Status Update

So this week the kids went back to school. This is always a bittersweet time and a time to take stock. Here’s what’s going on.

My kids.

My son is in his last year of high school. All these years I’ve pulled him close and now I’m pushing him out of the nest. But his newly found independence comes with my hope that he make wise choices — around alcohol, relationships. I worry. So far, he’s been pretty good at keeping his midnight curfew on Saturday nights. My girls, too, are finding new friends, new activities, new ways of being in the world without me holding their hands. Though I still love to hold their hands.

My kids are my alpha and my omega. They are why I wake up in the morning. Them and coffee.

My writing.

I finished my novel and sent it to an agent and to Kindle singles. I think I may have to send it to more than one agent and one publisher. 😉 I like it. I think it’s breezy and fun. I say it’s like Breaking Bad for the suburban mom. People in my writing workshops who have read bits and pieces like it too.

bar on the corner
2A on the corner of Avenue A and 2nd Street. I’m reading Mon., 9/8/14 — show starts 8:15 ish.

I am psyched to be invited to read at a fun venue tomorrow night, Monday. And I do think my funny, short essays are the pieces that I can sell most easily and people love best.

My small biz.

I have a crazy patchwork quilt of work. But my most important and steady work is my writing, web and social media work for SPSARV. I love Juliana, Art, Christie and Rhina so so much. In every gratitude list, I include SPSARV because I am so crazy lucky to work with such super smart and super nice people. They are my mainstay.

My biz teaching writing workshops is on hiatus — I have hosted dozens of awesome weekends, meetups, and classes over the last two years. And been a guest speaker at a bunch of conferences. I know it takes three years to get a business going. The things is: I’m just barely breaking even at Boot Camp for Writers. Maybe it’s the cost of renting space that’s killing me.

I’ve gotten other teaching work steadily. I have been tutoring and teaching 12th graders for college applications. Next week I start teaching a creative writing and reading class for first and second graders. So excited. And, on occasion, I still help with videography for Columbia University and corporate trainings.

My marriage.

I don’t know what to say. It’s not easy. I love my husband. It’s no secret that chronic illness throws a wet blanket over the romance. And maybe after 19 years and 3 kids, no marriage is lovey dovey, flowers, candy and joy joy joy.

Still. Chris and I are best friends. We go to a lot of movies and theater together. We love our family dinners, card games and conversations about the kids. But he has been thoroughly obsessed with his new translation of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country which will open in January ’15 at the Classic Stage Company. (The cast will include — name dropping alert — Peter Dinklage and Taylor Schilling.)

I cannot begin to say how important and meaningful life is for my husband because of his amazing talent and creativity. And steadiness. Despite his limitations (read Parkinson’s Disease), he still makes a huge contribution to the theater community.

My fine art.

I have not been making short films or fine art lately. I may go back to my collage class at Art Students League. I love getting my fingers dirty with paint.

My spiritual life.

At times, I doubt God exists. The randomness of illness and war is just too senseless. I try to act as if. I try to believe that I am not alone. I am a part of a bigger picture.

But I have big questions, Why Gaza? Why Ferguson? Why the beheadings of journalists? We are all humans. We would love each other if we sat down and shared a meal together. Instead, we’re bombing the shit out of each other. It’s too much.

I’m so sick of our countries spending billions to guard borders. I believe in social justice, the kind I’ve learned about in places like the United Methodist Church. We have to build bridges, not walls. We have to open doors of understanding. We have to talk less and listen more.

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Cherry Orchard

Turturro lets the stuffing out of the chair. (photo by Richard Termine for the New York Times.)

My husband’s translation of ‘Cherry Orchard’ was so naturalistic. A few minutes into John Turturro’s opening scene, I squeezed Chris’s arm and whispered, “So good. Genius.”

Chris (John Christopher Jones) did a brilliant job of situating the audience right there with the family at the grand Russian estate as it falls into disrepair and bankruptcy, sold to the local boor — or is he a self-made man? — played by Turturro.

An actor at the cast party told me it was the only of Chekhov’s place that the author considered a comedy. (Actors can be so smart — like real artists, not just empty-headed celebs!)

Chris worked hard of this translation, obsessed by it for months. He spent a lot time sitting in front of the computer. I know how hard it is to write.  It is mostly about keeping your seat in the chair.

I have seen Chris in a number of Chekhov plays. From those plays, I can see what life was like back in the day before people realized you should work out to lift your spirits. Or perhaps, people, try some anti-depressants?

In Chekhov’s plays my heart always breaks for the way the characters ridicule the intellectual, the perpetual student. Ugh.

This production is not depressing. I loved the party scene where the family, led by Dianne Wiest, and the guests wait to hear about the fate of the estate. The party goers’ spirits were as light as the stuffing from the chair that flew around the stage when Turturro ripped open the furniture.

For some reason, I always imagine the cherry orchard bathed in late afternoon light, like in the Van Gogh painting of the olive orchard. The cherry orchard never appears on stage yet it is a character in the play, once great and now parceled away — like so many nations, families and nature itself. 

On the cab ride home from the opening night party, I read Chris the The New York Times Review of ‘Cherry Orchard’ off of my smart phone, hitting bumps and speeding up Third Avenue. It was a triumph for Chris.

Criticize or praise?

I am a huge fan of praise. I love telling my colleagues, my kids, my friends, “Hey, great job.”

Last night at an opening night party (yes, I’m cool like that) for a new play, Unnatural Acts, at the Classic Stage Company, I saw Annika Boras, the actress who played Lady MacBeth there. I gushed, “You were so good.” And besides being brilliant — she’s beautiful and nice too! (It’s so great when that all comes together.)

I said, “Wow, great job. Love your work,” to Senator Chuck Schumer a month ago when I saw him at Jones Beach walking the boardwalk. http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/why-was-our-senator-at-the-beach-today/

Just because I love giving praise, doesn’t mean everyone does. Or that everyone should.

I probably don’t receive as much praise as I give to the people in my life, like my spouse — people with Parkinson’s Disease are not known for being effusive. I do praise myself and give myself some positive self-talk. “Wow! MB! You were incredibly productive and creative today!” Yes, I have been known to kiss the mirror. (“You look good, MB!”)

I wonder if I need need more than most in the affirmation department. I may just be cut from a cloth that likes to give and receive kind words, being one of five kids from a slightly (?) dysfunctional family.

You may say, “It’s fine to praise yourself, crazy lady, just don’t over-praise your kids. The way everyone receives a medal, even if they came in last or simply existed.” To you, I say, “What?! What am I supposed to do? Tell them ‘Win next time.’ I love my kids unconditionally. I do try and praise effort most of all, being a fan of hard work. But I tell them all the time that I love them and that they are awesome. So sue me! I overpraise!”

My kids are more brilliant, beautiful, and sweet, even than Lady MacBeth. Not that I’m comparing. (That’s the kiss of death — compare and despair!)

Several business articles lately have backed me up on my penchant for praise. Praise is important in the workplace, actually, more important than criticism.

http://www.inc.com/articles/201106/how-to-fast-forward-your-goals_pagen_3.html  I like the way this article acknowledges that we don’t achieve anything alone; all achievements are the result of collaboration. And we ought to acknowledge our collaborators.

How much praise do we need to hear? And why are we so good at correcting one another rather than praising them? The Harvard Business Review offers some insights: http://blogs.hbr.org/hill-lineback/2011/04/why-does-criticism-seem-more-e.html?cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-management_tip-_-tip062311&referral=00203

This is also what all the strengths-based learning is about. Lead with your strengths. Do what you’re good at it. To find what you’re good at, praise yourself. If that’s too weird, start by praising someone else and work your way back home.