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?

img_1215
I don’t know why but I love seeing these canoes on the bridle path every day I walk or bike through Central Park.
img_1210
The Guggenheim. The dappled Central Park light, so pretty.
Advertisements

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.   

 

Day 2: The Writer at Work

“This period of my life is like..”

A True Detective story full of blood and wayward characters.
I am the western cop, trying to wrangle my people. Trying to stop time. Trying to figure out the killers and the troublemakers.
Seeking justice.

In Eunice Scarfe’s class, “The Writer at Work: Old Words and New,” this morning, we were asked to write from the prompt, or the catalyst: “This period of my life is like…” Here is more of my free write.

This period is a blue period.
A blue egg in a Robin’s egg nest. My nest, my home full of bustling, flitting activity.

This period is brimming with coffee and hilarity.
And worry.
Did I mention worry?
Worried about everyone’s health and how will I face my own ageing? Is that important?

Frida Kahlo had her birds

frieda.

Her own comfort. her man. her art. her illness.
I have my people, my worries.

I’m grateful — there it is, popping up like a weed — my gratitude.
I cannot stop journaling until it pops up. This gratitude for people. for places. for New York city. for shelter at this retreat from this United States political storm. I am hiding, nesting.

A bird has its nest.
a bird like me needs to fly. But there is so much to worry about. And there is so much to be grateful for.
Does a bird worry as she flies?

Does a bird have gratitude?

***

I read part of this  — and another essay I started about how the Coudals resemble the Kennedys — to Mary Alice Hostetter who wrote the beautiful Modern Love essay, “Dear Dad: We’ve Been Gay for a Really Long Time.”

I was reminded by Eunice of Natalie Goldberg’s advice, ‘Get your own story straight.
We all have a story.” And we were invited to ‘write so as to stop the breathing of our audience.’

“if you can tell it, you can write it,” Eunice Scarfe said.

 

Day 1: The International Women’s Writing Guild

Writing is a sanctuary, a church. This is a paraphrase from the brilliant, deep Susan Tiberghien, founder of the Geneva Writers’ Group.

Am writing from the back of the room at the 40th conference of the Guild.

I am here. At Muhlenberg. Today.

Thinking of my mornings, every morning, my coffee, and the light through the dusty kitchen window. The cupboards I should wipe down.

My cup of coffee — in the mug from Taize or from Westport, NY.

I write to say I am here. I write to say I have arrived.

I journal to figure out my day, my story, my list of things — so many things — to do. Journaling in the morning is my church too. My meditation. A place free of judgment. A moment of Ahhhhh.

Living in a dynamic, whirlwind family — the teenagers, bound for college, the husband, declining yet still active, an actor with Parkinson’s.

I am still here, I say in my journal, I have not lost myself entirely. When I write, I do not disappear.

I refuse to lose myself.

Now I am in Alyce Smith Cooper’s class, the Use of Creating the New Narrative of Compassionate Inclusion.

“How do you lift your voices and sing?”

Light

We had an assignment to write about light. 

speed of light.
an owl lit out from the barnyard squawking.
a mouse flitted from the pasture to the tall green stalks of corn.
Did not know her days were numbered.
the bitty mouse.
She will be bit as mice will bite.
and no one

This dream.  Poetry is a dream. why do we dream?
why do i dream? Anxiety dreams?

that i am late for school/work.

that i will forget my lines.

i cannot stop dreaming
i must let go of my anxiety dreams. Before I fall asleep, I tell myself, have a happy sleep, no more worries…

I started this blog post on the Mariandale Retreat in Westchester – a break from my mad dash
cycling, cycling to get to my next big thing,
to my next place

How can I have ease? i would like to know
i know i am only responsible for myself. i know this intellectually, but i also feel i am responsible for all of you. that your happiness depends on me.
who is this YOU? any passerbys, i offer a smile. any family member, i will rent a car and drive you. any friend, i will make a date and meet you. any bank clerk, i will greet you with kindness.

and i feel a tension in my shoulders. i retreated because i needed to remember this:
’tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.
and this:

every single person needs to keep beauty on their map
because there is more to this life than bread and water
we need to play, to immerse ourselves in nature, to have strength
we need to dive in to beauty as if into a pool.

lose ourselves. To find ourselves.

every single day, at the retreat and now at home, i set out to walk for an hour. I heard a neurologist at the Rockefeller University say we need this. this is the secret to happiness – walk an hour a day. but i usually walk for 40 minutes.

And i try to make art every day.

i wanted to light out like the owl from the barn.
i wanted to take flight and swoop down to carry the mouse back to the nest. the hungry tots. but there is also the owl that loves to fly farther and farther
and swoop into the currents of the air stream
the stream in the air
diving and dipping
when the lights dwindle and the stars poke through like mice. a little twinkle, a little glimmer, a little field of effervescence. And there it is:
the ineffableness of you
the secret of you
the only you
the way to find the most of you.

you
i was tired and lay down
and i lay by the river and i drifted to a deeper sleep and no one ever came to wake me.
and some day i will sleep, but until then I will fly.

Forgotten Phone

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow.girl in bonnet

 

As I was driving back into Manhattan Thursday night, I realized that I’d left my phone plugged in to a charging station at my kids’ school. Should I turn around and drive the 10 minutes back to Riverdale to get it? No, I had another social engagement; I wanted to get to book club — we’d read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was looking forward to the discussion.

Besides, I thought, as soon as I arrive, I’ll call Cate who could email her dean and ask her to hold my phone. But we didn’t bother the dean. Because Cate reassured me, “It’ll be there in the morning. I’ll get it for you. You’ll be fine. It’ll be like a game. See how you do without your phone.”

Occasionally, on Friday, I found myself reaching for my phone, like a phantom limb. Especially, last night. See, I had an invitation to a preview of a show at Christie’s auction house and wanted to to snap a pic of the two- to three-million-dollar painting by Mary Cassatt of a girl in a bonnet.

The girl’s eyes drift to the side. She looks ready to play. Or maybe she is not allowed to play and she has become reflective. There seems to be as much nuance in her expression as in Mona Lisa’s smile. She is watching something. (She is not on her phone.)

Without my phone to snap the painting, I had to simply gaze at Cassatt’s intense colors and brushstrokes. Apparently, at an auction house, you don’t have to keep back from the art like you do at a museum, you can get right up in a painting’s grill.

Mind-blowing. The girl’s peachy skin reflected the peachy color of the bow. There was a quality of androgyny to the girl that I don’t think you can get in the reproduction.

Also, a painting, like this one, probably took forever to paint whereas a phone photo is snapped in an instant. In those museum photo grabs, the painting is like an animal — once hunted, purposefully captured, immediately stashed, promptly forgotten.

Having to look at the painting, without photographing it, made me remember it and interact with it. There was no screen, no filter. Nothing between me and the painting. It was refreshing. It was meaningful. It was a moment.

On the M5 bus ride home from Christie’s, if I’d had my phone, I would’ve gazed at the screen. Maybe scrolled through my Twitter feed, become irate at the first 100 days of the pres’s failing administration. I’d have begun to seethe.

But, without my phone, I read the Christie’s catalog. I learned Cassatt painted many children in bonnets. I thought about art. I gazed out the bus window. I saw many people with their heads down, looking at their phones.

When I returned home, Cate handed me my phone. She told me that it’d been right where I’d left it, at the charging station. I set my phone down.

“You were right. I don’t need it. I’m fine.” I’d been recharged by art without my phone.