The Gifts of Growing Older at Work

Teaching is seen as a young person’s game — maybe it’s the sheer physicality of it — the bending down and looking at papers on short desks or stooping to have eye-to-eye conversations with rugrats.

Despite a possibly dwindling supply of energy as teachers dash between classrooms, older teachers bring truly needed gifts to schools. While many school administrators might be attracted to the enthusiasm and malleability (is that okay to say?) of young people, older people still have the zip and a growth mindset, as well as the patience and wisdom, of their younger colleagues.

Older people may also bring a larger connection or network of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, having spent years building up their rolodexes, filofaxes, and then, moving all those hard copy contacts to their LinkedIn sites. And of course, the best PR for any school or non-profit is word of mouth. If a school or biz wants a good rap, give the older people in their employ somethings to brag about. Let them brag about the awesome intergenerational mix of employees. It’s so good for teachers to model for their students how older and younger teachers work together and learn from one another — true examples of character-building and growth mindsets, attributes we all love to see in one another.

Total generalization here — but it seems to me that people over 55 are slower to anger. Working with kids requires a ton of patience and a great sense of humor. These are some of the reasons I love my second career of teaching.

Sadly, one former older teacher colleague has said that he stopped learning some of the lower school and younger teachers’ names because they come and go so quickly. I believe that older teachers stay longer, have more loyalty.

Not that anyone asked, but I would advise all teachers to:

  1. Learn each others’ names
  2. Keep up with their professional reading
  3. Stay positive about the contributions of all faculty, seasoned and fresh
  4. Make friendships across generational lines
  5. Realize that teachers of all ages can master tech in the classroom
I photographed this radiant couple a while ago at my favorite cafe, Margot Patisserie, on the Upper West Side. It’s true — everyone looks beautiful when they smile. Especially old people.

Was inspired to write this after reading the Sunday NYTimes interview with the founder of Encore.org

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Maya Angelou

Beautiful Boy and Beautiful Fall

This is what love is and what love does too. Was thinking of this last night when I watched Beautiful Boy at the Directors Guild. I have a special place in my heart for movies about recovery. I am always curious as to how AA and Alanon meetings are depicted in films. And is the preceding drug addiction or alcoholism or family disease glamorized at all?

One new twist in this movie is that the father’s worry over one child seemed to rob him of love for his other children. The younger children are merely props. Growing up in a big family, we five children had a radar for this kind of fairness among children. Any Coudal child that was getting any special treatment — say, you wanted to stay home from school because you were sick? — the others would whine, “you’re not sick! you’re faking it?” (Ugh, I’m sickened by the immature insult of calling someone or some news outlet ‘fake.’)

This is also the dance of addiction. “You’re not sick! You’re making poor choices!” The movie is a bit slim on the discussion of addiction and alcoholism as a disease; maybe that’s because we already know this, perhaps it is assumed. The film’s not preachy.

There’s some tough love in the movie too, which is new for movies about addiction. Steve Carrell, who plays the father, is stoic. I would like to see more chinks in his armor. He seems out of control only once — in the time-worn, film-weary trope of throwing his phone to show his anger. At least in this movie, he asks his wife to call his phone so he can find it. I could’ve used more ragged emotion from Carrell. But that’s me — I relate more to imperfect, sensitive people than walled-off, guarded father figures.

What the movie gets right, on so many levels, is that the disease of addiction is conjoined with mental illness. This actor who plays Nic, Timothee Chalamet, is perfect — so lovable, one moment, and monstrous the next. Is his brief, drug-induced ecstasy worth the pain, torture, heartache he causes himself and his loved ones? Again, he is in throes of addiction so naturally, the cause and effect of his illness are not forefront on his mind.

This movie does bring to light the scourge of drug addiction in this country. Starkly, at the end of the movie, this fact appeared:  Overdoses now are the leading cause of death of Americans under 50. Wow! Sobering.

There’s another theme found in the movie, which I love — the depiction of a writer’s life. In many films, you get the feeling that being a writer means you sit for about two minutes staring at a computer screen, maybe you wad up some paper — throw the wad, oh dang, it misses the waste basket — and then hooray! we see our hapless writer hero on their book tour. But the hours of research, loneliness, procrastination? Not so much. I liked that this movie depicts a writer’s life somewhat realistically as the solitary life of an artist — much like the life of a visual artist. In this film, Maura Tierney plays the artist Karen Barbour, the stepmom of Nic, who, too, is plumbing the depths through her visual art. Sitting alone. Which is what I’m doing right now.

Just a last thought and perhaps a feminist take on this movie, now that I’ve mentioned Nic’s stepmother, I’m wondering if this movie would’ve been made if the caring parent of a teenager in need of recovery was a female writer. I think we tend to glorify fathers and husbands (and male writers) in our Hollywood films, but from my true life experience, from what I’ve seen: most caregivers, at least among spouses with Parkinson’s Disease, are female.

It could be part of the novelty and romanticism of Beautiful Boy, in that it is the father is the parent depicted as the consistent, caring one. In real life, I’ve found, more women are primary caregivers for physically and mentally ill family members. But they rarely have movies made about them.

I’ve written about other movies on addiction: Great movies about alcoholics and mental illness: Great movies about mental illness.

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Am writing this from the Cooper Hewitt cafe. A beautiful fall Halloween day. 

Letter Writing to End Poverty

Postcards from the edge. The other night I wrote to voters to encourage them to vote in the coming midterm elections. And today during church we addressed postcards to our congresspeople and senators in solidarity with Bread for the World — encouraging our policy makers to continue funding SNAP and policies that give tax breaks to the poor.

It is hard to stay centered in my creativity when there’s so much activism to be done. But I believe activism is a form of creativity. We are all, it seems, a little bit too close to the edge — the edge of outrage. We need moral leadership. We need to return to our united part of the United States of America.

Sunday mornings are my favorite time of the week. I can take my time journaling and this morning I realized through journaling, that I had been impatient with Chris last night. I apologized. Living with someone who spins, like a record, on a speed of 45 while the rest of the world spins at 78 can be difficult. I am a Type A person, always working several jobs, and so Chris’s inevitable slowdown with Parkinson’s is  an uncomfortable adjustment.

I also love Sunday mornings because I can hang out on Twitter. Here is one of this morning’s tweets:

Trump is a liar and a tax cheat. Can we get some better leaders? Ya know, the kind who won’t praise hostility towards journalists? So tired of the status quo. #VOTEThemOUT

And Sunday morning is also my Twitter session on #SpiritChat — a transformative and mind-shifting dialogue on leading your most soulful life with heart (from 9 am to 10 am EST). Here were some of my contributions today on the topic of Truth:

Find beauty in each simple day.

“Never, ever, let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Prove the cynics wrong. Pity them for they have no imagination. The sky’s the limit. Your sky. Your limit. Now. Let’s dance.”
Tom Hiddleston

Have patience with the process. We are all on the path. Ditch perfectionism- embrace growth.

Intuition is a great guide. Trust your gut. Laugh from your belly. Find humor in the daily messes.

I like the KIPP motto – Work Hard. Be Nice.

Live with integrity- lifting up those who are downtrodden.

I believe the truth will always come out. Do not hide, lie, live dishonestly.

Get to yes – learn diplomacy, compromise, make sure everyone wins.

I like the critical thinking model of PMI – plus minus interesting- instead of the yes / no modality – we are too polar – look at triads not dayads.

Just heard Bryan Stevenson speak – one guiding principle? Be prepared to be uncomfortable.

Another Stevenson takeaway? Have hope. You don’t seek change unless you believe change is possible.

A truth, disbelieved, was always difficult- i.e., a boss who took credit for my work left me feeling powerless, bereft, gaslit… Tough stuff when you try to call out injustice.

Truths – from my journalism background – are based in facts – objective facts -yes, hard to be objective but most meaningful tasks are difficult.

Quietly I had speak to boys who insulted one another by calling each other ‘a girl’ As a woman who was a girl myself, I told them, that hurts our feelings.

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Pomodoro Technique

pomodorWhen I need to get something done, I set my timer and I don’t look up for 25 minutes. Today, I’m working on a writing project for United Methodist Women. It’s hard to get into it. But honestly, like anything, once I’m in the zone, I love it. I take great satisfaction in doing a difficult job well.

Sometimes, I con myself, saying, ‘You only have to look at your project for 25 minutes.’ But of course once I pull the file up on my laptop, I can’t just sit there gazing passively, I have to tinker. I focus on only one project during the entire 25 minute allotment. Staying on one task at a time is essential for me, a noted and proud multi-tasker.

When I’m in a pomodoro, nothing interrupts me; I do my writing. When the timer on my phone or laptop goes off, I might stretch for 5 minutes or, more commonly, scan my Twitter feed.

Then I set the timer again and start on another pomodoro. I like to think the pomodoro was invented because founder Francesco Cirillo saw his grandmother making pasta sauce and realized you need 25 minutes to make a really good sauce. But I think it’s because his timer reminded him of a tomato; pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

After four pomodoros, it’s time to give yourself a 30-minute break. ProcrastinEating, perhaps?

I learned the pomodoro technique at my old coworking space, New Work City. I got a lot of support there. We, coworkers, inspired each other to achieve our productivity goals.

Time yourself. Be accountable. Get support. Stay on task. Focus.

Let’s go team. Go on out there and get it done. It only takes 25 minutes.

The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness. In addition, there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus. Actions seem effortless and there is an increased belief that your dreams or goals can become achievable and real. In addition, there is also a sense of deep enjoyment when the person is in this unique, special and magical state of being. – Sports Psychologist Dr. Jay Granat

Be an Artist of Life

  • Who am I?
  • What is real?
  • What is love?

These are the three questions in a new book by Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of the Four Agreements, which, you may recall, are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Take nothing personally
  • Make no assumptions
  • Always do your best

I was reminded of these when I listened to Maria Shriver interview Ruiz on her Sunday Morning Architects of Change newsletter.

Shriver said we are all artists of our lives and she and Ruiz agreed that we are also presidents of our own countries. I like these ideas.

I know that I am a creative person. While I am dedicating this month to documenting my creativity daily, I often feel powerless over my family situation and over this once-great country. (Just today, the country’s leader engaged in unkind, sophomoric name-calling in a way that I  would not allow my students or children to speak to one another.) I believe, leaders should follow the four agreements, especially the first.

Even more disturbing today is the fate of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggiin at the hands of a murderous regime whom the pres calls friends. We must, as a country, return to a nation of truth and honor. Realize and value that journalists are searching for the truth, as are artists.

In my own efforts to increase my search for more truth, empathy and kindness, I feel, at times, rudderless. Whom shall I follow? Are we all making it up as we go along? I think so. This is life — we are all improvising our own efforts to bring more hope to the world.

I find hope in the four agreements and the three questions.

Because creativity is such an individualized journey, we may not always see the guide in front of us. Yet, we are being led. And we must follow the path of creativity and kindness. We also have to be okay with uncertainty on our journey.

I am grateful to my month-long commitment to becoming more creative. I vow to continue to live my most creative life by increasing my activism, writing, painting, and teaching. And not losing hope.

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Parenting an Empty Nest

Feeling bittersweet, my kids are growing up. Today my daughters turn 19.

I wanted kids so badly and got unbelievably lucky, thanks to God and the science of fertility, to have them. (Not that we didn’t try, endlessly and enjoyably, the old-fashioned way.)

It was about two decades ago, I was waiting to hear if I was pregnant. I recall exiting the 72nd Street subway, knowing there would be an answering machine message at home with the pregnancy results. The whole world seemed super taut — like a too-tight, vibrating guitar string. I was reverberating on a super-high frequency. And I noticed all the commuters going about their ordinary lives. And I thought, ‘None of them is going through what I’m going through.’ The stakes were high. I hoped I would not burst before I got home to find out the news.

And it was a YES! The universe (and science) gave us what we were longing for.

Fast forward all these years. The chicks have flown the coop. I sort of hate the Empty Nest metaphor. After all, New York City kids are pretty independent, flying around on Uber accounts as if they were magic carpets.

On the plus side, the house stays way neater, but sadly, there’s way less liveliness. Dinner time is most difficult for us. Chris still slowly cooks way too much food for just the two of us. We forget that we are not feeding vegetarians and we still, healthily, eat mostly meatless meals. Over our meal, we talk about the kids or about our work or creative projects.

And then, we watch Jeopardy. See, as kids grow up and move out, there is this one consolation prize: game shows. Is this pathetic? Yes, and it is also very fun. The two of us discuss how well we do on our favorite categories of Entertainment and Literature. And then, we might play Gin Rummy. Then, for me, it’s time for bed with a book.

In any case, once a month, the pattern is disrupted. The chicks return home. Or maybe a nephew or friend will come to stay, briefly populating our empty rooms, adding dinner table conversation or another hand to deal at the card table.

When our kids were young, I was told endlessly, ‘The years go fast, the days go slow.’ And it is unbearably true.

So cherish each day, each year. Mark the birthdays with joy and remembrance of how badly you wanted these darlings. And then, remember, how, when they came into the world, they surprised and exceeded every hope and dream. Their childhood was not always easy, but, oh, it was undeniably worth it.

Let love for your family still fill your heart. And then, after feeling all these feelings — the waves of gratitude and love, tune in to Jeopardy.

People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth of their stories are the real badasses. – Dr. Brené Brown, Rising Strong

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I tried to take a selfie with Alex Trebek but he disappeared and all I’m left with is this selfie with the Jeopardy contestants.

Breakfast or Make Up?

Given my finite time and energy every morning, I ask myself, should I put on make up or have breakfast? Some questions I never ask myself: should I help my kids find their backpacks? Or help Chris out of bed? I always do those things when asked — and even when not asked.

And this is why I feel an anticipatory loss thinking about about my girls going to college (or gap year or whatever they decide to do) next year. Because my kids are my front and center and they have been the reason for just about every decision I have made for the last 21 years. I am always asking myself, How does this — whatever this is — impact my kids?

And incidentally, I know I should wear make up AND have breakfast. But if you’re a working mom, maybe you can relate. Our time is finite. So we help our children find their backpacks. And we help our loved one out of bed. And then, if we’re lucky, we grab an apple or swipe our lips with lipstick as we head on out the front door.

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This was in the hallway of one of my favorite schools on the Day of the Girl! Inspiring.