I blog about happiness and honesty

When I started blogging, I had four blogs:

  • My Beautiful New York, my NYC people and places
  • Running Aground, my goal to run a 5K
  • the Connected Life, getting my kids off technology
  • A Church A Day, on trying to find meaning by visiting a church a day.

Now they’re all rolled into one (thanks to web developer extraordinaire Felicity Fields). This one, To Pursue Happiness, is about those four goals and the primary goal: to stay happy.

I pursue happiness though I may have absolutely no reason or right.

I feel a loss that my kids are growing up at lightning speed. I feel a sadness that my husband is increasingly challenged by his Parkinson’s Disease.

While these are challenges, they don’t define me. I don’t have to enter or stay in a place of permanent sadness or loss. Life is about what you do with the hand of cards you’re dealt. And I’m dealing.

I’m thriving. I’m staying honest. I’m finding joy. Two great joys in the last couple of weeks were:

Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show
Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show
  • As a cast member of Listen To Your Mother at Symphony Space
  • As the leader of Artists’ and Writers’ weekend in the Adirondacks.

I was anxious about how these would turn out. Would I deliver the goods? Could I? I did!

In these forums, I could be honest, funny, and surprising.

I could write about and share a lot of feelings, including but not limited to sadness or happiness. A range of emotions, even ambivalence and anger, is acceptable and encouraged in my writing.

So while I still do feel, at times, lost, I can find myself through writing and in the company of other women writers. That’s how I pursue happiness.

***

from LTYM
Before the Listen To Your Mother show, the cast warmed up. And that’s Shari Simpson-Cabelin, assistant director, doubled-over, laughing. (I’m in the white pants.) (Photos by Jennifer Lee)

At last week’s Listen To Your Mother show, I was reminded that I am not alone. There are a lot of women telling their truths, deep stories about hardship and love.

Here are some of the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) New York City posts from my fellow cast members.

Thanks to Shari’s blog for compiling these so I could repurpose! And thanks to producer Holly Rosen Fink, a steady presence, who made this show such a hit.

I got to work with the fab director Amy Wilson, who blogged on motherhood conspiring against her, even as she put on a show.

Here are more stories from the Mother’s Day show.

  • Co-producer Varda Steinhardt‘s piece was about tracking the orbit of her sons’ stars. 
  • Marinka received the dreaded call from the nurse’s office, It’s Always Bad News.
  • Kim Forde, 8 and 1/2 month pregnant, read Welcome To The Circus, a guide to the family circus.
  • 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.

***

Tomorrow’s the Big Day

I’m going to be performing in front of hundreds of people at the Listen To Your Mother show in NYC, 5 pm, Sunday, 5/12, at Symphony Space on Broadway at 95th.

listenI gotta tell you, I’m very nervous.

One part of me knows I’ll be great.

Another part of me feels like apologizing for my story in the show — it’s a small story about a small moment. It’s nothing big, nothing earth-shattering, nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, I could’ve plumbed the depths of my soul (could I?); instead, I chose a story about taking out the trash with my surly teen.

So I’m inclined to say, “Awww, P’shaw! My story? Me? We’re not that important.”

But wait! I must remember my advice to myself. When I used to do stand up, right before I went on, while nursing a diet coke at the bar, I’d psyche myself up by telling myself these three things:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Have fun
  3. It is important

These three rules seemed to make a positive difference in my performance. Also, I received precious advice from Eddie Brill who told me, way back when: “Never apologize in your stand up act!” That was great advice! It turns out that audiences don’t trust or appreciate apologists!

The truth is that I love the truth. I love hearing truths about motherhood — good, bad, and indifferent truths. Extraordinary and ordinary truths.

I love that I am someone who loves the truth. Because too much of my mothering and my life is spent putting up a good appearance and trying to keep up with the Joneses 🙂

So the fact that I am invited to tell my truth along with a bunch of other truth-tellers, well, it’s just icing on the cake of my life.

Lintault quilt
When I saw this quilt, I thought it was as beautiful as any Michelangelo oil painting. I saw the quilt by Joan Lintault at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

Do I think the other writers have bigger truths? Maybe. But it’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration. And each square of the quilt makes for a beautiful pattern. Some of fabric is flowery, some plaid, some embroidered, some plain. Each story, each piece, makes up this crazy quilt.

When we tell our stories, we make room for even more truth. And, as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.

This Listen To Your Mother show is not a  show for or about perfect mothers. It is not about pretty mothers like Stepford wives. If you’re looking for that, look in the Mother’s Day aisle for a Hallmark card. (Although I’m pretty sure Hallmarks’s marketing strategy has turned towards a more honest appraisal of motherhood as well.)

In this show we laugh and cry over our real truths. And in these truths, the writers have made art, found freedom, and even, perhaps, woven together a new kind of patchwork quilt, more beautiful together than we could ever have been on our own.

I am honored to bring my piece to the show.

I am just going to show up; have fun; be myself; and remember, it IS important.

This post was inspired by the the daily post prompt: “We each have many types of love …Is there a single idea or definition that runs through all the varieties of ‘love’?”

Thanks to director Amy Wilson, producers Varda Steinhardt and Holly Rosen Fink, and assistant director Shari Simpson for weaving me into the show.

And thanks to the rest of the cast, truth-tellers and artists all: Barbara Patrick, DeBorah “Momma D” Gray, Jaime Fernandez, Kim FordeKizz Robinson, Laura Pruden, Marinka, Nicole Goodwin, Nivea CastroRebecca Land Soodak,Sandy Rustin, Sasha Schreiner, Shari SimpsonSofia QuinteroStacy Morrison, Susan Buttenwieser,Tracy Beckerman, and Virginia Watkins.

Listen To Your Mother — Again!

I used to audition a lot. That was back when I was in my early 30’s. I had a little cable TV show and a commercial agent who sent me on a ton of casting calls. I landed a few callbacks and a few international spots, but my acting career never really took off.

Maybe I lacked confidence or maybe I was slightly more quirky than super model-y. It didn’t matter, I told myself. I’m a writer first and I’ve got meaningful work. Besides that, in my mid-30s, I hit my stride when I discovered my life’s purpose: to be a mother to Hayden, Charlotte and Catherine.

badge-2013So last year, when my Aunt Ellen, (the poet Ellen Wade Beals) recommended that I audition for the Listen To Your Mother show, I figured maybe now I’ve got a shot. I’m wiser and more confident. I’ve got a lot of funny essays about parenting. I can do this.

At the audition last year, I read a really good piece of writing — a story about dropping Hayden off at Camp Dudley. My essay was so funny and touching. (See what I mean: I have more confidence.)

When I read the Camp Dudley essay to the several women who were holding the auditions, I detected one (Holly, maybe?) had a tear in her eye.

“I nailed it,” I thought. “I’ve got it! I might still be a successful performer as well as mother, blogger, wife, sister, teacher, worker, etc. Wow! It’s great to be alive!”

But I didn’t get it last year — despite the excrutiating beauty of that little gem of writing. So this year, when I got an email alert about the 2013 auditions for Listen To Your Mother, I brought in a piece of writing, slightly above average, about a tricky little bit of mothering and taking out the garbage with my son.

I was the last to audition. There were dozens of people who’d gone through the audition door ahead of me that Sunday afternoon.

Through the door, I could tell that the guy in the room just before me was really really good. I sat outside, getting nervous. The room was full of laughter as he left.

I recognized the women behind the table from last year, including Holly. But I felt no ill will towards them, just my inevitable lack of success.

I felt insecure. I think I made small talk, something like, “Wow! That guy who was just in here sounded really funny! I don’t know if you remember me. I auditioned last year and I heard the show was really good!”

Me and Kim Forde listening to rehearsal the other night (photo by fellow cast member Elizabeth Robinson).
Me and Kim Forde listening to rehearsal the other night (photo by fellow cast member Elizabeth Robinson).

I read my piece, stumbling in a few places. I did not feel confident as I walked out the door. After all, the year before, when I had felt confident? Nada.

So I was surprised, no, I was ecstatic, when, like a week later, I got a call from Amy that I was invited to be in the cast.

I don’t know if my piece is any good, but the show is really really good. And that guy who went in ahead of me, Jamie Fernandez, he’s in the show too and he is really really funny. The brief stories about mothering and mothers are funny, sad, scary, true, and lovely.

But don’t listen to me. I am not a good judge of my own writing. This Sunday, Mother’s Day, come to Symphony Space. Tell me what you think. We’ll have a drink at the Thalia.

NYC tickets support this cause: Family to Family

And thanks Elizabeth for getting this list of links together!

The Best

“Pssst, here’s the office dish: we’re in a charming play set in the 1950s,” whispers Alicia Sable (April Morrison) to Sas Goldberg (Brenda Kapinski). (photo courtesy of The Best of Everything)

Friday night I was downtown at Here to see The Best of Everything.

The space at Here means a lot to me because 20 years ago my comedy partner, Jay, and I spotted a Ferris wheel in the middle of a cobblestone street. We had stumbled upon an art opening for this performance space at Here.

That night, we shot funny interviews on Hi-8 with downtown artists and called the 30-minute documentary The Big Apple Jam. It aired several times on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

So there I was the other night at Here. Again I happened upon something magical.

New York City lends itself to synchronicity. You can wander downtown streets and happen upon a gem of a play like The Best of Everything.

I learned about the show from a tweet or email sent by Holly Rosen Fink who’d auditioned me for the Listen to Your Mother Mother’s Day performance (which I didn’t get). Fink was the associate producer of the play, based on the novel with the same name by Rona Jaffe, written by Julie Kramer and directed by Amy Wilson, who also plays my favorite character, Miss Farrow.

The play’s about the twisting fates of secretaries for a publishing house in the 1950s. Each of the secretaries could have a whole sitcom created for her. So funny. I laughed a lot but then I cried a little too.

And why I cried surprised me. It wasn’t the tragic outcome of one of the secretary’s obsession with a no-good man. I kind of saw that coming. Or another character’s discussion of her necessary abortion at this time of illegal abortions.

I cried when the only woman editor, Miss Farrow, played by Amy Wilson, quit her job to get married. She gave her stable of authors to Caroline, played by Sarah Wilson, a smart new secretary working her way up. The other secretaries marveled at and subtly insulted Caroline for her belief  that life was about more than marriage. (!)

I got choked up because I love authors and I love editors and I love that the editor cared about her authors. In some screwed-up way, the older woman, Miss Farrow, wanted to mentor the younger woman. Deep down, the women all wanted each other to succeed. Beneath Miss Farrow’s bitchiness seemed to be her genuine affection for her mentee.

I have felt that too:  while women can be competitive and enemies in the workplace, they can also be one another’s sponsors and help each other move ahead. Beneath Caroline’s insecurity was her quiet confidence; she asked Miss Farrow to help her achieve decent pay. I like that.

The play left me thinking, beyond the colliding worlds of wives at home and women in the office, how can women be sexual human beings? The men who philander land on bar stools while the women fall down stairs or require back-alley abortions.

It’d be fun to discuss how women’s sexuality and society’s moralizing drove behavior in the 1950s workplace and how that compares with today.

In any case, the show moves at a clip. The costumes and the music are delicious. When I walked out of the theater into the downtown scene, I thought, Thank God I wasn’t a working gal in the 1950s.

Although, some things never change, like the magic of Off Off Broadway. And that happens Here.

Check it out at Best of Everything or find out what’s next at Here Arts Center.