I have writing to do and teaching — and thinking to do. And don’t forget the gratitude list. There’s a new/old dog to walk and friends to phone. There’s much to do. And then, again, there’s nothing to do. A helplessness — a desire to read — to stay in, stay safe, stay put. And curl into a ball to let this big wave pass. So we hunker down in this farmhouse in this town that I love with family and friends. With children and trees. Set to bloom. Set to bud. Set to flower. Game, set, match. My mind keeps turning to this twist — my love gov says tennis courts can open. Where is my nearest tennis court? And does it matter that I have no racket, balls, nor opponents? Or tennis whites? I keep thinking about tennis. As if I was Billie Jean King. Fierce like that. All women are – for simply surviving this potus abuse. I cannot get over this administration – the way that man speaks to journalists, to women, to poc. I must to stop watching his cruelty. It breaks my heart. I aim to maintain my soft-hearted nature and happy-go-lucky disposition. I will not let this wave of fear and despair submerge me. Better days, ahead. Chin up and all that.
Think about tennis and flowers and Billie Jean King. Family dinners in the farmhouse.
You start your hand moving. And then you just keep it moving. You write, I remember… and you keep writing memories… popping like popcorn. One memory after another. Don’t worry about which era from your life wherein the memory emeges or how you feel or what it all means.
I learned this from Dani Shapiro who learned it from a book IRemember by Joe Brainard.
I remember. And the important thing with this writing exercise is to keep going. Keep your mind moving from memory to memory. I found it very relaxing and centering. It’s also a great way to mine some gems which may become sparkling jewels in your larger memoir story.
Weave the memory jewels into the tapestry of your life.
author stately noble fussily editing slowly accurately wearing tweed male
writer flowing dreaming on a tear sassily barefoot wearing silk female
When writers write and share their words, the words circle above them like fairies who fly to awaken the Ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Then the deities, grand and small, gather, as if around a beach campfire, to send the red crackling words into the air.
It is the author or writer’s task to grab the words before they dim. Words like fireflies who once roamed the land, begin to fade, come Autumn.
another poem – a haiku
central park green lawn
sunbathers, frisbees, babies
grass, a blanket from below
below the earth, worms
tunnel, aerate, make new homes
with roots, turning soil
central park green play sunny day leads to starry Shakespeare night, above
These words emerged from last weekend’s writing retreat with J. Ann Craig — so good. We wrote prayers, songs, and erotic poetry.
I sort of organized the day. (I wanted to say ‘helped organize,’ but honestly, I did most everything: found the place, procured the leadership, encouraged attendance, ordered and set out the food.) But it was Rutgers Presbyterian Church who hosted the day at the House of the Redeemer. More than a dozen of us, beautiful women, writers and artists of life, gathered to set the world right.
Do not doubt for a minute that writing has the potential to heal the world. In this fractured time in our country, there is something necessary about writing down our truths — in our revealing, there is revelation. The authentic self emerges and writers’ words are free to bind the brokenness in our hearts and in the hearts of our communities.
I write every day. I write in my journal. Facebook posts and tweets. Blog posts for SPSARV and my own blog and website. I write emails and texts. I write lesson plans and press releases. Magazine articles.
I write very fast. I try to write faster than my inner censor. In NYU grad school, my writing teacher Philip Schultz called the inner editor the “shitbird,” who sits on your shoulder and tells you it’s shit. I’ve heard her chirp. She wants me to give up, stop writing. Watch TV or scan social media. Say nothing. Good girls remain mute.
And the “shitbird” is a term from a friend of mine who killed himself. He was the most talented poet. …And he wrote me a letter saying that he could hear my encouragement, but that there was also a shitbird on his shoulder, whispering that he couldn’t write. Maybe that shitbird is the Superego. Overly cautious. – From an interview with Philip Schultz.
But the bird flew away when I blogged 31 Days of October with a community of writers. Something shifted in me. The daily sharing of my interior life made me stop and notice my world. Maybe a little of my writing was shit. But mostly, the writing was deep and brief and full of wonder and gratitude. I have a tough time with my husband’s Parkinson’s and my three teenagers and wanting everyone to be happy all the time. I want to give these kids an awesome childhood. Still, I want to remain true to myself as an artist and a lover of learning. And always, I am looking for joy. When I write about these conflicts, I find meaning.
My commitment to writing in October made me a better, more effortless writer. I realized I didn’t have to write one grand oeuvre. I could write a bunch of short meaningful pieces. I don’t know what my writing life will hold in 2015. Especially as I am teaching full time for several months. But I know that my life is deepened because I am a writer. I know that my writing helps me find my purpose and cope with challenges and joys.
let it go.
be silly. have fun. get out of bed in the morning. make your bed.
get out of your own way.
too much to do. every day is a new beginning. this is the season of the new. leading to Christmas. to new life. to a new year.
disappointments are natural. my son’s college application process was too easy. last night he hit a glitch. don’t want to go into the details. (the kids tell me, “you post too many facebook pics!” “you’re too obsessed with social media.” “you tell everyone everything.” yes. yes. yes.)
tell a story. make it good.
make it meaningful.
it’s today. today is all.
i have it all. i have today.
i have been subbing. and i heard that one of my students, one who causes me no trouble, a nice kid, has something seriously wrong. (like, really serious!) why does this happen? not that i would want it to happen to one of my mischief-makers but maybe that would explain why she doesn’t listen or why he shouts out. but why the quiet, kind one? it so sucks. makes me not believe in God. makes me hurt for all the stupid injustice. life’s unfair.
why the shooting of unarmed teens? of one mother’s son? why, God?
when I get to heaven, i need a lot of answers.
until then, i will make today count. tell a story. make it meaningful.
then, let it go. have fun.
i’m choosing a word for 2015. it is happiness. what’s your word? what’s your story?
I have blogged nearly every day of October and I’ll be glad to NOT blog every. single. freakin’. day.
I learned that I have something to say. That surprised me. I thought I’d run out of ideas, but no.
I wanted to repost some old stories, but I didn’t. The one story I did repost — about an educator whom I love, Geoffrey Canada, received very low traffic. The story with the highest traffic this month (470 readers!) was about Bridget and Amanda’s wedding. Everyone loves a love story.
I thought I might just post pics on Wordless Wednesdays, but I didn’t.
I wrote a couple of posts on my phone.
I thought I’d write about writing. You know, I was hoping to get all professional and writerly with you. I wanted to share tips and tricks and be seen as an expert. But no, I didn’t. I wrote mostly about family matters.
It wasn’t the writing that was hard. I’m a fast writer. It was finding the time to write. I have a crazy busy life — Coco’s ruptured cyst, jury duty, wonderful freelancing, substitute teaching, afterschool artist, doctor’s visits, housecleaning.
Yes, housecleaning! That always gets in the way of my blogging. Must stop cleaning.
Tomorrow, I’m back on jury duty. I hope there’s nothing from the criminal courts to blog about.
I will leave you with today’s pic from my beautiful Riverside Park.
We were on the move. While talking to my pastor Laura, in the Climate March last week, I had an insight — I have to pay as much attention to and love my own children as much as I notice and love my students.
That seems obvious. But sometimes I come home from teaching brimming over with funny stories about the 6-year olds in my afterschool creative writing and reading class, and I can see (or feel) my children roll their eyes. My affection for other children does not take away my love for my own children. But I have to make sure that they know that. I have to encourage them.
Laura and I talked about this as we walked with hundreds of thousands along the Manhattan streets in the biggest climate change march ever. We were on West 59th, walking along Central Park South, discussing Eleanor Roosevelt and the recent fantastic PBS series on the Roosevelts.
And I had told Laura, “It just seemed that as Eleanor grew older, she was alone. Her life was not full of family and picnics and fun, but international travel and great causes.” Which, of course, I love. I love her internationalist impulse and her love for the world. But maybe she should’ve hung out with her family more.
When I went to college, I moved from suburban Chicago to New York City. And I just stayed. I am far-flung from my family of origin too. I want to be intentional about connecting with my mother and father and sister and brothers too.
So for the next 31 days, I will be writing about:
How my husband’s Parkinson’s impacts our family
My son’s college search
Letting go of my desire to keep up with the Joneses
My take-aways from teaching
How and where I try (and sometimes do) get published
Decluttering my messy apartment
Trying to stick to a family meal plan
and maybe even
Pursuit of fitness
And maybe some random (good enough) essays I’m working on.
I am good enough. You are good enough. You don’t have to be or do better. Just accept that where you are is where you are. There is no perfect. There is today. I’m so glad we have today.
I aim to be a loving presence in my little sphere of the world.
I love the concept of Good Enough. I am a perfectionist. I want everything to be just right. But sometimes that hinders me from finishing things, from sending stories out, or feeling that I’m good enough. Lately, I’ve also been blessed with so much wonderful work. And so many great friends. And yes, a great family too! And that is so good!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I have had this uncanny sense that I’m about to experience some miracle.
Is it the onset of summer? A time of less work? I have been freelancing, leading workshops, substitute teaching, tutoring and working my ass off. Okay, I wish I worked my ass off, just a little — not that my ass is too big — but well, you know, metaphorically.
And then, there’s the work of family life — the endless meals and maintenance that my three teenagers and disabled spouse require.
But two of my darlings will be in summer camp and one will be on a school trip to Botswana soon. And my husband will be on a fishing trip in Canada. So, maybe it’s just that — soon, for a couple of weeks, I will have less responsibility. I will be free. I can watch what I want on TV. I won’t have to work so hard.
Maybe, it’s the longer days and the light. The birds are definitely chirping when I wake in the morning.
I can ride my bike everywhere and I am always happy on my bike.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel lighter in spirit. I just know that something good is about to happen. And I wonder what it is.
First of all, it is always amazing to see respect lauded on a writer.
Respect is not why I write. But I have to admit that reverence for a writer – in this case, P.L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, a children’s book, is a rare and beautiful thing.
Women as Creative Team Leaders
From a feminist perspective, I loved that the men, even the studio head, the great Walt Disney himself, deferred to Travers. Of course we all know men who defer to their female bosses or wives or business partners. It should not be an oddity. But somehow, the world has turned and I rarely see men respecting women in mainstream movies.
Maybe because I have teenagers I am overexposed to hyper-sexualized women in the media on awards shows – too many women rock stars wearing lingerie while the men wear black tee shirts and jeans.
But seeing Travers run the show? Well, that was just amazing. She is occasionally arbitrary – but what genius is not? Emma Thompson is brilliant at creating this very real, flawed, lovable, cold writer.
Explaining Mary Poppins
I loved, too, that Saving Mr. Banks explained why Mary Poppins does not change as a character. Like everyone, I love the Julie Andrews movie. But it’s always bothered me that Mary Poppins does not change – she does not become more loving or more interesting as the film progresses.
Her character does not go through the fires of some great conflict and come out the better for it. This movie explains why. She is the agent for other’s transformation, not her own. Change is reserved for Mr. Banks, the father, an idealized version of Travers’ father.
Becoming More Loving
Our Travers gently returns to being an imaginative and playful person. This transformation into a loving human being happens in small ways. Our hero here does not suddenly turn around and become a fabulous new person.
This is a subgenre of movie I happen to love — watching characters return to love — like the movie based on C.S. Lewis’ Shadowlands.
What About Mrs. Banks?
Now, you know, I have to find something not to love. I did not love that Travers seemed to be seeking to come to terms with only her father. What about her mother? She certainly was equally complex. Is the mother not as curious and exciting and crazy a character to explore? Or are men more enigmatic? Why must it be the father we need to heal?
The Treasure Trove of Childhood
I, like Travers, have a treasure trove in my past – a childhood of great love, adventure, and benign neglect. But it is in from this personal history that so much creativity can spring from.
This book reminded me of Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child, a psychological text that explains why overly sensitive children do not have a full childhood as they are always in tune to their parents’ struggles. Then, as adults, they are adrift. They are less inclined or able to explore their own lives. I think about this from my own story and from my children’s reality.
There are times that I, perhaps due to Chris’s Parkinson’s, as a parent, turn to the children for more support than maybe they need or want to give. And then there are times, too, I just let them off the hook — but that’s another story. Or maybe it’s the same story. It’s the story of excessive attachment and then, benign neglect. I console myself with the certainty that great creativity can come from a troubled childhood.
You should see — or read — this story. Think about it, talk about it — about respect for writers, women as creative leaders, the importance of childhood, and what makes for creative genius.