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.


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

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.

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

One Day, One Week, One Month of Happiness

You want to be happy but there’s so many chores to do.

For one moment, put your happiness first.

The other day, I bought myself a really cute pink party dress from Talbots. Once, as a preteen, reading Young Miss, an article said: ‘In order to be popular, do not wear a new outfit right after you get it. Wait at least a week.’

I have internalized this advice and have for more than 40 years tucked away my treasures in the pursuit of popularity. But WHY???

There is another truth: Don’t hide your light (or pretty pink dress) under a bushel. I am wearing the dress today.

Also, to increase my happiness quotient, the other night I went to the 52nd Street Project. I saw plays written by 10-year olds, performed by top-notch adult theater professionals, like Bill Kamp and Edie Falco. Going out to the theater makes me so happy. But especially because I like hanging out with my friend Joanna.

So for today’s happiness advice, I suggest you:

  • Do something nice for yourself
  • Wear something new
  • Go to the theater
  • Meet up with a friend
  • Admire the creativity of children
  • Plan something fun

Tomorrow the girls and I leave for almost two weeks in Italy — Milan, Ravenna, Bologna, Florence, Rome. Looking forward to this trip has made me happy.

Goodness to the Rescue

Today is my twin daughters’ 18th birthday. I am focusing on the good.

I have had so many good things in my life — good people, good work, good communities. And yet the world, and this country especially, is full of so many challenges. We have a lot of work to do. We have to lay down our arms. We have to keep building on and remembering to look for the common good. Our constitution guarantees that we promote the “general welfare.” Let’s promote each other, rather than tear each other down.

Yes, we humans probably each have an innate desire to show off. Maybe we once needed this to survive — a social evolutionary tactic to ensure that human existence persisted. But we need to make sure our neighbors persist too. We need to look out for our fellow human beings, even and especially, if and when we disagree with them.

We latch onto this myth that the accumulation of great wealth — of things — will make us happy. That ‘things’ will make us good or loved or better. This is not true. It is not the things in my life that bring great joy or deep meaning. But the people — children, family, extended family, friends, colleagues — that truly matter.

I have always tried to be good. I am sure that I suffer from some sort of Good Girl Syndrome. However, I would rather be good, look for the good in life and in the lives of those around me, than see only the bad. I know this world is difficult for young women today. This is a tough time in the U.S. to turn 18 — there are so many admitted predators leading institutions, including the commander in chief. But there are also great and good people all around — leading our families, schools, churches, faith communities, cities, states. They are persisting, not just for their own sake, but for the common welfare.
I am not giving up on the good.

Now that my daughters are 18, they can no longer threaten to sue me and go to court for emancipation, as they like to tease.

Seriously, I am reminding my girls to persist for the sake of good. Truly, the future is female. Let’s celebrate the ascendancy of good girls and good women everywhere. Happy Birthday! May our goodness and greatness dominate the world!

College Visits

My 12th-grade girls are starting to narrow down their college choices. Even though they are twins, they do not necessarily want to go to the same school.

College visits are so educational. Like at Smith, our tour guide described how students could receive grants. And so she, having just completed research about how exercise increases brain function, petitioned the school for treadmills in the library. And now, there are treadmills in the library, which has helped students study better, longer, healthier.

Young people are so inspiring.

This is why it is awesome to be a teacher and a parent right now. The leadership in the U.S. is sorely lacking. People need inspiring, moral leaders. (Those who claimed to want to drain the swamp are the new swamp monsters, yesterday’s CNN opinion piece says).

Young people will soon take over. In some places, like at the Smith library, they already have. And they are not giving up. (That is our family motto, “Never give up.”)

At many other schools this summer, we visited the beautiful libraries. This is a perennial highlight of the college visit: the library.

At Oberlin College, my girls crawled into a womb chair in the library. But it was not my womb chair. From my comfy nook, they emerged nearly 18 years ago, kicking and screaming. Only suddenly, they will be plunked down from their childhood into new places of growth, new libraries.

To be inspiring and to be inspired. To take over and to never give up. I hope.

The womb chair where the girls tried to get into their in utero positions.
We also visited a spot on campus where you could decompress by playing with kittens.
College visit with our great friend Alex.

Lift Each Other Up

Why is it so easy to tear each other down? I don’t get it.

I like to walk down the crowded Manhattan streets and say (in my head) to each person I pass, “Good for you.” or “God bless you.” It’s my little rebellion in the world of Might Makes Right. My radical, unconditional kindness.

I reject the idea

someonethat the fastest, sharpest, meanest person gets to speak loudest, longest, have the most power.

I tell my students, most often in creative writing classes, “It’s more important to be supportive than right.” We do not need to have all the facts exactly right — we have dubious Google for that — but, Good God, we need to support each other. For when we stretch ourselves in our writing, when we share our vulnerability, when we ask for help, we are opening ourselves up to growth. We may make mistakes but we will grow.

How did asking for help get such a bad rap? I know I do not like to ask for help but when I have, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the outcomes. And the crazy thing is this: even if I do not get what I wanted, I get something else. I get something. It’s what it’s all about — lifting each other up. Asking to be lifted. Lifting.

Do not be so fast criticize. Be fast to praise. To support. To love. To admire. Just for today.

And for today’s inspiration: I give you: the Dreamers.


Make Sense

I am glad I live in New York City where you are not allowed to have a gun unless you have a special license. Although maybe that makes no difference. Across the country, there must be more checks on guns. It is out of control. Good God.

When I was in Dublin, I chatted with a guy at a bar. He was the night manager of a small hotel and he told me about how he missed his estranged daughter. And we talked about other things. And when he found out I was from New York, he told me that he used to want to visit the states, especially New York. But no more.

“I might get killed by random gun fire if I go to the U.S.” he said. Because apparently, the U.S. now has a horrible international reputation as a lawless, gun-toting country.
“I’d rather go to China,” the Dubliner told me. “Safer.”

“No, no,” I assured him. “New York City is safe. It’s only in a few places where they allow guns. And only a few places where these gun massacres occur. Not New York. Not big cities.” I, of course, was wrong. Not just today. But other days.

I tried to call the NRA just now. The number was busy.

As a mother, I feel I have the right to call and tell them, please, please, please, advocate for safer laws to protect innocent people. Use your lobbying money to help get the government to keep people safe. No more semiautomatic guns.

Let’s make sure all people who just want to experience the happy community vibe of a country music concert or a Miami dance club can enjoy these experiences without worrying that they will die.

I am a member of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded by Shannon Watts, a fellow mother and a real hero. I connected to this group to know that I am not alone.

I also turned to my beloved United Methodist Women. Recently, I’ve been working on a project and had to get a quote from Bishop Oliveto, who is another hero of mine. Here were her words after the Colorado Springs horrific shooting:

These moments, when we feel deeply the loss and see clearly that such loss could have been prevented, place us on  the sacred ground upon which our commitment to heal the brokenness within our community rests. It is imperative that as we grieve we find ways to move through it in ways that empower us.

How do we grieve? How do we attempt to heal our brokenness? Who are your heroes? How are you making a difference? To whom do you turn to make sense of the world?

I don’t know why but I love seeing these canoes on the bridle path every day I walk or bike through Central Park.
The Guggenheim. The dappled Central Park light, so pretty.

Laugh More

Take yourself less seriously. Find the good. This was my vow today.

I am trying to write every day. See, I feel stretched pretty thin. And writing balances me out. And here is a truth about me: The more I do, the more I get done.

From the library I borrowed the Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. The book reminded me to notice — not just my gratitude — but the ways in which I make a contribution. This resonates for me. What about you?

I do a ton of stuff for my family. There is so much emotional labor of parenting, planning. Right now as my girls begin to apply for college, I have so much to keep in my head — to remind them, without being a bisatch (spelling? bizatch? Aw, you know what I mean.)

I need to acknowledge my contribution. I need to ask, not, Why me? But hey, Why not me? Since I’ve got a heap of work, emotional and otherwise, I might as well enjoy it or do something with it. Or be the best self I can be.

These were some of today’s thoughts as I biked through Central Park. I went to church, had brunch at Vesleka in the East Village, paid some bills, and saw two plays: Small World and No Wake, both at 59 East 59th. Both, really good. I did my thing. I made a contribution.

Central Park is beautiful in every season. But especially in the autumn.


And in the early evening

Day 3: A Dystopian Tale

“Good. We’ve got them locked in. Don’t let them out,” said the older one, William, who sat down against the red door, fanning himself with his gun.

The two men, one young and one old, wore black suits with long red ties.  

Inside the Red Door lounge, the two dozen women were quiet as they were told to be. They rested against one another. A feeling of hopelessness,

“We’ve got the IWQC on lockdown,” said Jackson into his blue tooth.

You see, the year was 2019 and the IWWG, the International Women’s Writing Guild, had become the IWQC, the Interior Women’s Quilting Club. Guilds were not allowed, but clubs were. Women were no longer allowed to write. Newspapers and websites were banned any way. And so the writing guild had become, ostensibly, a quilting club.

Although it was only three years after the new administration, women were no longer allowed to gather for any reason but to beautify their homes. They were required to stay in their kitchens, laundry rooms, or jobs unless they had a craft that they wanted to practice, such as quilting .

Jackson had tipped off the government when one morning he collected his family mail. You see, men were the only ones allowed to use the postal service, just as they were the only ones allowed to access health care.

His mother’s printed newsletter had arrived in the mail. It said the conference would include a gathering of leaders at the Red Door to proceed to a final session at the nearby Rose Garden. Jackson had become suspicious. And he wanted to impress the older men. He had pressed his mother who finally admitted this group of quilters were more than they had appeared. These women at the Red Door were the heart of the Resistance.

Now Jackson’s mother Jill stood by the door where her son was holding her and the other women hostage.

“Honey, Jacky, this lounge here is getting too hot. And we are getting cranky.”

See, the women, although they had been held hostage, had still managed to form a circle to develop a group process over how to deal with blame each other the thermostat malfunction. Hours earlier, Elizabeth, a menopausal woman in the throes of a hot flash, had pushed up the AC up so high that the system had shut down completely.

“Please let us out, sonny.”

“I will,” Jackson said, required to lie. Required to lie to everyone, he could only tell the truth to his fellow white men who wore long red ties.

Jackson himself, reminded of how hot he was, loosened his red tie.

“Are you lying to me?” his mother asked.

“Maybe,” he admitted.

“Honey, you never liked wearing a tie. You always liked a bow tie. Remember that black checked tie you used to wear with the pastel checked shirt? You even wore that to the President Obama celebration in Millennium Park. How old were you then?.”

Jackson smiled. “I was eight. Yes, that was great.” He remembered the beautiful diversity of the evening, so different from the current gatherings he’d had to attend, only white men in their long red ties with their suits too big, in attendance.

“Did his bow tie look like this?” Paula, the club’s president, who had been eavesdropping, asked. She dug into her basket of fabric. Paula knew they had to get out of the Red Door Lounge by midnight when the March for Justice would begin.

Jackson looked through the window in the red door at Paula’s handful of fabric.

“Yes, it was just like that!” he exclaimed. “Geez, I’d love to have a bow tie like that.”

Paula knew Jill’s son Jackson had always been a little vain. “You can have it!”  Paula shook the black checked fabric, as if were a red cape before a bull. Jackson glanced at the other red-tied man, William, who snored peaceably, slumped against the wall.  

Jackson opened the door a crack to reach for the fabric. But Paula thrust her small trimming scissors into his hand. When he pulled back in pain, she kicked open the red door.

Paula grabbed the older man’s gun. She fired a shot into the ceiling.

“C’mon ladies, some of you stay and tie them up. The rest of you follow me to the Resistance! We meet at the Rose Garden.”

Several women descended on the two men, tying them with quilting fabric onto the chairs. The women bound the men’s hands with their own long red ties.

Roaming the campus of Muhlenberg College now, the women quilters were free to be writers once again. They high-fived one another. They ran down Chew Street to the Rose Garden. There, the women met other women, immigrants, people of color, children, people with disabilities, all gathering there to take back the night. And the country.

For her part, Paula threw the gun in the Rose Garden fountain. A little later, Jill freed her son Jackson. She led him to the gathering by his hand.

Years into the future, Jackson would remember the beautiful diverse scene at the Rose Garden in Lehigh Valley. He would never forget that he played a part in the Uprising of Women Quilters, a day almost as historic as President Obama’s Election Victory Speech in Millennium Park.

I started this in Paula Scardamalia’s class on Writing as a Goddess and nearly finished it in Anne Walradt’s Creating with Comedy. (It’s still not quite done!) Mom gave me the idea for the story, but instead of the narrative being comical, it took a Handmaiden Tale twist. In any case, I turned my fears for America into dystopian flash fiction.