Advice to the Woman on the Subway

1. You’re not a failure if you’ve learned something
2. Let go. Because you can’t control outcomes
3. Learn to ask for and accept help
4. Find your own constant

I found these guidelines on my Notes app on my phone. I think they’re from my kids’ headmaster on parents’ day, but I’m not really sure. I was looking for something to post today — another crazy busy day. Not enough time to write.

I was on the subway headed to see Laura Pruden’s show. The woman next to me — middle aged, white, long hair, flouncy conservative clothes, stockings — was crying. I could see she was reading some sheets of paper. I caught some words over her shoulder:

Self-parenting
Sexuality
Context
Intimacy
How can you tell if a guy likes you?

She noticed me, noticing her. I gave her a weak smile. She blew her nose. She stopped crying.

I got off on Grand Street to see Laura’s show at Dixon Place. It was awesome. It addressed these topics. And a lot more.

Laura Pruden
(Laura Pruden’s one-woman show, Growing Up Straight in the Shadow of AIDS. Photo by Nikolitsa Boutieros of Divine Light Photography — at Dixon Place.)

There’s a shared intimacy to city living. We know each other so well. We sit so close to each other. And really, we don’t know each other at all. We go deep together. And then we get off at the next stop.

Thanks, Laura, for reminding me to remember our stories of love, loss and the epidemic.

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Maya

Ah, Maya, I never knew you. But you knew me. You spoke to me and valued me. You valued us all, enough to invoke us to tell our stories. You held yourself so regally. You made it okay to be a performer, an artist, a writer, a teacher, a mother, a friend. To be creative and public in so many outlets.

At times, I have felt, I am too many things. I should be only one. But you showed me that we contain multitudes. Besides that, we shared the same birthday – April 4.

I felt in you, a kinship. Your words inspired me. Your poetry, essays and advice.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as autobiographical fiction. If I say it happened, it happened, even if only in my mind. I promised myself that I would write as well as I can, tell the truth, not to tell everything I know, but to make sure that everything I tell is true, as I understand it.”

“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library.”

“We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans — because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.”

Shooting into the light at the end of the day ...
Shooting into the light at the end of the day #goldenhour #adirondacks #amwriting via mbcoudal

It is in this candy shop, in this exploration, that I have ventured forth, offering my writing, encouraging others to write. I only want to hear stories. And to tell stories. And to get at some truth.

I believe stories live on. That the story teller disappears but that the truths remain.

And when you die, somehow you are home. “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” (This was one of Angelou’s tweets — so awesome that she embraced twitter – a forum for poets or pundits, snarky or sincere.)

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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

Writers in the Hudson Valley

Another writer and I were walking in search of cappuccino just on the edge of town, when this middle-aged blonde woman walked towards me. She pointed to me and began to sing, “I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.” And I sang along.

Yes, we two strangers sang the Mister Roger’s song to each other one recent sunny afternoon in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Is this what goes down in small towns? Apparently, on my writing retreats that kind of thing happens.

What else happened?

  • walks on country roads
  • morning yoga 
  • writing
  • painting little boxes
  • arts and crafts in the gazebo
  • time to read and write and reflect

I’m really grateful to Carla, April, Don, and the crew at Olmsted Center, so that, a few weeks back, several intrepid writers and I could set sail on this maiden voyage to write the story of their lives.

I have to admit I was disappointed with the turnout. Only a handful of writers attended the Hudson Valley weekend. And more would have been better. We wrote about love, work, money, and family. And I don’t think the cost kept people away — it was a good deal — the weekend cost $295 for 2 nights, 6 meals and a bunch of fun writing and art workshops.

In any case, I’m not even putting a price on the experience of having some stranger sing to me on the sidewalk. As usual, the most magical and fun moments happen when you get off script and get off campus. There’s a lesson here — get out of your comfort zone to find fun.

In the writing workshops, the writers found the thread of meaning in seemingly random life events. Every one said they’d love to do the weekend again. But I’m in a bit of a dilemma because the center needs to have a minimum of 10 participants next time. I’m not sure I can do that. I am also having trouble finding a May or June date. I’d like June 13 to 15, but that’s Father’s Day. Would writers want to get away on Father’s Day weekend?

Bootcamp4writers is a dream of mine, but I have to be honest. Putting on the weekends takes a lot of work and I’m not sure for my small margin of profit, whether it’s worth it. I took a loss of a couple hundred dollars at this Hudson Valley retreat and I don’t want to do that again. (In addition to the retreat center, I pay for yoga, insurance and supplies, as well as my own transport and PR.)

***

I love getting out of the city and having a chance to reflect on my life.

Like the city writers on the weekend, I get to taste a bit of country life in the Hudson Valley. For example, there was a couple of ladies sitting outside a church, passing out candy corn and juice. How nice is that! 

The workshop ended with time to map the hills and valleys of their lives through big and small life experiences from their spiritual lives.

We laughed, we cried, we made new friends. We want to do it again, But I’m just trying to figure out whether we can.

Contact bootcamp4writers@gmail.com for more details or visit the website at bootcamp4writers.com

Here are some pictures I shot from the weekend. See? Looks like fun, right?

Would you come?

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Here’s where we held the retreat, Kirkwood House at Camp Olmsted.
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Just one of the glorious views as we took an afternoon walk

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Getting ready to write
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Out at the gazebo, we made some art. We painted boxes.
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In town we came upon some ladies giving out kindness.
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Time to plug in and write.
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A quick trip by commuter rail to Cornwall-on-Hudson.
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Here’s me, wondering whether to do it again.

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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