Snow Day in Riverside Park

Sometimes words simply will not do. So I will show you some pics of today in Riverside Park and Riverside Drive. My Upper West Side was blanketed in snow.

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5 Things on a Deserted Island

My five favorite things are:

  1. coffee
  2. my journal
  3. my bike
  4. my iphone
  5. books (on kindle or paperbound)

But if I had to live on an deserted island, I know I’d have to take one more thing — sunscreen. Because my dermatologist would yell at me more than she already does if I showed up at my twice-yearly appointment with even more sunspots.

In terms of non-things on my island, (in addition to my immediate family, of course), I’d also want to take my book club and my writing class because we never seem to run out of things to say about what we write or read.

I’d also like to take Manhattan to my desert island because it is a treasure trove of beauty, especially on a foggy day like today.

Man, today was bea-ut-i-ful — so perfect for a bike ride through Central Park. Scroll down for a few more pics.

On a writerly note, I was going to post a memoir piece about my Norwegian grandmother that I wrote in the my Monday night writing group, but suddenly it felt too personal. Any way, come to a writing workshop if you want more personal writing. Check out the workshops at: http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/

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Central Park leaves
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This whimsical art installation of Eight Giant Red Snails from the Galleria Ca ‘d’Oro and Villa Firenze Foundation as part of the REgeneration Art Project.
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Any place more beautiful than Central Park on a foggy day? I don’t think so.
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He da man, Shakespeare in the Park

Awesome writing circle

Magic happens when people write together and then read what they’ve written. I know it sounds corny but it’s true. Take the raw materials from your life, weave a story, and experience the alchemy.

In last night’s MeetUp group at Rutgers Church, seven of us gathered and each had about ten minutes to read what we’d written. Then we briefly talked about the craft of writing. We went around the circle and read. We laughed and we cried. Just hearing our work out loud changes what we’ve written.

Sometimes a group can gather, as I’ve done too at a Wednesday writing group at the Interchurch Center. We each start with a blank paper and pen. And creative prompts are shared — inspired from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, or Dan Wakefield’s The Story of Your Life. This last book is the one I used at the International Women’s Writing Guild this summer.

me and mom
Here’s me and my mom at the summer conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild.

The creative prompts we wrote from then were:

  • I felt safe when…
  • My mentor or hero was…
  • My first job was…
  • I was really angry with…

Because this is the season of Thanksgiving, it’s always awesome to write about:

  • When I felt grateful, I…

Barnegat Lighthouse

I am a lighthouse. I stand tall, watch for shipwrecks, give light.

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Barnegat Lighthouse. On the night of the full moon, we climbed the 217 steps.

Earlier in the day, we’d walked to the lighthouse and I said, “Let’s walk out on the jetty.” But we didn’t.

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20130822-123207.jpgIn the morning, my mother stretched in the bay. I think she missed her daily Chicago yoga when she was visiting me on the East Coast. At the bay beach, mom was bitten by little bugs and wanted to go to the ocean side and so we did. She left for the airport at lunchtime.

That night of the full moon, we climbed the lighthouse steps. I told the girls, “Go ahead! Scamper up! I am going to take my time.” I got dizzy in the spiral staircase. But I love spirals.

All the metal, echo-y steps were the same. Looking up and looking down were the same. It was hard to orient myself.

I think I would like to live in a round building. When my son lived briefly in a yurt at camp, he said there is nowhere to hide when there are no corners in your cabin, so campers were more engaged in conversations. And he said, that campers were closer to nature, and could hear people talking outside the yurt.

Maybe round structures like yurts and lighthouses are more a part of the elements. Round buildings fit in better with nature, like tree trunks and whirlpools. And spirals.

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The girls stopped in a windowsill and asked me to take their pic. The flash blinded us.

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We waited about an hour to climb the stairs of the Barnegat Lighthouse. It was worth the wait.

While standing in line, I thought about the last time I was at Barnegat Light with my son. We kept singing the jingle, “Stronger than the Storm.” And I thought, maybe I don’t always have to be strong. Maybe it’s okay to be weak or vulnerable. What’s so great about being strong? That’s a very male quality. How about I value a more female quality — being soft and round, like a mother?

Every night the sun sets on Barnegat Light.
Every night the sun sets on Barnegat Light.

Yes, I know the sun sets and the moon rises everywhere. I just don’t notice it. Maybe I am not a lighthouse after all.

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The full moon rose as we waited to climb the lighthouse steps. And then it followed us home and hung around all night.

XFR STN

Over at the New Museum on the Bowery, they’ll help you archive your old hi-8, VHS, 3/4″ tapes in the Transfer Station. I’ve wanted to digitize Mary Beth and Friends for years. I put it off because of the time and money. I let my old tapes collect dust under my bed and in the back of the closet.

In the mid 1990s, I produced and hosted Mary Beth and Friends, a show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The show aired on Tuesday nights at 9 pm on channel 17. I interviewed artists, writers, and comedians. My mission was to showcase mine and my friends’ writing and acting and our comic bits. And to interview artists who were not profiled in the mainstream media — women and people of color. But eventually, I interviewed anyone making anything interesting.

This was before the internet. We had this urge — media by the people, for the people.

So yesterday, my time slot in the dubbing studio (transfer station) was from 3 to 6 pm. Going from analog to digital, you have to play your tapes in real time.

I knew I could only digitize a few episodes.  But I didn’t know which of the more than 100 shows to pick. You’ve heard of Sophie’s Choice. How could I choose one of my darlings to live and let the others languish?

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I worried about how I would feel, viewing my old tapes. I am, like, 20 years older (and 20 lbs. heavier?), than I was in those tapes. Would I be at peace with myself and how I have aged? Would I cry? Would I feel badly that the show was never picked up by a major network?

Several people I interviewed on Mary Beth and Friends have died, including my teacher and friend Mark O’Donnell. Should I find his tape and offer a tribute? I put off the decision for as long as possible, fearing it would take me hours to find the tapes. (It took all of 10 minutes to reach into the back of the closet and pull out a handful of tapes!)

I cannot tell you how affirmed I felt in those three hours in the media and edit suites.

Museum-goers puttered around us. Sometimes they’d ask what we were doing or Walter would just mention, non-chalantly, “Hi folks, This is Mary Beth, she’s an artist, who used to produce a cable access show in New York in the ’90s. We’re preserving her tapes. This is an exhibit of the museum. Take a look.” I felt a little like a show-and-tell project. But then, of course, having someone/anyone notice me and my show after all these years, well, that felt totally amazing.

We never, ever, considered what we were doing as art. We just wanted to amuse people. Being referred to as an artist blew me away, made me cry a little, reminded me that what we did, what we were trying to do, had value. My career in public access was not something to hide or be ashamed of. Those shows took time and effort. They turned out to be funny, too.

The two librarians/archivists, Leeroy Kang and Walter Forsberg, who set me up and guided me through the transfer process, were awesome. They were compassionate and matter-of-fact, like, just asking me, “What was this?” and “When was it produced?” And okay, “Let’s do it.”

Walter tweaked the brightness a little, making my whites not so bright. Leeroy asked me to fill in some info for keywords and tags for the archive.

The best part of the afternoon was talking to Leeroy about art projects and museums. We talked about how art is a conversation — like the one he and I had about Asian masculinity, while viewing my interview with the guys in Slant.

Museums should be places for conversations, not just places for staring silently at Van Goghs, snapping Instagram pics, and moving on.

For a museum to have this kind of exchange, for a museum to value living artists, totally blew me away, restored my faith in art. Art’s not about dead white male artists, but it’s about living artists, even middle-aged women like me, with a backpack full of old SVHS tapes from the ’90s.

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The tapes I grabbed were:

  1. My documentary-style trip with my aunts and uncles for my Uncle Kevins’s 50th birthday to Ireland in 1996
  2. A collection of funny skits from Mary Beth and Friends, including the Mafia Family Feud, featuring Jay Fortunato, John Christopher Jones, Leslie Body.
  3. An interview with novelist Valerie Block on the creative process of writing her first novel, Was It Something I Said?
  4. An interview with the performance art group, Slant, who had performed at La Mama in .
  5. 10 minutes of ephemera — yes, this is how archivists categorize home movies. This one was from summertime 2000 at Skenewood in the Adirondacks when my babies were babies.

In a month or so, the shows will be available on the Internet Archive, a non-profit site, a “free and open access to the entire world’s knowledge.” I found out about this project because I used to be a member of the New Museum and am still on their email list.

In the museum’s newspaper, there was this: “XFR STN might be described as looking closely at recent history in order to negotiate the present, perhaps even the future.” And an essay in the newspaper by Walter Forsberg that concludes with this, “How did these works once live, and how can they live on?”

I think that’s the point, to ask questions. What is the meaning of these creative projects?

I felt good knowing that a few of my old shows will live in a vast archive. But I felt better having had a real-life conversations about art in the museum, with Leeroy. Preserving old tapes is cool. Making new friends — talking to Leeroy about art — was cooler.

To me, this exhibit was more about the art o f conversation than conservation. But then, that’s what Mary Beth and Friends was about too. Conversations.

Take a Moment Each Day

Yesterday, I went to L’s bridal shower. I wrote this for her bridal book of advice for the newly married with children. 

at the ladies' luncheon.
at the ladies’ luncheon.

The little things slip my mind. I want to take a moment each day to notice that I love my life.

I know L. loves hers too. She’s been through a lot, as have we all. She’s divorced and such. I’m divorced, married for almost 18 years now, and concerned about my husband’s health and such. (I love adding ‘and such’ to sentences. It’s a cozy phrase and such coziness can incorporate a lot of water under the bridge!)

But noticing that you love your life does not mean that you love every little thing. Sometimes you have to notice the big picture. Like I have big gratitude for my health, my kids, and my beautiful NYC.

Sometimes you have to notice the little pleasing things that don’t slip through the cracks of awareness in the rush/rush of family life New York City.

I like to notice things like:

  • Red flowers in green window boxes
  • White wine on book club nights
  • Snuggly up with daughters to read a good book out loud
  • Feet up, watching television
  • The smell of lilacs or lilac soap – or any scented candles or flowers — that cross your path

When I first met L., I was blown away by how beautiful and capable she was – a single mother with a law career, three kids, and a dog. (I don’t know why but the dog really pushed me over the edge — a dog too? — How does she do it!)

L. made me feel that anything was possible and that we, women, and in particular, the women in my book club, could overcome any hurdle set before us.

Now that L. is entering into the foray of married love again, I see that, too, is an admirable and beautiful and capable not-so-small thing.

And I only wish her (and us all) more love and more little happy things.

-I wrote this for L’s bridal shower book, a book about finding fun and quick things to do in NYC with kids. Our book club is going to Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore this weekend. I’m super excited for a girls’ get-away weekend. 

I added this, ‘Take a moment each day to notice that I love my life,’ as one of my goals at 43things.com. Today I notice I love my life because I love my kids, my book club, my friends, and my gift for noticing the little things.

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:

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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.

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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.

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