If I visit the small lost and found department of my life, I wonder what I would find there. The things that I don’t even recall losing. That high-collared Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown, I wish I had it now for this spring dressed as winter in the North Country. During this pause, this enforced sanctuary, I’m aware of the recent big and small trips I’ve missed. To commemorate my dad’s life in Sarasota; to volunteer at McCurdy School in Espanola. I grieve. Take time to grieve so many losses. And the loss of certainty. Of course, we’ve found things too. Vast swaths of uninterrupted time with darlings. Sometimes bickering. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes walking the dog. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) watching Netflix. I’ve found that frisson of joy when I hear a friend’s voice on the phone. Definitely, I feel loved. There is – yes – a sense of finding and losing. And we’ve experienced loss. One recent twist, I’ve found a forgiving heart for any and all who live with fear, the shadow self.
And a desire to turn to visual art — as ‘not the thing I do, but the place I visit.’ Imperfectly, yes. For we are only human.
What happens to your son’s favorite spot on the couch when he goes to college? Nature abhors a vacuum. Someone else plops down there.
On Friday night it was me. Chris, Cate and I were watching Jupiter Ascending, which, incidentally, has a theme about seeking and punishing the mother of adult children. Never mind that. During one of the intergalactic battle scenes, my mind wandered. The thought occurred to me — as it does on every weekend night — Where is Hayden? When will he be home? (And will he surpass his curfew (again)?)
The remembering was not unlike the time he was in the old-fashioned pram on the side porch at Skenewood, the big family house in the Adirondacks. Hayden was an infant asleep for his afternoon nap. I went to the kitchen, made myself a roast beef sandwich, sat at the table, and wondered, What am I forgetting?
Oh! The baby on the side porch!
You forget that person you love for a minute. Then you remember them more deeply. Rushing back to the pram, he was fine, sleeping soundly.
My 18-year old assures me he now is sleeping well, despite the area heat wave and his lack of air conditioning in the dorm room. Yes, I’ve talked to him twice and written him a card too since we dropped him off on Wednesday.
My heart has an invisible string connected to my son. This heartstring travels across states, time zones, and galaxies. Just like the evil queen from Jupiter Ascending, who wasn’t actually evil at all, she was just very lonely and wanted to do the right thing. Or possibly, she wanted to live forever and stay young through her attachment to her children. I’m not sure.
It was a cheesy film, but his spot on the couch was pretty sweet.
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.”
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.”
Tree hugging is nice. And there’s nothing wrong with nice. Especially when it takes you to a happy place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Full weekend including private room: $530, all meals, lodging and pick up from the Westport, NY Amtrak train station. Register at: Adirondack Writing Weekend.
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.
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.
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.
Elizabeth (Kizz) Robinson wrote About Me, on how to be child-free and loving.
I haven’t posted my story yet. I want it to be a surprise.
Over the summer, you can see the show at the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel. There will be videos from all 24 shows across the country, some still going on. Also, upcoming are professional photos of our NYC show by the awesome Jennifer Lee.
At my Adirondack retreat and at my LTYM show, I heard a lot of stories that make me go, “aww” – and I feel in the company of AWW — Awesome Women Writers.
Through relentless honesty, these women writers (and one guy) make it okay to be honest and to tell my story too.
On the Adirondack writing weekend, we walked along the shore of Lake Champlain. For most of the way, we chatted. I love words and filling my world with words.
Honestly, I can speak or write extemporaneously on any given topic. Yes, I’m a know-it-all (and I come from a long line of know-it-alls, of which we are proud!)
For three days in the Adirondacks, I did yoga with Michelle Maron (Lake Champlain Yoga Arts @ Live Well). Now back in the city and with the kids back to school, I’m doing guided meditation in the mornings. I’m finding benefits to being still, keeping quiet.
I LOVE Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
I first discovered the joys of Walt Whitman and in overstimulation in college when one of my friends liked to study, watch TV, blast the radio at the same time. I tried it back then and found I liked it too. I found it relaxing. I liked cacophony.
I like the adrenaline of rushing, so New York City’s energy is perfect for me. But so is the quiet of the country.
In light of my husband’s gradual slowing from Parkinson’s Disease (he was diagnosed nine years ago), I know I must, regularly, slow and quiet myself and the kids down too. Chris needs to take more time. He stands frozen. He cannot respond quickly to a question.
In those instances, words don’t matter but slowing down does. Stopping to wait matters.
As we walked in the Adirondacks, the other writers and I stopped talking for a little bit. We said nothing.
When I wasn’t talking, I could listen. I could hear our footsteps, our breathing, a bird on the lake. I could hear a breeze through the leaves of grass.
Kathryn Cramer, one of the workshop leaders called our writing weekend, “an unqualified success.” And George Davis, another leader, made this awesome video:
As you can see, we wrote, we ate, we talked, we wrote, we did yoga, we walked, we ate, and we wrote a little more.
On the last day of the weekend we started writing with a prompt that began, “I weathered the storm when I…”
I weathered the storm of hosting my first writing weekend. Turns out the hardest part was not the weekend, but getting home again.
It took me a couple of days to get back to New York City from the Adirondacks due to the storm known as Sandy. My Amtrak was cancelled and I relied on friends to give me lifts along the way. (I began writing this post yesterday from a comfy Holiday Inn, half-way home in Albany. I admit I enjoyed my enforced solitude, a menage a moi!)
During the storm, my fam and I stayed in constant digital contact. On the Upper West Side, we never lost electricity. But there is no replacement for real life hugging. And real life writing. And real life family.
I’m totally grateful to the family and friends (and small businesses) who helped make the writing weekend happen. While holed up in the Albany hotel yesterday, I wrote a letter to the editor thanking everyone (I hope!) who had a part.
To the editor:
In this political season, there has been a lot of talk about which political party helps small businesses the most.
After my first foray as a small business owner hosting a writing weekend in Westport, New York, I believe that no party helps a small business as much as the party of other small businesses.
Thanks to the Westport, Wadhams and Essex small business communities who fed the bodies, minds and spirits of a dozen
The writing workshop teachers, storytellers George Davis of Essex, Kathryn Cramer of Dragon Press Bookstore in Westport, Ted Cornell at Crooked Brook Studio in Westport and Joanna Parson of Letter Perfect in New York led the writers to hone the art and craft of writing stories from real life.
Thanks to artistic director Shami McCormick of the Depot Theatre and to teacher Shoshi Satloff for their support and to the entire Jones family for the setting of Skenewood, a magical place for a writing weekend.
This memoir writing weekend was my maiden voyage as a small business owner. I felt lucky to set sail and discover land in Westport, New York. Because of the work of small businesses, artists and teachers in Westport’s midst, the writers at Skenewood had a meaningful and fun time at our first Adirondack Memoir Retreat.
Mary Beth Coudal
My biggest thanks go to the noble writers who attended the weekend, willing to depart on a voyage in uncharted territories.
The art of memoir requires risk, as does the art of making a writing weekend happen.
My business coach, the awesome Mandy Gresh, was the first to call this writing weekend “my maiden voyage.” I like that.
Turns out the journey through the woods and into the writing weekend was not as fearful a journey as it could’ve been. (Though the weather in New York City was more treacherous.)
We’re tentatively planning another Adirondack weekend retreat for Artists and Writers: Talking about Setting from May 16 to 19, 2013.
Stay tuned to our website at Boot Camp For Writers for updates on writing workshops and weekends in Portland, OR and New York, NY. Which reminds me of two last thank you’s.