, we oblige.

I enjoy following the election news — opinionators, bloviators, and pundits. And I, too, can easily spin off on a political rant.

There is also this — I want to be informed to be a good citizen. When public schools were first growing in the United States, their purpose was to teach citizenship, not just load students’ heads with facts. What does it mean today to be a good citizen?

How can I take the day’s news, not feel swamped by a tsunami of unease, but make the world a better place?

Can reading and writing political rants enhance my ordinary life? My citizenship? My kindness towards my fellow human?

Because ordinary life is extraordinary. Yours is too. Your ordinary, boring day is a miracle. You get to be here in this life. You get to embark on a new beginning.

The election is a kind of new year. My children, considering and attending colleges, are at a new stage. And I am ready for newness. And if something new and wonderful does not drop in my lap today, I aim to find the new beginning in this one day. In my ordinary day. This makes me happy — the idea of some unplanned and happy synchronicity.

harold-and-maudLast night, in addition to the joy of the new season of Saturday Night Live, Cate, Chris, and I watched the movie Harold and Maude. I woke up humming Cat Stevens.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are

Things I’m Going to Do in November

I’m happy that I wrote and posted every single day of October. I was part of a challenge to write every day. My topic was mindfulness.

Now that October’s over, I plan to:

  • rest
  • write more in-depth essays
  • query some magazines and newspapers
  • tidy my beautiful, rambling NYC apartment
  • connect with and encourage other bloggers and writers
  • work my a$$ off at my awesome jobs
  • go for my annual physicals
  • get a bit more creative with my writing and social media
  • write some poetry
  • revisit my novel
  • make mixed media art
  • plan Thanksgiving, Christmas, (and still dreaming of Cuba)
  • get to yoga or Pilates class

The month-long writing challenge taught me:

  • I have something to say about mindfulness
  • Because I committed to this topic, I sought opportunities to reflect on mindfulness
  • Sitting still for 10 minutes is really all there is to mindfulness
  • I did not have to write perfectly. I could repurpose old photos and a couple of old topics
  • I wanted to quit but I didn’t
  • I did the best I could
  • Consistency is more important than perfection
  • I did find a few typos as I looked back, but basically I write well and fast
  • I can do my own thing and still take good care of my family
  • I don’t want to call myself an expert, but, well, a-hem I know a few things (humble brag)

This fall has been different for my fam — with my son off to college and my husband Chris directing a play in Florida; the girls and I have enjoyed our estrogen-fest at home.

I still do that mom-thing of trying to be there for everyone and everything and then, suddenly, ‘Hey, what about me!!! Whaaa!!’ And I can get sorry for myself.  But despite the inevitable stress and conflict, our home dynamics are pretty calm. It could be because of this writing and mindfulness challenge. Or it could be that we’re all getting older.

Whatever the reason, it’s all good. Happy Halloween!

Writing the Details

Set your scene with three or four details. Here are ten ideas of what Pat Carr meant by sensory details and then an example from my story set on a playground.

  1. Odor – wet sand
  2. A time of day or season – end of summer
  3. Temperature – warm and humid
  4. Sound – children laughing
  5. Important object – small charm bracelet
  6. Dominant color – beige
  7. Dominant shape — circles
  8. Something that can be touched – curly hair
  9. Taste – rain in the air
  10. Certain slant of light – late afternoon sun

I love numbering 10 things. Pat was inspired by Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.”

Light is so important.

This is a repost from when I attended Southern writer Pat Carr’s Memoir and Fiction Writing class at the International Women’s Writing Guild. I wrote this from a sun-soaked bench, cloistered in a square at Yale University.

Pat Carr’s writing exercises, like this one, can be found in her book Writing Fiction with Pat Carr. Her new memoir is One Page at a Time: On a Writing Life.
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I still love bookstores. I visited the nearby Barnes and Noble while the girls were in a singing lesson.