Hug a Tree – Re Spring Your Step

I am a tree hugger. If you ever go hiking with me, you will see that I literally stop in my tracks, go rogue and hug the tall, unsuspecting, happy tree.

I say, “Good for you, you tree. You just stand there. And you just keep giving us oxygen. You ask for nothing. Thank you. I love you.”

hike 3

When you hug a tree, your back opens. And you feel a solid connection to some depth of dirt or center of the earth.

I don’t know why the term ‘tree hugger’ is a pejorative. If every single human being found a tree to hug once a day, I think we would be a much better human race. (Maybe we’d even stop the race and just love.)

Trees are wise. They ask nothing of us. They can’t go anywhere. Maybe a person would flinch when I hugged them, or hug me back a little too hard (yes, that happens too). But a tree doesn’t do that. A tree just stands there.

I love in fairy tales when trees come alive. Like I think it was in one of the million Lord of the Rings movies — don’t the trees come alive, run with roots dragging, and save the world? Or at least until the next sequel?

My kids are highly suspicious and embarrassed — even in the woods — that I hug trees. They go, “Mooom!” You know that Mo-o-om! that has at least syllables?

“Do it!” I scream at them. “Hug the tree! You’ll like it!” I act all strict and mean. Begrudgingly, they do. And with an eye roll, they’ll admit, “Yes, hugging a tree is okay.”

hike 2Tree hugging is nice. And there’s nothing wrong with nice. Especially when it takes you to a happy place.

hike
My kids hiking Owl’s Head near Lake Placid. So many fun memories of hiking with my kids in the Adirondacks.

I love nature. And nature loves me back.

This post is in response to today’s daily post

“Tell us about the last experience you had that left you feeling fresh, energized, and rejuvenated. What was it that had such a positive effect on you?”

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California Dreaming

The autumn is bittersweet. There are forecasts that another polar vortex will swirl our way this winter.

To prepare for any possible NYC Seasonal Affect Disorder, I’ve just booked airline tickets for a couple of weeks for the whole fam to got to Southern California over Christmas and New Year’s.

How lucky is my family – to have friends for whom we will house- and dog-sit in Pasadena. I like making new traditions in new places. Most Christmases, we have ensconced ourselves in the Big House in the Adirondacks at Christmas. And then to shake things up, we might’ve gone north from there to Montreal for a night or two – for Boxing Day shopping or a swim in a hotel pool.

the Big House
the Big House

But my husband’s family has decided to close the Big House for winter. The family is choosing to save money. (The heating bill at Christmas is usually at least $100/a day). Besides, the mansion is for sale this year. And a lot of family members are in transition.

I wrote this as I headed out to a retreat on the Long Island RailRoad. I passed pumpkin patches, vineyards, and horse farms. The leaves on the trees were just so beautiful this weekend. While I was California-dreaming about Christmas, I was also trying to remain present — live in the moment with all of the beauty right in front of my eyes this October.

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took this from the L.I.R.R., heading to Shelter Island.

Mental Health is Wealth

I’ve blogged after a celebrity death before. And I don’t really want to do it again. I have nothing new to say. What does it matter whether it was a celebrity, friend or family member who committed suicide? It’s horrible.

Chris in the movie Awakenings, played Dr. Sullivan.
Chris in the movie Awakenings, played Dr. Sullivan.

Robin Williams worked with Chris once. Chris played a doubtful doctor in the movie Awakenings. And he said Robin Williams was very funny, acerbic, a great mime on the set. He was always on and creative. Chris liked him.

I felt sad. As if I knew this guy. That he was one of us.

And then I felt angry too. Shit. He had it all – career, money, relationships, friends. But wait — he was missing one important thing – he didn’t have mental health.

I have only occasionally been sick. It sucks. Physical illness sucks. Mental illness sucks too. If I just have a little cold, I’ll tell you about it. But depression is another beast. A lot more than a psychic cold.

I think I was depressed deeply, 20 years ago, when my ex and I split up. All food tasted dry. I didn’t feel like eating much. I lost about 20 pounds. But I got myself back (with the help of friends, family, comedy, and cinnamon rolls, oddly – something about their gooey sweetness made me feel glad to be alive.) It was a situational depression. It abated. It was about the loss of my first marriage.

Sometimes I feel slight depressed about my situation now too. I wish that Chris was who he was before he had Parkinson’s Disease. When he was in big movies. But this morning in the Adirondacks he and I played tennis and then we swam out to the reef (what is that? Like a mile?) How lucky — how blessed are we?

Tomorrow I’m picking up our daughters from camp. And Friday, I’ll pick up my son and his cousins from their flight from Chicago. Next week all five the Coudal siblings and their kids and our parents will be together. I have so much to be grateful for.

But mostly, I have good physical and mental health. That’s not nothing.

The Sharing Economy

I’m a believer in the sharing economy. I think the world is changing. We are no longer worshipping at the altar of capitalism. We are divesting. I love minimalism.

The point of life is not to accrue, but to share. The more you share, the richer you are. Here are my examples: On my blog, I’m oversharing. I’m into carsharing and bikesharing.

And I’ve jumped into housesharing. My first experience was a few weeks ago with AirBnB – it was  wonderful.

AirBnB

Chris, Hayden and I were in Vermont. We were visiting the girls at camp. Charlotte was in the show, Twelve Angry Women, an all-female production of the classic Twelve Angry Men. The show got out late so rather than driving back across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks, I drove us fifteen minutes to a neighboring town of Essex Junction. We stayed with Mike and Iris whom I’d booked with on AirBnB.

Mark and Iris, 50 ish, greeted us at the door at about 11 pm. They showed us in to a screened-in porch and laid out a cheese and fruit platter. They were friendly and very good listeners. I’m a huge fan of deep listening. But they were good talkers too. We chatted about politics, parenting, and the arts. We could’ve talked well into the night. But finally, we went to bed.

Hayden had his own room and so did we. We had a private bath. I think the two bedrooms were formerly their grown sons’ rooms. Breakfast was lavish, delicious, and healthy. Mark and Iris have opened their house to 70 some travelers over the past four or five years. They said everyone’s been interesting and nice. Their experience with housesharing has been great.

A week or two ago, Hayden and I trekked across several states, staying with family, friends, at hotels, at a guest house in Chautauqua. Outside of Cleveland, we were going to stay at another AirBnB – a former Brooklynite, actress and writer – Hello, new friend! But that didn’t work our –some glitch in the listing and they didn’t have two rooms. No worries, I received a full rebate. And we had an even better time with old friends.

I asked Hayden, “Among all the places, the half dozen, where we’ve stayed in the past few weeks, where was your favorite?”

“With Mark and Iris,” he said.

Chris and I are going back to stay with Mark and Iris on Sunday. The girls are in another show — this time, my darling has the lead in Drowsy Chaperone! (brag!)

Because of our housesharing experience, I’d love to open our big, gorgeous, family-friendly apartment to weary travelers, but I think it’s still a sticky wicket in the city. (And I do not want to jeopardize our lease.)

In any case, I’ll find new ways to share.  That’s the trend and the currency that counts.

 

TwelveAngryWoMen
Charlotte (in black and white) argues a point. Twelve Angry Women. Jury room dispute.
FentonDeaconessHome
Fenton Memorial Deaconess Home in Chautauqua Institution, one of our stops on the road trip.
LakeChamplain
Our beach on Lake Champlain. Sharing room on the raft.

Getting to Why

Writers working on their stories at the first writing weekend at Skenewood.
Writers working on their stories at the first writing weekend at Skenewood.

When Kelly and I started boot camp for writers almost two years ago (wow!), Felicity Fields, web developer and marketing guru, told us to watch this Start with Why, Ted Talk by Simon Sinek.

Sinek’s point was that you need to frame your business so that the why, or purpose, is clear to your customers. The purpose of Apple is not just to offer great computers, but to challenge the status quo. People dig that.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

What is the ‘why’ of boot camp for writers, our writers’ collective?

  • to build a writing community
  • to disrupt your life
  • to tell difficult stories
  • to make the story of your life a hero’s journey.

Since starting this biz, tbh, (to be honest), I’ve hardly made any money. Maybe because I’ve been offering free Meet Ups or the cost of the space sinks me or maybe it’s just that I’ve valued building creativity over building capital. They say it takes three years to be profitable in a new business venture. Most of my income’s come from my freelance writing, teaching and videography work since I left my day job,

I still believe in my biz. When I come home from offering a writing weekend or an evening workshop, I think, wow, that was great, this business is much-needed. I have a why.

So here’s your why — join boot camp for wrtiers: be a part of a community; disrupt your life; tell your story; and give your narrative a purpose. Know that you are the hero of your journey, not the victim of your circumstances.

We can talk more about this over coffee on an Adirondack chair in the morning watching the sun rise over Lake Champlain. Or over a glass of wine as the sun sets off of the patio. Come to the beautiful Adirondacks mountains. May 29 to June 1. There are still a few private rooms left in this 10-bedroom manor house.

house
The Adirondack retreat is held in this beautiful 100+ year old house in Westport on Lake Champlain, NY.

Full weekend including private room: $530, all meals, lodging and pick up from the Westport, NY Amtrak train station. Register at: Adirondack Writing Weekend.

Here’s a video from the first fall writing retreat for writers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYKWfbgd6nU And here are pictures of the historic manor house where we will write and dine. Visit: http://www.vrbo.com/382611.

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Reflections on Race after the Verdict

Here are a few random thoughts on race.

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I believe more people should learn conflict mediation skills and fewer people should carry guns.

I was thinking about the Girls Leadership Institute (GLI) workshop that my daughters and I attended last year. A key factor in resolving conflict is TALKING, not fighting, not fearing each other.

After being shot by the Taliban, on 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations. (photo courtesy of Charter for Compassion)
After being shot by the Taliban, on 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations. (photo courtesy of Charter for Compassion)

The talking solution may sound girlie, sissy, touchy-feely. But in fact, if more people talked about their feelings and fears, there would be less trigger-happy people and disputes.

Look at what a girl can do when you look at Malala Yousafzai who had been shot by the Taliban for speaking up. She celebrated her 16th birthday by speaking to the United Nations in favor of educating girls.

Personal gripe: Last year, when I worked for the faith-based women’s group, I wrote a curriculum on using conflict resolution skills in small group settings for a young women’s training. Despite being riddled with conflict, even the women’s group saw conflict mediation as a low priority.

**

If my 16-year old son were walking the streets of Florida, no one would feel alarmed. This case was definitely about race. The Paula Deen incident shows people talk about race in private, but not in public.

We say nothing. We are afraid. We don’t want to offend. We avoid conflict. But talking (writing) is the best solution. And we may need to employ conflict mediation skills to let one another talk without judging. Use “I” statements and all.  We need to learn to talk about tough stuff. I do, any way.

**

What the hell, Florida?

My father belonged to a neighborhood watch group in Florida.

Last year, I asked him if he saw anything worrisome. He said once he saw a group of Hispanic men hanging out near a park at night. He called it in. The cop said leave them be. My father said the group claimed to be a soccer league, but my dad did not see any soccer ball.

He never saw the group again.

**

Once I was at a cocktail party in the Adirondacks and I met the writer Nell Irvin Painter. She wrote the book, “History of White People.” She was about to go on the Daily Show to talk about her book. She was studying art. We sat on a comfy couch and talked about Princeton, art, writing, and race. Her book sounded brilliant.

Nell Irvin Painter
Nell Irvin Painter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We shared some laughs. I wanted to read her book about white-ness and the construct of race. I have not read it yet.

**

I was at another cocktail party in the Adirondacks. (Apparently that’s the only place where I go to cocktail parties. (Though once I went to cocktail party at Gay and Nan Talese’s house. That’s another story. (Charlie Rose was there.))

Back to this friend in the Adirondacks — she said that the U.S. should’ve never fought the Civil War. This idea was anathema to me. She said, ‘We should have annexed the south because southerners were and are such a drain on the country. The north would accept all people as free people. The south, because of its bigotry, would implode. All would be welcome in the north. We would thrive.”

Again, it was provocative cocktail party talk.

**

I want to take my kids to see Gettysburg.

Once I went to Gettysburg with college chum Jeff Carey (T. Jefferson Carey). I was splitting up from my first marriage. He was going through some shit.

We took this crazy road trip in his really crappy car. We totally made all these connections about how the Civil War was a metaphor — for my marriage and for our families, for our divisiveness within ourselves, and for our country, even today.

I kind of remember him burying something on our road trip  — some kind of talisman — under a tree. Or maybe he dug something up. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.

I do remember that Jeff and I bought this tape. We played the dramatic tape in his tapedeck as we drove around listening to the story of the bloody war at Gettysburg. I remember crying over that tape’s dramatic narration of Gettysburg — where brother fought brother.

I want my kids to hear and learn about Gettysburg. I want, as a country, for us not to forget the Civil War. I want us not to forget Trayvon Martin. I want us to listen to people like Malala Yousafzai and Nell Irvin Painter.

I want fewer people to have guns. I want to read books and talk about race. I want people to learn how to mediate conflict and talk about race and gender, like we learned to through the GLI.

After all, this is the least we can do to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

P.S. I want to go to more cocktail parties.

How to Start a Biz

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress and a writer. But I always knew I would be a teacher. I had a hobby of making worksheets for my little sister and trying to teach her French. I was like that. I saw learning for the sake of learning as a life-long hobby.

Since I left my day job two months ago, I have learned a lot. Here are some of my take-aways:

  • Pursue your passion. If you like doing your biz, then people will like being around you when you’re doing it. Happiness is contagious. People in your sphere feel permission to pursue their passion when you pursue yours. That’s part of life’s purpose: to provide a space for people to be authentic.
  • Have accountability buddies. My buddies are my brother Brendan, my coach Mandy, my biz partner Kelly, my ex-colleague Hal, and my web developer Felicity. My experience hosting the writing weekend in the Adirondacks showed me how awesome and important it was to have empathetic and smart people in my orbit. I could lean on them, admit my doubts, and be encouraged to persevere.
  • Stay social. I need to spend solitary time to blog and to prep for teaching. I imagine every start up can be lonely. So, I am joining some MeetUps, going out to lunch with friends, staying social.
  • Wear jeans. For ten years, I dressed in business clothing almost every single working day. Enough already! I still put on a nice outfit when I teach or go out to lunch, but I am happy that every day is casual Friday.
  • my city block in the morning

    Get up and out. I have to get up and out by 8 am every day. If all I do is walk the kids to the bus stop two blocks away at 7:40 am and come right back home, that’s fine. My other favorite destination is a nearby 7:30 am meditation class. And, of course, I love the little French bistro, Margot Patisserie, for coffee and a croissant. The downside to my early mornings, I wake by 6:20, is that by 10 pm, I am wiped out and crabby and yelling at the kids, “Get to bed!”

I wrote this blog post, inspired by Don Miller’s Storyline. I especially like Miller’s advice to Be Patient. That’s not always easy, but I think it’s always worth it.

It reminds me of Rilke’s advice to:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

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