Our New Spiritual Earth

I’m thinking this pandemic has unleashed ‘our new spiritual earth,’ a theme found in this morning’s #spiritchat, a wonderful Sunday morning twitter chat. To me, a spiritual earth means we have to give our home and human family a break — for spring to blossom forth and new growth to emerge. We wait and welcome quiet before jets return to their booms across the sky and trucks rumble across the highways.

Let’s remember that every day belongs to the earth. Every day is Earth Day. Children seem to know this instinctively and are way smarter than adults; they are more enthusiastic about recycling and protecting the environment than we, older folks.

Among my favorite of the elements of earth, water, wind, fire, space, I am an Aries, a fire sign. I tingle with sparks of fire. I love a good campfire.

But also I love the water that puts out the fire. Gentle in its quiet or violent in its rush, tug, waves in the ocean.

Dogsitting this last month (or more? how long has it been? where has the time gone?) has forced me to walk on the earth every morning. So I feel the solid ground beneath me. I look and listen for nature as we walk. The calling, quacking, and homing of birds. The healing in the beauty of blossoms tightly furled.

I surrender to the forces of nature, powers far greater than myself.

Returning to the image of water: when we hiked yesterday, we got a little lost, we thought about following the water – because a stream or river always leads to civilization.

Water helps us find our way home. It is the primary element in Baptism. And blessings. And holy water.

I intend to create a positivity ripple to make impact of health, healing, hope. Love overcomes hatred.

My goals?

  1. Care
  2. Create
  3. Collaborate

I also am:

  1. walking 10K steps a day.
  2. thanking mother earth.
  3. celebrating every blossom and bud.
  4. pushing back against injustice and hatred and intolerance.
  5. choosing love and unconditional positive regard for everyone whom I meet.

The world doesn’t want to be saved. It wants to be loved. That is what will save it! – April Peerless

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. – Shakespeare, The Tempest

At any moment, you have a choice / that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it. – Thich Nhat Hanh

We are Earth people on a spiritual journey to the stars. Our quest, our Earth walk, is to look within, to know who we are,
to see that we are connected to all things,
that there is no separation, only in the mind. – Lakota Seer

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.

Silent Retreat

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’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with acrylics and mixed media this winter.

The Press Club’s Journalism Conference

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.”

Journalism panel at the Press Club – more diversity, please!

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.  

Investigative reporters 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.  

Amanda FitzSimons listens to Hannah Bae’s wise counsel for freelancers.

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!

On Twitter you can follow the thought leaders whom I heard from: @russbuettner @JenKayW @AbigailPesta @ZackFinkNews @mlcalderone @alanapipe @iaivanova @WendyJPollack @aefeldman @marypilon @rubycramer

They work in outlets such as: @CNN, @NY1, @BuzzFeed, @politico, @nytimes, @CrainsNewYork, @CBSNews,

Giving Up for Lent

I am not giving up wine or chocolate this Lent. I am looking at my life and making an impact – socially, spiritually, physically, creatively, professionally, politically, and family-wise. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are all going to die. And Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the night before Ash Wednesday, reminds us that we are going to live until we die. Lent is 40 days of intentional living.

Here are my aims, remembering that this life is but a whisper.

Socially

Speak with words of deep love and mutual respect
No gossip or judgment – Believe everyone is doing their best
If I’m on time I’m late; Arrive early

Spiritually

20130425-085137.jpgPray and meditate
Practice mindfulness
Celebrate the diversity of religions

Physically

Stay fit
Train for a 10K in June
Eat more greens (fruits and vegetables) and less whites (carbs)

Creatively

Make art, especially cards and my art journal
Write in my journal every day
Send work out to be published
Less time passively taking in social media, more time producing art

Professionally

Read about what makes for good teaching every day
Listen well to students and colleagues
Be firm, but loving with classroom management
Remain organized with lesson plans – organization is the key to success

Politically

Give to: the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, International Women’s Writing Guild, and United Methodist Women
Support women and children who are marginalized and oppressed
Honor the sanctuary movement
Write to thank the activists on the frontlines
Support independent and women artists and commercial establishments
Speak up about gender equality
Celebrate and preserve the freedom of the press

Family-wise

Remain true to Chris and the kids
Do not overparent but guide my nearly-adult children to independence
Listen to and encourage the dreams of my children and family
Play more board games

I know I should make these resolutions SMART goals — measurable and time-sensitive. But for now, this is where I am starting. This is the beautiful thing about Lent — it is manageable; we travel from winter to spring. The miracle of renewal and resurrection is right around the corner. Stay optimistic. Have faith.

More on mindfulness.

 

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.

I’m Sorry

Yesterday, on my way to work at about 7:30 am, after a bad night’s sleep, I was Citibiking on the Central Park bike path loop. I felt like a failure (for some parenting issues I’d rather not go into*.) Behind me, the Parks Department truck honked. I was slow. And now I was mad and frustrated. I was struggling to pedal up a hill — that one where the runners pass me on my bike — and this dude is honking! Really?!

Any way, I rode to the left side of the road and the Parks Department truck pulled up next to me. The driver leaned out of his window, “Hey, sorry. I was not honking at you. I saw my crew in the field and I was honking at them.” Then he drove off.

I began to cry. Because the dude did not have to apologize or explain but he did. And because — even after some perceived parenting failings — it’s not always about me. And that Park’s Department worker’s one random act of kindness, of apologizing, flipped my day.

So remember this — the next time a person honks at you, don’t curse yourself. Or pile on the self-pity or frustration. The driver may not be trying to get you out of the way; they may be simply saying hello to a friend in a different lane.

on my morning commute

*I know that when a writer says ‘I don’t want to go into it,’ it makes the story more interesting. For a hint as to my parenting transgression, you might get the idea if you watch my Listen to Your Mother story, Taking out the Trash on YouTube. See, I had lost my patience with one of my darlings And I wished that I didn’t.