Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, A cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, This is the best season of your life. – Wu-me
The poem cleared – unclouded – my mind. Cleansed me. The way a novel, say, the Overstory by Richard Powers, wipes away worries every night. I read a page, another, I try to block out my worries – for family, country, future – take comfort in the overhang of branches.
A novel, like a tree, offers shade. Does not throw shade, offers a respite from worries.
I’ve been telling one daughter to stop saying, “I’m worried about…” and instead try, “I’m wondering about…”
My mindfulness class showed me that I’m fixated on fixing. What is the difference between fixing and healing? I wondered. My mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher, Elaine Retholtz, a wise guru, introduced me to Wu-me’s poem. We shared some reflections:
What do you want to see next? – Lake Bell
You will never own the future if you care what other people think. – Cindy Gallop
For Lent, I’ve usually given up some small pleasure. But I’m not giving up anything this Lent.
Not giving up kindness. No. The world needs it now more than ever.
Not giving up coffee. I did that once and went the whole 40 days and nights with a headache.
Not giving up gossip. When I did that one year, I missed too many juicy conversations by the water cooler. I want to bond with my colleagues, not feel smug and act superior.
Not giving up TV. As a kid, I had to forego my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, which only showed once a year. See, kids, we didn’t have Netflix or streaming services back then. If you wanted to watch a show, you had to wait until it was on.
Not giving up social media. When I started to give that up one year, I missed a party invitation. Not this year.
Not giving up meat or alcohol.
I’m not giving up so many good things in life. Not giving up friendship, letter writing, and social justice.
I’m not giving up my writing and/or blogging habit either. I’ve tried, but I don’t seem to know what I feel if I can’t write my thoughts down.
What about you? Giving up your Jeopardy habit? Candy? Complaining? Good for you. I’m supporting you from the sidelines as I pop bon bons from the couch in front of the TV.
Last night, I had book club; a group of nine of us who’ve been meeting for, like, 14 years. This month we read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a national Book Award finalist.It is magical and disturbing; and although it is fiction it seems undeniably true. For that, I am so sorry.
Last year teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies, our class discussed the underground railroad. And it is a common misunderstanding for Middle Schoolers to think the slave path towards freedom is actually a railroad. We celebrated Sojourner Truth in that class. And we talked about what made her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” so good – the repetition, the asking questions of the audience, the passion.
I’m grateful for my book club for all the times we’ve read and discussed books. We never run out of things to say. And there’s always another great book out there. The previous month we’d read Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove. And next month we’re reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife.
Great friends and good books are keys to happiness. Joy is found in our everyday blessings.
This October I’m going to blog every single fricken’ day.
I tried this last year and missed a few days. Because my darling Charlotte was in excrutiating pain and we landed in the emergency room with her fibroid cysts for a day. And well, you know, a trip to the ER can ruin a few days.
This year I’m back in the blog game. And my theme is mindfulness. Sure, it’s trendy. What’s wrong with that? I’m trendy. What are you saying? I’m fat? (That’s an inside joke — apropos of nothing, my sister and I like to say that. It’s funny. Trust me. The way we say it. It’s funny, okay?)
Be mindful. Breathe. Notice. Be present. Not so funny? Maybe. But fun, and as previously mentioned, trendy.
Seriously. I came up with this theme when I realized I was just madly cycling through life. Ever feel like you’re just riding your bike in place? Not going anywhere? That’s called spin class. Also, trendy. I like to ride a bike, sure, but I like to go places. I realized at the end of September that I was restless. And I thought I would pursue a month of mindfulness to center myself. Figure out where I am and who I am. And what’s important.
not a flake has fallen and we are consigned home.
i like working, teaching, much better than staying home.
i find the work of housework endless and there is no pay.
which leads to resentment.
but for the work of work, i get thanked and paid.
and I interact with adults with whom i can make jokes.
the joking part of work is almost my favorite part.
that and being paid.
but maybe because of my husband’s illness and his slowness
or my children’s, i don’t want to call it laziness, but i will call it laissez faire.
i feel like i am always pushing a stone up a hill with housework.
and there is the haunting ernest hemingway question — did he have to clean house as much as i do? i may not be at the same literary level, but dang, if i couldn’t be a better writer, if i wasn’t a woman and didn’t have to clean so much.
i have said this a million times, but i need more household help.
and now that today is a snow day,
i have to be the household help.
For no reason, here are some pics from the Pasadena Rose Bowl parade this year. (I never got them up when we were in California a month ago, this New Year’s.)
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?
Like 20 years ago, I was temping at a bank in New Rochelle. I was working for a banker — I forget his name — but he was younger than me by a few years. But he seemed older. He was getting over some kind of cancer. He used to buy me lunch almost every day. He seemed confused by me.
Then, he told me why. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
“Really?” That seemed weird. I’m no Mother Theresa. I get impatient and insecure on a daily basis. I felt sorry for this banker — I mean, if I was the nicest person he’d ever met! Well, that just seemed sad.
Still. Nice gets a bad wrap. I remember in the book The Happiness Project when Gretchen Rubin is super-nice to everyone in her life for a week as a path to happiness. No one really notices her niceness and she’s glad when the week’s over ’cause it feels like kinda a waste of time. And niceness requires a lot of effort.
I have felt that my niceness is, at times, perceived as stupidity. (Especially at work — when the cynical males were perceived as smart and the young female optimists were seen as fools. Well ha! Fools have more laughs than cynics!)
I can’t help it. I am compulsively nice. And this kind of “nice girl” syndrome has cost me. Maybe in being nice I have swallowed some honest emotion.
Still. In the long run, I’d rather be overly nice than overly critical or mean.
My daughter and I had a screaming match yesterday and she accused me of being so mean. And ugh, that hurt. In a quieter moment, I asked my husband, “Was I mean?”
“When you two lock horns, no one wins,” he said. Which, I think, meant, ‘Yes, you were unfair or unkind.’ Hey, I thought, I’m sorry. And you only hurt the ones you love.
I don’t want to get into the deets of the argument, but my daughter and I talked it out later and we both promised to do better next time — to give each other a little more patience and more room to breath. Tough stuff. At least for me. Me? The nicest person you’ve ever met.
I have blogged about this before. And interestingly enough, I also wrote about my daughter four years ago in the blog post the power of niceness. I, then, too, referenced the Happiness Project and my resentment about workplace sarcasm winning over niceness. Weird. Four years later. I’m writing about the same stuff.
I chatted with Vonnegut once in the early 90s when I was performing stand up at the New York Comedy Club. It was like a Thursday night at 6 pm. He poked his head in the club and asked, “What’s going on in here?”
“Comedy. Women’s night. Starts in an hour.” I told him. “Come to it.”
“Sounds great,” he said or something like that. I was totally impressed and told the couple of jaded comedians at the bar, “That was Kurt Vonnegut.” They nodded casually. Stand up comics do not swoon. But he didn’t come back.
Then a couple of years later I was having a party with Dan Wakefield at my house and Wakefield had invited Vonnegut. Vonnegut called to say he was sorry but he couldn’t make the party. I think he had a cold. “That’s okay,” I told him. “Feel better.” So basically, I had a few near misses with the great man.
But I feel I got to spend time with him when I read this new collection of commencement addresses, edited by Wakefield, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Advice for the Young.
In the forward, Wakefield points out that Vonnegut took part in his communities. Like, he was in the Volunteer Fire Department and taught a Great Books course with his wife. Vonnegut extolled compassion and neighborliness.
Each talk is unique. There are several themes, one of which is how Jesus slammed down the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye).
“When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ What kind of man was that? … Bye-bye, Code of Hammurabi. And for those words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.'”
And Vonnegut, a humanist, hands us funny twists on Christianity. “‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed…’ Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.”
And here’s Vonnegut’s son’s advice: “‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.”
I know there’s a winter wonderland outside my New York City apartment today. I took this pic of Riverside Park last night with my iphone. I have no idea why I’m writing about Vonnegut now. Except I started this post a while ago and I’m cleaning out my blog’s dashboard. It just seemed like today was a perfect day to read Vonnegut and Wakefield.
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.