Wonder and Awe and Deep Listening

I may look back on my childhood with wonder — idealizing the sunny days spent climbing trees. But let’s face it, childhood years can also be a struggle and a time we may need protection. As children, we do not yet have words or power to express or change our deep and unspoken worries. I know many children have a heart for environmental justice. They care about preserving nature.

I like to think of myself as a good listener. I hear the concerns of children in my job as a teacher. Teaching is my second (or third?) career. I love how uncensored children are – so hilarious, so much nonsense, so many emotions, so playful. I especially love how they can be brave at expressing unpopular opinions, worries, vulnerabilities, and honest emotions.

Sometimes there is cruelty. The Seventh Grade class at school just finished reading Lord of the Flies. Tough stuff.

I cannot stop wondering why and how people can be so cruel – my inclination is first, always, to help, to be kind.

I try not to judge anyone. In my rush to support students, I can be righteous or judgey. I want to remember that I am not always seeing the whole picture — from the leaders at the school or the students — I do not always know what else is going on in a person’s life. As an admitted know-it-all, I have a million good ideas for everyone else’s right actions.

I want to keep the focus on myself. Last weekend, my son and I were talking about how listening makes you feel loved. We wondered whether we truly listen to understand or just to wait for the pause in the conversation to get our words in.

Yesterday, after a long day, I walked home from work. It was about 5:15 pm. It was cold, yes, but the residue of a sunny day hung like a banner across the blue sky.

Whether I know it or realize it — spring is coming — buds on trees and green shoots are going to burst from the frozen ground. I hope that all people with worries, especially children, can hang on to the power of spring.

Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power. – William James

When we know that God loves us deeply and will always go on loving us, whoever we are and whatever we do, it becomes possible to expect no more of our fellow men and women than they are able to give, to forgive them generously when they have offended us, and always to respond to their hostility with love. By doing so we make visible a new way of being human and a new way of responding to our world problems. – Henri Nouwen

Adirondack 2019
Look forward to this new writing workshop. http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/register/adirondack-writer-retreat/

What To Do With My Free Time: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

I thought when I left my job more than six months ago, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Um, not so much. As my friend, Linda B. said, “Looks like you’re having fun!”

Work is overrated. A regular paycheck definitely has its benefits, but there are way more valuable assets than money. One of which is time. I have had time, especially recently to visit with old friends.

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On one of these scorching hot days, we walked the High Line, the public park converted from railroad tracks. After walking this path from 30th street for a mile and a quarter down into NYC’s trendiest neighborhood, MeaPa, (the meat packing district), we stopped for brunch.

The flowers on the High Line are lovely.
The flowers on the High Line are lovely.

Besides time with friends, there’s something I’ve come to treasure lately: time alone — to read and paint.

Book club seems to be on a summer hiatus. I’m a huge Kindle fan, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of books: all kinds of books (don’t judge me): feminist, erotic, non-fiction, self help.

I started these three. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too.
These three books are on my bedside. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too. (Lest you think I’ve lost my literary bent.)

I love to make collage art and book journals.

I started taking class again at Art Students League. You receive very little instruction, but you get a ton of inspiration. Here’s a little project I worked on.

I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.
I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.

And then of course, I work on my biz, Boot Camp for Writers, teaching memoir writing workshops. I love teaching and writing. It’s really all I want to do. Well, that and walk the High Line, visit friends, make art, go to the theater, perform improv, make short films, and read books. That’s all.

Here’s the latest offering for the writing workshop biz: An afternoon memoir workshop and an evening salon in the Adirondacks – August 29, Thursday, 2-9, $25, dinner on your own.

This post was inspired by the daily post: a mystery

Iron Man Ignored the Kid

The iron man and us
The iron man and us (Photo credit: Bev Goodwin)

I love summer blockbusters. I also love French films and independent films and basically any kind of films (though, true fact: I have never seen an X-rated movie, unless flipping around and catching Robin Byrd on cable counts!)

I just love losing myself to the dark of any movie theater.

But something kept rattling in my brain after seeing Iron Man 3. I was disturbed by the way Iron Man treated the kid who had rescued him. He totally ignored the kid.

Iron Man seemed to think a dark roomful of toys/tech equipment could replace the presence of a loving adult.

See, the kid in the movie had been abandoned by his dad, and no surprise, when Iron Man showed up, the kid assumed he was a dad figure. And when the superhero needed help, the kid was helpful. (This is not a spoiler. I think it’s fairly obvious that the kid will be useful to Iron Man.)

iron man 3But then the kid was not rewarded for being there for this father figure. In the end, the only thing the boy received was all kinds of digital devices for him to tinker with. This is his reward?!? The kid needed a frozen yogurt with the dad figure, or a picnic in the park, or, yes, the proverbial, game of catch.

In this room of tech equipment, the product placement of FiOS plastered all over the huge flatscreen TV was jarring and obscene. I was totally taken out of the movie and felt I’d landed in a stupid commercial.

So the message on this Father’s Day weekend seems to be: you want to be a good father? Buy your kid off, get them tons of tech stuff so they can play alone in a dark room. And then you can retire, alone yourself, in your own dank and dark digital kingdom. That’s Hollywood.

This is relevant to my life right now because my son is being punished (I won’t go into the details). And his tech equipment is taken away. He is clueless as to how to survive. I’ve suggested fro yo, a picnic, or a game of catch. But like Iron Man, our superhero, he’d rather be alone with his devices than outdoors with his friends or dad or sports or, even, ice cream.

I find this choice sad — not nearly as thrilling or active as an action film or life could be.

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

Washington Square Park

flowers
What’s not to love about springtime in the Village? Washington Square Park is looking fine.

the arch
Washington Square Park looks better than ever, much better than when I attended NYU. Tulips bloom.

Caffe Reggio
There’s cappuccino at the cafe.

This is inside Caffe Reggio, an 80-year old cafe on MacDougal Street.
This is inside Caffe Reggio, an 80-year old cafe on MacDougal Street.

chess in the park
And it’s a perfect day to hang out, read, or play chess in the park.

What I Mean by Spiritual Autobiography

First Church of Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA
First Church of Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

scandinavia
scandinavia (Photo credit: herbstkind)

This morning Kelly forwarded me a question someone had written on our website, “What do you mean by spiritual autobiography? How is that supposed to help us grow?”

I felt defensive. Isn’t it obvious, dear reader?

But I’ve learned that quick email replies have helped my business. Answering random emails is part of the small business owner’s task. This is especially true as I’m trying to get participants to this month’s Writing Workshops. So here’s what I wrote to the person (who did not leave his/her name!)

Here’s what I mean: In the spiritual autobiography class, we look at moments in our lives not as random but as meaningful — small moments and big moments. For ex., being in my Scandinavian grandma’s kitchen was as sacred as church.

We look for the times when we turned one way instead of another — times when we felt found after feeling lost. These are the moments we look for and write about.

How spiritual autobiography helps: We see the pattern in our lives. When we find these threads of holy and sacred throughout our lives, we can create the patchwork quilt of our purpose. Like all quilts, this will warm and comfort us. It will add beauty to our lives.

We see the events in our lives. not as the results of a roll of the dice but as the intentional striving for growth — spiritual and personal growth. But we find within ourselves an increased sense of belonging, responsibility, and purpose.

I base my techniques on my friend and mentor’s book, The Story of Your Life by Dan Wakefield.

I’ve taught this class in weekly sessions and in day-long retreats. Most recently, at the end of March, I led this class for an afternoon session at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Boston. We laughed and cried. It’s a privilege to do this work. Thanks for being interested and for inquiring.

Sincerely, Mary Beth

M.B. Coudal and Dan Wakefield
Me and Dan (Wakefield) on his way home.

Visiting Harvard
I took the kids to the Boston area for their spring break.

1MM4GC

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Notice that behind the brilliant activist, blogger, and actress (and our friend) Christine Siracusa is musician Dan Zanes, one of my kids’ faves. Christine hosted and Zanes entertained at the million moms’ rally.

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Moms are awesome!

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Moms were using technology to get the word out. We will protect our kids.

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We believe in keeping our kids safe.

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Such cute kids joining in the rally with a million moms for gun control.

Sure it was was cold, but there was no shortage of body heat and adorable kids wearing adorable hats.

Today to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day, I joined hundreds (thousands?) of moms at City Hall Park to support the policies to keep our kids safe from gun violence.

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at least one million moms for gun control.

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Tweet it, sistah! #1mm4gc

Read the words of founder Shannon Watts.

learn more and join the movement at One million moms for gun control.

from the culture mom

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Lost on Siesta Key

“On the day of the miracle…”

I got up early from our condo on the south end of Siesta Key. I decided to walk the two or three miles to Crescent Market to pick up juice and breakfast for the girls. I would walk via the beach, taking photos, meditating, cogitating, generally meandering, until I could cut over to the main drag of Siesta Key, Midnight Pass Road. So far, so good.

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I set off early and happily for a beach walk from our south end of Siesta Key condo.

I walked and snapped a few pictures with my phone. So far, so good.

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pretty sights along the way

Then the beach was interrupted by a big jetty of brown rocks. Simple enough.

Time to head to the road. There was no pathway. I walked a little this way and that, but there seemed to be no simple (or public) walkway to the road from the beach

I could see the road, but I couldn’t get to it. “Well, I’ll simply have to run across this millionaire’s lawn to get to the road,” I thought.

“But run fast,” I told myself, “these Southern folk pack heat for this very occasion — a middle-aged mother trespassing.” I picked an unoccupied mansion and I bolted across the manicured lawn, ready to dodge a bullet if necessary.

Phew, I looked back. I made it. Here I was on Midnight — What the hell! I wasn’t on Midnight Pass Road, but trapped on some private millionaires’ road. Shit. I figured I’ll have to walk back towards where I came.

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This was the first lawn I trespassed on, running across the lawn, hoping to get back to the road.

I started to get sweaty. I walked out on an abandoned dock to locate the bridge back to Midnight Pass, but there was only a wide lagoon that seemed to go on for miles. No bridge in sight. I thought for a fleeting second, Could I swim that? I thought about gators. No! I couldn’t swim it.

I continued walking back south until the road ended. I walked on a trail, clearly marked private property.

Shit. I’m lost on Siesta Key, a slip of land that I thought only had one road. I called my brother Brendan. He told me to use my phone’s GPS.

The phone told me I was just off of Sanderling Road. It told me to head north for miles. I walked back through the trail to the millionaires’ road.

There were no cars, no people, only manicured bushes, fences, walls along Sanderling road. I heard a sprinkler and thought I spotted a gardener who eyed me suspiciously. I finally saw a garbage truck headed for me. I flagged him down. But the driver couldn’t hear me over his truck and told me to go back to the beach. “There’s no way out from Sanderling road, except the way I’d come,” he said, gesturing north. “Way back there,” as if the entrance to this gates community was just a memory.

I called my brother again, getting desperate. asking for rescue. “Okay, I’ll come get you. But I don’t know if they’ll let me on the private road. I have my boat in tow.” I walked back to the beach. This time, I thought, let them shoot me. I am freely trespassing. I am flaunting my trespass. At least I’ll get out of this nightmare.

My brother called me on my phone. (I noted, my battery was running low.)

“Hey, I’m almost on Sanderling Road. But I’m stuck. The guard waved me through, but there’s a tree down in the road. See if you can walk back towards me.” Again, I trespassed. This time, through a manicured Buddha garden. I even stopped for a moment to admire the sculptured tranquility separating the empty beach from the Sanderling community.

I walked. I perspired. I was hungry. Walking north, I passed a dogwalker who wore headphones and a black tee shirt. I nodded at her (or him, I couldn’t tell). He/she ignored me.

Apparently, the only human beings on Sanderling road are the hired help and they look suspiciously at anyone they encounter.

This story ends happily. After all, I have lived to tell the story. I walked a ways. My brother eventually showed up, because they cleared the downed tree. He managed to circle around with the boat and get us off of Sanderling.

We had a beautiful day out on his boat. My getting lost on Siesta Key will become a distant memory (I hope!)

But I offer this advice to any walker on the south end of Siesta Key beach: never leave the beach, thinking you can get back on Midnight Pass Road. If you do, you may never return.

I took the first line from this post from The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, a new and brilliant novel I was reading on the beach yesterday. I add it as a prompt from today’s daily post challenge.

Need for Speed

Am writing this while watching the Olympic hopefuls sail along rainy London streets on their bikes. The women are so fast. I love sports where you go fast, like skiing and biking.

The other day I was riding my bike to work and there was a woman running faster than I was riding on my bike. That was one fast runner.

There’s used to be a myth that only men liked the adrenaline rush of the high-speed chase. But women (and kids) do too. It’s a human instinct to push our physical limits and thrill with the ride. We were born to run.

And now that I’ve admitted my own need for speed, let me post a couple of pictures from my long walk in the Adirondacks.

While I love to run and ride and go fast, it’s easier to snap a pic when you walk and amble and go slow. It’s easier to savor the moment when you slow it all down.

To catch a good photo, you have to pause to frame it. To enjoy a moment, you have to stop and savor it. And any sport that you do outdoors, reminds you to love nature.

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Moving Is Better than Exercising

I bike to work and do Pilates twice a week at lunchtime in my workplace. Sometimes I feel that I should have nobler fitness goals. This is why I love this blog post by Nick Crocker about Finding Exercise in Life’s Margins at Harvard Business Review.

Weaving exercise and intentional movement into the fabric of my life feels way more possible (though less sexy) than training for a triathlon.

I let our family gym membership lapse because I just wasn’t going. And I felt guilty — for not going, for the expense, for the lack of family pool time. I felt I was a fitness failure. But I wasn’t. Just because exercise is easy — like slowing down on my bike past the flower gardens in Riverside Park — doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

You don’t have to hate exercise in order to get fit, feel good, or even lose weight. (The same goes for time at work — you don’t have to hate it.) Why not love what you do? I love playing tennis. Consistency is more important than breaking a personal record.

Personal brag: my son just won an athletic award this week. He was a triathlete — competing in three varsity sports as a 9th grader. But of one of the sports, track, he said he lacks passion. I say, Fine, drop it, if you like. Just keep moving.

Drop your gym membership too. Just stay active.

Weave fitness into every day. A little moving regularly is way better than a lot of fitness once in a while.

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A guy on the bus seated in front of me was carrying
this bundle of flowers. A rosy outlook only costs $3.99.