Repurposing

I began blogging on WordPress about four and a half years ago. My first post was on my first rule. See, during a champagne dinner with my friend Lindsay, we had come up with seven guidelines to help us cope with work and family.

In fact, just this summer, Lindsay and I toiled again over a champagne dinner and many-coffee brunch the next day, to update our seven rules and come up with seven BRAND SPANKING NEW rules. And I will share them, in time, my friends.

But among our old rules, the first was Pile on the People.

# 1 Pile on People (P.O.P.)

There is no problem that can’t be bettered by adding a lot more people to it.

If two parents are good, then three are even better still. Four or five? Excellent! After all, it does take a village to raise a child. Or fight a war. Even George Bush employed this concept — he called it a surge.

In my life, I have employed a surge. Especially in the last few years I have piled on the people by employing housekeepers and babysitters. And it’s really worked well. (Heck, half of my facebook friends are the kids’ babysitters.)

One note: it does cost you. So, be prepared to DTE (damn the expense!) and pile the money on as you pile the people on! Or barter! Or get family members on board.

I was just chatting with Josie, former babysitter, the other night. I was dissing marriage to her. Saying Let’s face it, married couple love is way overrated. That relationship is so fetishized by, oh, I don’t know, diamond companies, candymakers, Valentine’s revelers, Catholic priests. If we are going to celebrate love, let’s expand our concept of love a wee bit.

Let’s celebrate a love of a single mother for her kids, a sister for her brother, two dear old friends, a son for his dad, an aunt for her nephew, a student for his teacher, a pastor for her flock, a babysitter for her kids. I dunno. I’m just sick of all the brouhaha over marriage.

My point is — it’s wrong to send love like a garden hose in just one direction. That won’t water the garden. Hook it up to a sprinkler and let love be more like a fountain — spraying in many directions and watering a wider land.

I’m digressing.

I want to tweak my P.O.P. concept. Make it P.O.U.P. — Pile on Useful People. Because just a pile of people gets unwieldy. And given that I’m a real people pleaser, when you have to please unwieldy people, it’s a real drag. So try to see that the people in your life add, not take away.

A Garden hose.
A Garden hose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started on WordPress in July 2009, I had four blogs. This blog appeared on the first.

  • To offer advice on staying happy – My 7 Rules
  • To document my beautiful NYC – My Beautiful New York
  • To run a 5k – Running Aground
  • To get my kids off technology – The Connected Life

***

Looking this first post over, I realized that the topic is still relevant as last night at book club, while discussing Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women, we got into this same conversation about marriage again.

I contend that it is not right or fair or realistic to expect one person to be everything to you. Shouldn’t we pile on the the people? The more, the merrier.

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Be More Than One Thing

I’ve read a lot about branding. As a small biz owner I’ve heard I should focus on ONE THING.

my little treasure boxes
my little treasure boxes

See I’m a writing coach, but I’m also the director, producer and star of some short comedy films. Oh, and I make little treasure boxes. And I’m an advocate for kids’ creative learning. I love religion. I’m into improv and stand up comedy. I am totally a feminist and global peace-lover. I support Parkinson’s Disease causes. I occasionally run 5Ks. I review Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Mostly, I’m a blogger.

See, what I mean? It’s impossible to put myself in a box.

How can I be just one thing? How can you?

In our frenzied, distracted society, it may be that we only give ourselves time to label each other as one thing.

Ken Norton, back in the day.
Ken Norton, back in the day. (courtesy of boxingkodvds)

I was thinking about this this morning when a brilliant friend and student of mine (yes, they’re ALL brilliant!) posted an article about the death of Ken Norton. See, Matthew Baker knows a lot about boxing. He also takes people on Beautiful New York tours, and is a super-involved dad and lover of Broadway.

I wonder how Matt brands himself? Boxing enthusiast? Blogger? Tour guide? Dad? Actually, I don’t care how he brands himself. I am interested in his voice.

I read Matt’s article about Norton, not because I have any interest in boxing, but because I have an interest in Baker’s take on boxing. So rather than focusing on what we do, let’s focus on who we are. Let’s listen to the voices of complex people in our midst.

We are all complicated people. Complications bring new insights into old subjects. Be Renaissance women and men with many interests, not just one. It may be easier to brand yourself but who wants to be easy. Be interesting.

I know a little about a lot. Thanks to Matt, today, I know a little more about boxing. And I got this great line from Matt’s article. “He always treated me like I was somebody.” That’s what Tyson said about Norton. That’s nice. Maybe Norton saw that Tyson was more than just one thing (I’ve always labeled Tyson as a screw up.)

Maybe when we stop branding ourselves and others we can be a little more compassionate. Maybe people are more than screw ups. Maybe people are more than their brand. I am.

This reminds me of the headmaster’s advice, inspired by Wittgenstein, “Be a duck-rabbit.” I blogged a while back about  Dominic Randolph’s brilliant advice to Riverdale 8th graders.

Be more than one thing. Don’t brand yourself.

Only Connect

Lindsay Pontius and Mary Beth CoudalAt the end of August for her birthday, Lindsay (Pontius) and I began writing our seven rules for living at the Yacht Club, also known as the Bistro du Lac. We did this four years ago. At that time, our number one rule was Pile on the People. This time around? Only connect. This is from Howards End.

It is so easy to disconnect. As a writer, I always choose a seat on the outside of the circle. I have to consciously make myself sit at the table. (Reading Sandberg’s Lean In helped.)

I find the sidelines are a good place to watch the action. But do I really want to watch the action? Don’t I want to get in the game? I know I’m mixing metaphors here — a seat at the table and a play on the field. But you know what I mean.

I read Howards End in grad school or maybe I read it for book club. My book club’s been together for 10 years so sometimes I forget where and when I read what.

I do remember the Ivory-Merchant movie of Howards End. It was my first official date with Chris. We saw Howards End at the Paris Theatre. Oh, God, the Paris is like the Ziegfield — such a gorgeous movie theater.

It was my exhusband Jim who told me, “You’ll love this movie.” He was good at knowing what I’d love. Or maybe I was just good at listening to him and letting him tell me what (and who) to love. But with Howards End — what’s not to love? He was right.

Any way, on my first date with the man who would become my second husband, I went to a movie recommended by my first husband.

davidComing out of the Paris, I ran into Diana and David. And Chris was a little ways behind us. So David, playfully, suggested that we pretend he and I were an item.

He said it’d be funny to make Chris and Diana laugh And so, David sort of dipped me on the sidewalk on 58th street and we pretended we were making out. And now — how many years later?! 20? — David died last year, and Chris has Parkinson’s.

And well, it just goes to show, “Connect, only connect.” It’s the message of the movie and the novel and hopefully, this blog post.

Pretend you are making out with someone. Pretend anything. It’ll be funny. Take a seat at the table. Get in the game. Because who knows where you — or anyone — will be in 20 years?

I have digressed. Lindsay and I, over champagne, talked about learning this lesson from her husband Sandy who died of cancer more than ten years ago. She learned you must live fully while you are alive.

That’s why the last time Lindsay and I made rules for living, our number six rule was, “Live every day as if it were your last.” We were inspired by Sandy’s life.

What’s your legacy? What do people remember about you? Were you playful? Were you kind? Did you connect?

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, And human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect… -E.M. Forster, Howards End

A Little More

Last night we saw A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend, a funny, sad one-man show with and by Chris Clavelli about the death of his 6-year old son Jess.

clavelliThis sucks. I mean the play is awesome, but the show reminds you that life sucks.

Life is a total crap shoot. You get shit. You get joy. You live. You die. Other people live and die too.

You have to talk about it. You have to write about it. You have to tell about it. You have to live it. You have to make something, maybe theater, out of it.

The sucky part, sometimes, is living on and getting up when you feel like curling up in bed and not getting up.

***

Taking the garbage out last night with my daughter Charlotte, one of our neighbors, a former Hollywood starlet from the 1950s (and this is not even giving her away because we have several senior actresses in our building), asked me, “How’s your boyfriend?” or something like that.

Charlotte looked at me quizzically.

“He’s doing good,” I said, about my husband. “He’s got a great creative spirit. Is directing a show upstate this summer.

The former starlet said, “He’s wonderful. He’s got a twinkle in his eye and great artistry despite the tragedy of his life.”

We said good bye at the recycling bin.

“What did she say?” Charlotte asked. “The what of his life?”

“The tragedy. I suppose, she meant the tragedy of his Parkinson’s diagnosis,” I told my daughter.

I don’t think of my husband Chris’s life as a tragedy.

This is not the first time a neighbor has used stark terms to refer to my husband’s disease in front of my kids. I guess, in the dailiness of life, the reality of Chris’s illness is not a tragedy, it’s normal.

It is not always a comedy, but tragedy? I don’t know.  Chris feels he is lucky. He feels there are worse diagnoses.

***

This is the second time I’ve seen Clavelli’s play. It’s blown me away. Made me laugh and cry.

I am friends with Clavelli, and his girlfriend Leonisa, who funnily enough, was my work out buddy at my former workplace, before she and Clavelli got together.

The play reminded me to hug my darlings, to love the people in my life, to laugh and cry with them, to talk about truths, to listen to other people’s truths, to make art.

When someone tells their truth, I can’t argue or judge. Hearing someone’s truth makes me want to tell my truth. Because, I know, making art is a way of healing.

Life is a tragic-comedy.

***

Any way, go see Clavelli’s show. It’s really good. It’s only running in June in NYC.

Related stories

Chris Clavelli

A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend

Beauty in Tragedy, The Poem (writingsofamrs.wordpress.com)

Artists’ and Writers’ Weekend

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.

Suspense

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.

Characters

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.

Details

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.

Setting

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.

Thanks

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.

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Four of the five of us: Rashida, Lena, Joanna, Me
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A visit to Ted Cornell’s art farm
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We contemplated the beach.
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At the apple orchard near Kathryn’s house
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Making art journals in the children’s dining room
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with Ted on his art farm

I Get Social Media

Do you feel like you “get” social media, or do you just use it because that’s where all your friends and family are?

I get social media. But to get it, you have to give it.

I am Facebook, Twitter, Instagram girl, but I put myself out there. I’ve seen studies that show the more engaged a social media user is, the happier she is.

Some people complain about social media, “I don’t want to know what you had for lunch.”

I admit I occasionally report what I’m cooking. When I recently updated my FB status, “Making chili, meat and vegetarian,” several cyber friends in several states were also making chili. Coincidence? I dunno. But it was interesting and fun and I felt less alone in my solo chili-making kitchen.

Sometimes I overshare. That’s me. I overshare IRL too.

As a wife of someone with Parkinson’s Disease, I feel connected to friends and family through social media. Apathy is a side effect of my husband’s disease. On social media, I can’t tell if people are apathetic towards me. I try to notice only the thumbs up, the cheers, the interactions that lead to deeper sharing. I affirm people, just like I like being affirmed.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve connected in person with two different high school friends who were visiting New York. I wouldn’t have stayed in touch with them without Facebook. When we got together, we talked about deep stuff — how we felt different, theater, how we parent, what’s new with our siblings, how we work.

Of course, it’s scary to put yourself out there and swim in the social media community pool. It’s easier and safer, emotionally, to lurk, dangle your feet in the water.

My social media mania has one downside.

I was reminded of this jealousy factor, when I read: More kids than suitcases’ blog post about torturing yourself on spring break. Because yes, just by the look of some other people’s spring break pics, they’re having a lot of fun out there. I saw in friends’ feeds palm trees and London tea (different people obviously.) That made me wish I was somewhere fabulous.

But I was. I was somewhere fab. Making every day fabulous is one of my life goals. (Thanks to my former colleague, Klay Williams!)

Compare and despair. I try to post awesome pictures of me and the kids having a really good time out in the world. (See below!) Because a picture of one of my kids staring at the phone, laptop, or TV is boring. I post about things, people, and events that I want to remember. I don’t want to remember boredom, bickering, apathy, and negativity.

I want to remember doing cartwheels on the beach. I want to remember bike riding. I want to remember making each other smile and laugh.

This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt – Social Network.

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The Hobbit, meh

I didn’t really like the Hobbit. Like everyone else in the world, I loved the earlier Lord of the Rings. 

Hobbit3I loved the book. I have memories of sitting on my father’s lap and listening with my brothers as dad read to us on the back patio in Skokie, Illinois on a warm summer night.

But the movie left me with one burning question:

Where are the women?

Do orcs, dwarves, hobbits, ogres reproduce through spawning? This movie was like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves without Snow White.

I know men rule the world, but really. Really?

No wonder Middle-earth is so violent. There are no women with whom to partner, make love, reason, journey alongside, learn from, share.

Last I checked women and girls made up half of the world’s population and half of the movie-going audiences. Why dis us this way?

The only woman in this film was the lovely Cate Blanchett who is really more of a spirit than a body. While the men can eat and travel and fight, her special talent is that she disappears. Perfect for this movie.

The movie was clearly made for and by men and boys. It unfolds like a video game — now that you’ve surpassed the scary tiger level, you move on to the orc level, and if you move on from that level, you may proceed to the next level. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I do like a subgenre of movies where the hero (always male) doubts himself and then finds he has within him what he needed all along. (Like Glory! An all-male movie too, but brilliant!) And I guess this journey towards courage in the face of self-doubt motif happens for Baggins on his journey. But I was hoping for something more.

Even Skyfall had a few juicy women characters like Dame Judi Dench and Naomie Harris.

If you are looking for a holiday blockbuster, go to see Les Misérables, a fun adventure for girls and boys, men and women.