Why here?

About ten days ago, I got my hair highlighted at Jean Louis David. As I was leaving, I saw a friend, an older neurologist, getting his haircut and he said that his spouse was coming up to Westport the next day. A voice inside me cried, ‘Can she take me with her?’

But then I remembered my three kids and the dog we were planning to dogsit. My connections. One of my daughters was returning the next day from college and the other was uncertain if her college was going to reopen as planned.

That night I helped at the church soup kitchen. Then the kids met me and we walked to my son’s climbing wall. That was the last time we were in a group of more than our core family unit. My one daughter and I climbed very briefly, then we shopped.

And now we’ve landed here.
Why here?
Why now?
I think that there is something about this place in the Adirondacks. It is where we came after 9/11. It is where I was when Hurricane Sandy hit.

And when my friend Mary suggested the escape from NYC and connected with me one week ago today, I jumped. We moved up to Westport, NY on Saturday night.

Because, like with 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy, once again, the world changed over night, didn’t it?
Our indoor rock climbing jaunt was not even two weeks ago. But it was a lifetime ago. It was another world. One we knew would change. Change for good? We wait.

The climbing wall is definitely a great metaphor for this moment. ‘We grab a hold, not that one, this one. stretch this way. scamper up. use every bit of strength you have. use every possible move. like chess but with your body. find your toe hold. hang on. if you fall, land gently.’

Tough times can spark depression. It’s possible that if you’re not depressed right now, you’re not paying attention. Yes, there’s depression and there’s planning and gratitude. Of course, immensely grateful for the medical workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers. My beautiful, crazy kids, this crazy dog.

Let me add: grateful for car rental companies and gas station attendants. I bought milk on the four or five hour trip north on Saturday night. Overflowingly grateful for my sister-in-law who’s been caring for Chris while he shelters in place in Florida with her.

Having a spouse with physical challenges is hard enough. Disability is hard enough in good times. Extra hard in tough times. Still he and I talk by phone every day. We say, I love you; It’s going to be okay.

I find comfort in the beauty and the softness of nature as the world came / comes crashing down.

I write these thoughts by setting my timer for ten minutes. Creativity and nature and community and friends will save us. They already have.

A week ago I jotted down this list:

1) write thank you notes and birthday cards 2) journal 3) make a schedule 4) eat well 5) slow down 6) take the news in small doses 7) notice nature 8) check in with the olds 9) read 10) foster an animal 11) make art.

Charlie – our dog for a couple of months.
View from the office this morning.

You are special

This!

“You can’t do what I do,
but I can’t do what you do either.
That’s why we are both important to the plan of God.”

This quote from Mother Teresa, heard by my friend Fr. John Cusick and shared this morning on his Lenten reflections Facebook post, reminds me, firstly, that there are so many things that I cannot do. I cannot sing, speak Arabic or Spanish, wire electricity, move mountains, provide hospice care, trade bonds, nurse a baby, or climb a high ladder.

But there are also real gifts that I do have. There are many things that I do really well — write, edit, teach, laugh, encourage, walk, dance, paint, and advocate for justice.

When I was a kid, we had a poster in the kitchen, something like: ‘You are beautifully made. God doesn’t make junk.’ I believe it was a contemporary version of the Psalms: ‘You are beautifully and powerfully made.” This poster always made me feel good. Because, you know, sometimes we all feel worthless. But if we’re made in the image of God, we can’t be all bad. And I do believe God was so happy when God made us. God said, ‘wow, this is good,’ not just when the great saints, like Mother Teresa, were made, but when you and I, ordinary saints, were made. That warms my soul.

See, every day is a chance to start anew, to take ordinary actions in this extraordinary moment in history. Write the new story. Find the new way. Seek higher ground. Unite rather than divide.

And in telling your story, choose to emphasize your gifts and the talents of those around you. Do not belittle yourself. Or bully those whom you perceive as weaker. The other day when the boys I teach were gossiping a bit cruelly, I reminded them, “Do not be like vultures, eating at the tragedy of others.” I know it’s a graphic image but mean-spirited gossip is like that — a bit of a foul feast. And the boys paused when I gave them this image and I hope that they asked themselves whether they were dining on roadkill or stopping like a Good Samaritan to help some fellow animal in need.

For we are only human animals. In our shared humanity, we can find and celebrate our own gifts and the gifts of others.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Poster

After seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood the other day, I was inspired by Fred Rogers and told a third grader C. who was struggling with a grammar problem, “You’ve got this. You’re special.”

“I hope so,” C. replied, a bit indignantly, as if it was so obvious how special he was. It made me smile. I hope today finds you smiling at the wisdom and gifts of those around you, too, including yourself.

Stay with the Team

Stay with yourself. Don’t go anywhere. It’s tempting to check out — to join the mob of hatred towards those whom we consider ‘other’ — be they those folks on the far right or the far left. Whoever sees the world opposite from us could be seen as the enemy. But maybe you can learn from the ‘enemy.’ If you are one who runs away from this kind of conflict, stay and join the good fight. If you fight too much, check your ego, calm yourself, and carry on.

Do not go away. Do not seek to numb your rainbow of feelings with drugs, alcohol, gossip, social media, television, food, easy hatred. Stay present for the feelings — like the weather, they will pass.

In times of conflict within my family, work, or country, I feel called upon to be a peacemaker and at other times, I feel, “Oh, why the hell should I bother?” I have so much to give, but I sometimes feel that my contribution is not valued. I am such an amazing teacher, photographer, writer, deep thinker. These gifts are not nothing, but often my contributions are not sought when teams form to strategically think about an organization’s direction. And this is one of my strengths, based upon that Strengths Based Learning leadership Academy thingy we did at the General Board of Global Ministries. I am frustrated when I am asked to do very little when what I want and have is so much to give.

My cure for this malady has been to form my own team, to be my own boss, to write my own words, to teach my own classes. But another strategy is to apply this thinking which I learned from the theater world — ‘there are no small roles, only small actors.’ What if I fully, one hundred percent, throw myself into my small and supportive roles? Would that help my lingering resentment and my wounded ego?

Or am I supposed to totally abdicate the ego? I doubt that I can do this as I am not Buddha or Jesus. I am an aging woman in 2020, hoping to make a positive difference in a difficult world.

When your ego is broken down, how do you build yourself up?

Recently, I have been acutely aware of how my participating in teams has carried me through. I loved my work with the marketing team at GBGM. We strategized and made amazing campaigns. Same is true for my SPSARV work and peeps. And for my Boot Camp for Writers team.

After my father’s death a couple of months ago, the school where I teach offered a weekday Catholic mass for him. About a dozen of my friends attended the 30 minute service and we went for a quick coffee afterwards. This team of friends comforted me. See, I could’ve gone to the mass alone. I could gone through life alone. But I asked for a team of friends. I need community. I need my people.

Who is your posse? How do you use teamwork to make the dreamwork?

Today’s bike ride home-cold and clear.
Nothing like a team of friends.

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